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The school board mulls a new listening session, employee bonus and a letter to the governor

In the fall of 2023, students will walk through Union River High School's door for the first time.

On Monday, March 14, the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board finalized a name for the new third-option high school that will replace Arts and Technology High School, unanimously deciding on Union River High School — which symbolizes the unification of both cities in the district and the multiple rivers that connect them.

"I like Union River, because by breaking it up it unifies both West Linn and Wilsonville and also the rivers between the two. Also it sets it apart from other 'Union' and 'River' high schools. So I think it just has a nice ring to it," said board member Kelly Sloop.

Back in December, Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Spencer-Iiams announced that the district would begin the process for naming the high school. The school expects to welcome around 300 students for the 2023-2024 academic year and is meant to address enrollment growth in the district. The new high school will be located on the current Athey Creek Middle School site at 2900 SW Borland Road and will serve as an option for all high school students in the district.

The district opened the naming process to community members, who could suggest names through an online form, and staff members held informational sessions at the high schools and middle schools to "connect with young people" and get students involved in generating name ideas.

Spencer-Iiams said the district received 258 suggestions, and, after deliberation by a representative group made up of district staff, community members and students, seven names were chosen as the "final slate." Those options were: Union High School, Union River High School, Rivers Edge High School, Riverside High School, Kalapuya High School, Savannah Oaks High School and Forte High School.

After a brief five-minute period where members read through the names and their significance, the board voted on their top names. Union River was the top choice for most of the board.

Vice Chair Christy Thompson said she liked the name because of its historical significance. West Linn High School was once called Union High School back in the early 1900s.

"This will be a legacy," said Superintendent Kathy Ludwig. "This is one of the fun things about the roles and responsibilities (as a board) to imprint on a community, in terms of decisions that create a legacy … Now we must champion this high school to give it full support, and allow this high school to launch and thrive and be delivered to a new identity."

Appreciation of staff

During the meeting, the board also approved a $1,000 bonus to every district employee who stays employed until June 22. The additional compensation is a token of the board and school district's appreciation for the hard work employees have endured in the past year with challenges due to COVID-19 and staff shortages, said Thompson.

"We want to acknowledge that it is because of your diligence and commitment to the students in our district that our school continues to remain open for in-person learning," the letter of appreciation said. "We know that you are working extra shifts, covering colleagues, classes during your prep times, arriving earlier and staying later, and going above and beyond your required responsibility to service our students and community.".

Staff will receive the bonus in June.

Letter to governor

The board finalized details on a letter that would be later sent to Gov. Kate Brown asking for clarity on COVID-19 response.

The letter was first conceived during the Feb. 7 board meeting and originally called for local control for issues relating to COVID-19 in school districts, and for Brown to provide more information on metrics for mask mandates. But after a lengthy debate about verbiage and the intent of the letter, it returned to the drawing board.

Since the Feb. 7 meeting, Oregon has released several significant updates to COVID-19 requirements such as giving local control for public county health authorities and lifting the indoor mask mandates.

Sloop said the letter is now a "thank you" to Brown but still asks for an overview on metrics that explain how the school district can respond to future COVID-19 issues.

"We believe providing metrics and ensuring county-level public health decision-making is the most transparent way for our communities to address and understand the COVID-19 landscape as we transition. These continued metrics for COVID-19 will provide an equitable and safe learning environment and ensure the success of our students and teachers," she said, reading from the letter.

The board members present during the meeting approved having their name on the letter but are awaiting Chair Chelsea King's approval as she was absent due to taking care of a family member.

Listening sessions

The board continued a conversation from the Feb. 28 work session, where they brainstormed the next listening session with the community. The sessions intend to hear from community members about how they are experiencing school and hopefully improve relationships with the board.

The first session was held in November, and community members shared their thoughts on curriculum, COVID-19 mandates and the responsibilities of the school board. As all attendees were adults, the board decided the next session would focus on student voices.

Board members Sloop and Louis Taylor took the lead in organizing the event and presented a draft of their ideas.

Taylor said the next session will focus on middle school students and between six and eight students will participate from each of the district's four junior high schools. The 50 or so students will represent different grade levels, abilities, interests and gender identities. The district will work with school principles to select the focus groups.

All five board members will be present for this session. And after some ice-breakers to loosen the students up, the members and students will be broken up into small groups and discuss topics ranging from their relationship with staff to improvements the district could implement to make them feel more welcomed at school.

The group will then meet as one and share which themes were presented during the small group discussions.

The district will provide dinner for the students and will work with families who have transportation barriers.

Taylor said this will be an influential time to hear from students what is on their minds, rather than what their parents are coaching them to say.

"I'm looking forward to hearing those students' voices," Taylor said.

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