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Newberg School District Superintendent Joe Morelock shares his thoughts on the 2019-2020 school year

GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - Joe Morelock, superintendent of the Newberg School District, is optimistic about the current school year and is preparing the district for more funding from the state next year.

With the halls of local schools now filled to the brim with students, another school year is underway in Newberg and Dundee. For the Newberg School District, that means a quiet summer of preparation and vacation is over – it's back to the business of managing and improving the educational experiences of local students.

Superintendent Joe Morelock expressed his excitement about the changes to come. Chief among those changes – while it won't take effect until next school year – is the influx of state school funding from the recently passed Student Success Act, which will inject roughly $1 billion into Oregon public schools.

"This is a very exciting school year for us as we prepare for that funding next year," Morelock said. "There is a process we will go through to implement that funding. It's a huge reversal of the trend we've been in for the last 30 years in terms of money for schools, so it's an exciting time."

Public engagement sessions will take place in the coming months to discuss how the new funding will directly impact Newberg students. For now, though, Morelock is spending his time focused on this calendar year as he and his colleagues prepare for the future.

Morelock visited all the schools in the district on their first day to check in and see how students were doing. He said it was "exciting" to see all the staff getting back into the swing of things as well.

There will be an increased focus on literacy and math standards district-wide this year, Morelock said.

"One of our primary areas of instructional focus this year is math," he said. "We will be working across all school and all grade levels to work on math standards, look at the ways we're instructing it and move forward with materials."

Outside of the classroom, Morelock said the district plans to ask voters to approve a capital construction bond in May.

He said the board and district officials plan to engage the community on the variety of improvements the bond would fund, including resiliency planning, roofing, grounds improvements and other changes to school buildings that he categorized as "necessary."

The district posits that the price of the changes couldn't come from the regular budget, which is why it is taking the extra step of pursuing a bond. Although the budgetary situation is improving and has allowed the district to hire new positions, it's still a tough budget to balance, Morelock said.

"Last year was a tight budget, this year's is tight but not quite as tight," he said. "We had some problem areas that we relieved pressure on. With a couple of additions here and there, we were able to fill some important needs, like a district librarian among other positions."

One area of focus at Newberg High School in particular has been mental health – a subject of paramount importance to local families as the community has experienced a number of teen suicides and attempted suicides in recent years. There will now be a dedicated wing of the high school with mental health resources for students, created in large part due to the contributions of outside entities recruited by Luke Neff, district director of strategic partnerships.

Morelock credited Neff with a lot of the legwork that has gone into the district and high school's renewed focus on mental health. He said the work of community partners like Providence, Lutheran Community Services and others has been invaluable.

"I think we are in a unique situation in that we have an incredible amount of local partners who are coming to us to help provide these services," Morelock said. "We wouldn't be able to do this without them and we are incredibly grateful for what they do. We are doing some things here in the realm of mental health that I have not seen elsewhere, and that is incredibly encouraging."

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