Bipartisan legislative committee looking for solutions to Oregon's education woes

INDEPENDENT FILE PHOTO - Students work in a Washington Elementary School classroom.A bipartisan group of 14 state legislators, the Joint Committee on Student Success, is touring school districts around Oregon, including Woodburn, to see where they are succeeding and where they are struggling.

On May 24, Heritage Elementary and Woodburn High School campuses will be toured by the group, which will then hold a public forum to get feedback from students, parents and teachers at 7 p.m. at Woodburn High School.

The committee is tasked with directing funding to improve Oregon's education system which is the third worst in the United States, with only a 75 percent graduation rate. The committee's findings could lead to legislation to reform education funding and tie funding to measurements of school performance.

Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) based the Student Success Committee on a bipartisan Oregon committee that developed a $5.3 billion transportation funding plan for the state in 2017.

Woodburn School District is performing better than the state average. During the 2016-17 school year the district had a graduation rate of 88.92, an increase of 5.73 percent from the 2015-16 school year.

The committee is traveling to Woodburn to see what that success looks like in practice, and experience the culture and climate of the school, Superintendent Chuck Ransom said.

Woodburn's success is the result of a 20-year process implementing a strategic plan, including Woodburn High School's four academies and alternative school, Ransom said.

"The idea that we would create a plan and stick with it has made the difference," he said.

Woodburn's success also defies state trends of low graduation rates for students who are experiencing poverty, are English language learners or are from underrepresented groups, Ransom said.

"We have succeeded where other districts have struggled," he said. "We have students living in poverty, who are Hispanic, who are English language learners, and they succeed on par with other schools."

"Are we producing graduates that are productive balanced individuals?" he continued. "If you look at the data from Woodburn, absolutely."

Patrick Evans
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