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Advocates for the North Marion School District convene to discuss its direction and complexion

COURTESY PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Christ Lutheran Church Pastor Craig Johnson, left, and High School junior Yadira Romero Navarro exchange ideas during a Dec. 13 initial planning meeting.A group of North Marion community members have banded together to create a vision and plan for the future of the children in our school community, kicking off a strategic planning process with an initial planning meeting on Dec. 13.

"Think about the primary school, the children of the future, what can we think of for their future that provides for their success?" Superintendent Ginger Redlinger said at the meeting.

Over the next six to nine months, the Core Planning Team (CPT) — which includes teachers, administrators, classified employees, parents, community members (representing the business and faith communities), a school board member and a student — will develop a foundation for a three-year strategic plan. The group will regularly report back to the school board, which will work with the information from the CPT to craft the final plan. Redlinger then explained that the decline in enrollment in the North Marion School District is primarily due to not having a language immersion program as neighboring districts do. COURTESY PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - North Marion High School Teacher Kira Barber, left, and Intermediate School Principal Cory Gaub discuss how to better the School District during the meeting.

She said that the student body makeup has also changed — and she's right. From 2017-18 to 2020-21, the number of white students dropped by 5 percentage points, while the number of Hispanic students grew by 4 percentage points. Last year, 53% of students were Hispanic/Latinx and 41% were white, with the others students being multiracial, Asian, Black, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and Native American/Native Alaskan, according to data from the Oregon Department of Education. Redlinger said that with such a marked change, the school district should adapt, and North Marion High School Co-Principal of Teaching and Learning Bill Rhoades said he felt similarly.

"We have to look forward," Rhoades said.

A community discussion

What other ideas did the committee have?

One idea centered around funding.

"Tax percentages in our area are significantly lower," CPT member and PTO President Sara Hughes said. "We don't have the money to do what it is we need to do. How do you inspire the county and the people in the county to get behind what's happening here and to raise the revenues?"

Yet the most popular topic was about embracing and involving our diverse school community.

"I really want families to feel engaged," Primary School Principal Allison Hunt said. "I want them to be received with open arms."

High school Principal De Ann Jenness said that she just feels "the district is a family itself," and she just wants the students to feel welcome.

"There is a loving family in all of the buildings on campus," Intermediate School Principal Cory Gaub said.

Almost everyone in the meeting shared that feeling of family that Jenness and Gaub expressed, including school board member Glenn Holum, who stated clearly that, in "a time of metamorphosis," we must make certain that not only does everyone feel welcome, but that all students receive the services that they need.

However, Equity and Inclusion Director Irma Patton said that there have been some challenges when it comes to meeting students' needs for this community/family. Patton noted that, while the majority of students in the district are Latinx, the staff is primarily white, which she says causes tension when staff members do not understand what life is like for students.

English-Spanish bilingual Family Outreach Advocate Rafael Pelaez agreed, saying having more language support and cultural understanding is critical, especially in the classroom.

"If we have 20 students in a classroom and 12, 13 are Latinos, we need that to make sure our community can feel supported and understood," Pelaez explained.

Middle School Principal Tami Badinger said she struggles to find translators and interpreters, an issue student representative Yadira Romero Navarro also voiced. At the same time, people are clicking with each other.

"I truly feel that we are all connected," Patton said.

High school teacher Kira Barber's comments aligned with Patton's. Barber also stressed the importance of having a family liaison like Pelaez. The school district created the family liaison positions (also at the primary school and, as of this year, at the middle school) several years ago to increase Spanish-speaking families' connectivity to the school district.

"I believe that we have a strong, centrally knit community that comes together for the purpose of helping kids," Barber said. "I believe that outreach is limited with our Latinx family and heavily reliant on Rafael."COURTESY PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - English-Spanish bilingual Family Outreach Advocate Rafael Pelaez, left, and Oregon School Employees Association North Marion Chapter 116 President Cyndi Nelson share a laugh.

What's next?

How will the CPT determine where to focus its energy and how will the process work? First, the CPT will reflect on who we are and where we are now as a school district. Second, the group will visualize where we want the school district to be. Third, these community members will determine strategies to arrive at that future, devising detailed action plans to arrive there.

For example, if the CPT decided that the district wanted to improve academics, the CPT might employ a strategy of improving attendance. To achieve better attendance, one action plan might be to develop an attendance plan for students with higher absences.

Oregon State Board of Education Second Congressional District Member Jerry Colonna, a retired superintendent of schools, will facilitate the process, which will continue with monthly meetings for the duration of the school year.

Stayed tuned for updates following the other CPT meetings:

• Jan. 18, focus groups and data review;

• Feb. 8, drafting core values;

• March 8, drafting a mission statement;

• April 12, drafting a vision statement; and

• May 17, drafting district strategic goals and strategies.

After the meetings, teams will gather to create action plans, and other folks in the North Marion community will have the opportunity to participate in the process. Colonna said that he aims to debut the plan in September.

"Let's figure out what the community wants in terms of the values of the public education system and move from there," Colonna said.

To share stories about the North Marion School District, email Communications Specialist Jillian Daley at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

COURTESY PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - North Marion High School CoPrincipal of Teaching and Learning Bill Rhoades and Jerry Colonna take a break in between meetings.

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