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A year of change, a year of successes in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District

SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO  - Toward the end of 2018, there was discussion about the district going out for another capital bond.The end of 2018 provides a time for the community to reflect on all of the changes, successes and challenges throughout the last year.

In the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, 2018 brought success with the implementation of additional Career and Technical Education programs and excitement with the discussion around future high school possibilities and high graduation rates. But 2018 didn't come without hardships. National school shootings prompted student-led walkouts and increased school safety upgrades. And a lawsuit regarding the alleged sexual abuse by a former teacher to former students is still lingering without a resolution. But with all the buzz and changes that happened throughout the last year, Spokesman staff decided to compile a list of the Top 10 education stories of 2018:

Changes at CREST

SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO  - Due to the closure of the CREST Farm, the CSA program was discontinued.

This year, the Center for Research in Environmental Sciences and Technologies (CREST) experienced many significant changes, including the retirement of founder and longtime CREST Director Bob Carlson.

Carlson, who retired Oct. 31, is most known for his work with CREST, but is no stranger in the WL-WV schools and with the City of Wilsonville. He was with the district for about 27 years, working as a classroom teacher, environmental science educator and director at CREST. He also led numerous summer camps and environmental science programs in the community.

After Carlson retired, the WL-WV School District created three new positions to keep CREST running smoothly.

Helena Kilstrom is the school garden coordinator, working to improve all of the school gardens. She is implementing hands-on activities to utilize the school gardens and CREST gardens at its headquarters. Currently, Kilstrom is focusing on the primary school gardens and then will work more closely with middle and high school gardens next year.

Amy Schauer was hired as the science instructional coordinator and is heading the CREST educational programs.

Laura Nappi filled the third position as the internship coordinator. Nappi is connecting students with the community to give students real-world experience.

But these weren't the only changes CREST experienced this year. The CREST Farm closed its doors and discontinued its CSA program.

Although there are no set plans for the farm property, the WL-WV School District has discussed that the 10-acre site could provide space for a potential primary school.

Future high school possibilities

As the WL-WV School District continues to grow, and 10-year enrollment projections show that secondary schools are expected to be significantly over capacity, administration has spent 2018 discussing possibilities to help alleviate the pressure of crowded schools in the future.

One of the possibilities WL-WV Superintendent Kathy Ludwig encouraged the district's Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) to consider was enlarging the existing two high schools. One option to increase building capacity at Wilsonville High School would be to build a Performing Arts Center outside of the school and transform the current auditorium and black box theater into additional classroom space. West Linn High School is more landlocked in terms of outward expansion but Ludwig said there is always an option to build an additional level.

Another possibility that was brought to the LRPC's attention was expanding Arts and Technology High School. In 2022, Art Tech's lease for its current building will expire.

Ludwig said Art Tech can remain the same size and lease a different site or it can move into an existing district-owned building. It could also increase in size at a new location, while the other high schools remain the same size.

One option with relocating Art Tech would be to move the school to Athey Creek Middle School's current location because the property allows for expansion if needed. It is also still centrally located for West Linn and Wilsonville students. Athey Creek would then be rebuilt on 21 acres of district-owned property near Dollar Street on Willamette Falls Drive.

Toward the end of 2018, there was also discussion about the district going out for another capital bond, which would pay for projects like a future school and upgrades to existing schools.

Potential capital projects that need substantial funding also include a new Wilsonville primary school on the former CREST Farm site in Frog Pond, WLHS stadium expansion, expanded parking at WLHS and smaller district-wide upgrades.

No definitive decisions on capital investments were made in 2018.

Lawsuit decisions

After two former West Linn High School students filed a $6 million lawsuit more than a year ago against the WL-WV School District, arguing that the district was negligent and failed to provide protection against sexual abuse by former teacher Johnathan Peachey in 2015, strides were made with the case in 2018. The Spokesman became aware of another former student who filed a tort claim, a filing that announces intent to file a lawsuit for damages, saying the teacher had inappropriate sexual contact with him as well.

As for the lawsuit filed by the first two students, the court dismissed the plaintiff's claims of negligence against the district in September 2018.

In October, the plaintiffs filed for a limited judgment, which would allow them to appeal the dismissal of the negligence claims before going to trial on the remaining claims of vicarious liability, where an employer can be liable for negligent acts of its employee if it can be shown the act took place under the scope of employment.

The vicarious liability claim — which focuses on the teacher's conduct in forming a relationship with and then abusing the plaintiffs — says the district had the capability of controlling the employee's action to a degree, and failed to do so.

The younger plaintiff was represented during a Nov. 6 hearing, and was granted the right to appeal the dismissal before heading to trial. His case may impact the second plaintiff's case as both sued the district for the same claims. It was not immediately clear if the other student was also granted the right to appeal the negligence claims.

The judge said he doubted the case would head to trial before next summer or fall, so with the significant delay, the younger plaintiff's attorney argued that the plaintiffs should see what the court of appeals rules during that time.

CTE developments at local high schools

Measure 98, which was passed by Oregon voters in 2017, provides additional funding for high schools to establish Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, college-level educational opportunities and dropout-prevention strategies. And local high schools really hit the ground running in 2018 with their CTE programs.

Philip Clark was hired in January at Arts and Technology High School to teach electronics, programming and tech design.

At Wilsonville High School and West Linn High School additional teachers were CTE-certified and the list of programs and classes were expanded.

WHS now has three CTE pathways — graphic design, computer programming and broadcast journalism. The broadcast journalism program is the newest one.

The video production teacher at WHS has also recently been CTE-certified so a video class can be added to the broadcast program. WHS won't officially add the courses to the program until it is approved through the Oregon Department of Education.

This year, the school also purchased lighting equipment, tripods and other photography tools to build a photography studio in the back of the computer lab.

WLHS also made great strides with the development of its broadcast journalism, web design and engineering CTE programs. The school also added an additional pathway: environmental science. Two greenhouses are currently under construction at WLHS for environmental science students and several pieces of new equipment have been trickling in this year to benefit the other three programs. Earlier this year, new equipment was also purchased for a second computer lab after the publications room was split in half to create two separate computer labs.

The high schools will continue to expand their CTE opportunities and increase community partnership to provide industry experience and internships.

West Linn-Wilsonville Communications Director Andrew Kilstrom said the superintendent's High School Study Group — a group of high school parents, principals, teachers and district administrators who explored the need and range of possibilities for current and future high school program design and learning spaces in 2017-18 — focused on CTE when evaluating learning space needs.

And since Gov. Kate Brown's proposed budget released late November showed that CTE will be fully funded again for the next biennium, Kilstrom said it will pay for the hiring of more CTE-certified teachers and will allow the program to expand even more.

"As this bond process starts, we'll see where it goes but using that High School Study as an anchor, there is intention and plan to give a lift to CTE across the district so that's at all our high schools — whatever they end up looking like," said Kilstrom. "That's building on what we already have and maybe down the future, it's 'OK, we have two strong CTE programs or pathways at each school, and maybe they differ at each school. ... Maybe we vary it a little bit,' so depending on what school you're at you get something different."

District fosters inclusive schools

Wilsonville High School was one of five high schools in Oregon to receive National Unified Champion School status in 2018 (West Linn High School received this status last year).

A Special Olympics Unified Champion School provides an inclusive school environment for all students by providing equal opportunities in sports, the classroom and within school activities.

Both secondary and middle school's have unified basketball and soccer teams and WHS is planning on adding unified softball in the spring.

"Our high schools work pretty closely together. I would imagine if Wilsonville's there, then they'll (WLHS) probably add softball as well," said Kilstrom, adding that there is unified basketball and soccer at the middle-school level across the district as well.

A highlight within WHS's unified soccer program was when two students were selected as delegates for the 2018 Major League Soccer (MLS) All-Star Game, where they participated in the Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star Soccer Match, and represented the state of Oregon's MLS team, the Portland Timbers.

In 2018, WHS also hosted a sensory-friendly game night. The West Linn United club — which focuses on fostering a more equal, inclusive school culture and community — hosts inclusive activities such as lunch gatherings, board game activities, carpooling to sporting events and a fundraiser every year that Kilstrom said usually focuses on autism awareness.

WHS also has a peer mentor program, a class students can take to support students with different needs.

Community pushes for ban against pesticides

SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO  - The WL-WV School District is testing equipment along fence lines that covers the base of any fence to prevent weeds from growing.

Non Toxic Wilsonville, a group of community members that advocate for the use of organic alternatives for combating weeds and pests, met with the WL-WV District and city government officials numerous times in 2018 about the use of chemicals on school grounds, turf fields and in city parks to control weeds.

Though the school district has an Integrated Pest Management Plan, which uses Oregon State University's list of low-impact pesticides, including both herbicides for weeds and insecticides for garden pests, the school district has responded to community concerns. A steam weeding machine to rid smaller weeds was one organic alternative Non Toxic Wilsonville suggested in 2018 at numerous school board meetings.

"Steam treatment will be tested throughout the spring to gauge its effectiveness," said Kilstrom, adding that district officials are also testing equipment along fences lines that cover the base of any fence to prevent weeds from growing. "That product, if it works as well as we think it will, will be used district-wide."

Student walkouts promote school safety

Students in the WL-WV District walked out of their classrooms during two separate student-led walkouts in 2018 to promote school safety and to protest gun violence in schools.

Kilstrom said that while the school district does not sponsor, encourage, nor discourage student demonstration, it supports the students' ability to exercise their First Amendment rights. Teachers remained in class to teach for students who didn't participate.

Rules regarding participation and permissions were created in response to student protests.

Kilstrom said there were no changes in district policies surrounding student walkouts in 2018 and that protests went smoothly.

In response to the community concerns around school safety, the school board appointed a primary and secondary safety advisory committee in 2018, both comprised of students, parents and teachers. Committee members met over summer to analyze district schools and identify areas where safety could be improved. Both groups wanted classroom door locks that could be locked from the inside, adequate supplies and emergency tools in classrooms.They were also looking for assurance that threats, protocols and procedures are being properly communicated to parents and more work is being done around mental health.

During 2018, the WL-WV School District also implemented several safety upgrades to schools. Entrances at Boeckman Creek and Bolton primaries and WLHS were upgraded to require visitors to enter through the main office. The district plans to eventually improve the entrances at all schools.

There is now video surveillance at all schools in visible areas and a radio system has been implemented across the district so staff at schools can communicate immediately in case of an emergency. Special locks were also implemented at Bolton and Boeckman Creek primaries, which allow all the doors to be locked at the same time in case of an emergency. These special locks will eventually be implemented at all schools. New "Go Kits" that include phone chargers, tape, extension cords, flashlights and first aid kits, among other items, have been given to each school as well.

And while the district's Threat Assessment — which provides a process for how the district handles different types of threats — is not new, communication to parents has been improved in 2018 after several families said they needed more transparency and notification when there is an alleged threat at school. The district works with local law enforcement to thoroughly investigate threats and notifies involved families immediately. The district sends an email to families, depending on what law enforcement tells district officials, notifying them of the alleged threat. When the situation is resolved, the district issues a follow-up email.

District graduates high number of students

The state's 2017-18 report card, released Oct. 24, 2018 showed that the WL-WV District performed better than the state average in many categories. Most notable were the district's high graduation rates. Students graduating on time — earning a diploma within four years — came out at 16 percentage points higher than the 77 percent state average. Ninety-six percent of WHS students are graduating on time and 97 percent of WLHS students are graduating on time, according to the 2017-18 state report card.

"We've seen graduation rates for our students with disabilities rise a tremendous amount in the last 10 years," Kilstrom said, adding that graduation rates for students with disabilities was 79 percent in 2017-18, which is about three percentage points higher than 2016-17. "We are one of the only districts in Oregon that's 100 percent inclusive. We don't have self-contained classrooms, every student is in their neighborhood school; they're in their general ed classroom for at least most of the day and it's this complete culture shift we have seen really benefit not just those students but I think all of the students."

Barb Soisson, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said the school district is focused on improving graduation rates in three areas. Both high schools had a skills-based, three-week summer session this year to prepare incoming freshmen who were identified by teachers, counselors and families as students who would benefit from the program.

"There is increased emphasis on the progress and learning needs of ninth-graders, beginning with their transition from middle school," Soisson said, adding that another area that is being focused on is paying close attention to each student's progress and creating individualized plans to support students as soon as there is a concern about graduation.

A third area that is being focused on to improve graduation rates is identifying the specific learning needs of English learners, students with an Individualized Education Program and economically disadvantaged students.

Student musicians

The Youth Music Project (YMP) Intern Band opened for the famous indie folk band, The Head and The Heart, at the Hidden Creek Polo Club in August 2018 for the third annual Polo Noir in West Linn.

The three bandmates — singer and electric bass player Lauren Flick, who is a 2018 Wilsonville High School graduate, Nick Boatman, who plays guitar and just graduated from Alliance Charter Academy in Oregon City, and Zac Cross, who plays drums and just graduated from La Salle Catholic College Preparatory in Milwaukie — were part of the Teen Internship Program at Youth Music Project, a nonprofit organization in West Linn providing music education to children.

And in September, YMP was given a gift. Arlene Schnitzer and Jordan Schnitzer presented YMP with a $25,000 donation at the Volunteers of America's 2018 DePreist Award for Excellence event. The donation was used for general operating purposes.

WHS teacher shares art

Angennette Escobar, a WHS art teacher, was invited to put 25 pieces on display at the Trails End Gallery in Chewelah, Washington in the summer of 2018. Ranging from paintings to sculptures, the artist, who identifies as Mexican-American, picked at emotions stemming from her roots. Her home and her memories were the subjects of the main piece in the show: "Casa Escobar."

Escobar said that after experiencing heightened racism and microaggressions in 2018, the emotions that arose from such remarks fueled her work. And the current immigration crisis sparked a new art idea for Escobar. Because of immigrant children being separated from their parents she decided to start working on a piece to express her sadness: boxes filled with children's toys sealed by bars.

Ultimately, Escobar hoped that by bringing her artwork and culture to her students, and engaging the school and community with events that educate and spread cultural awareness, it would increase people's acceptance of others.

Escobar said in 2018 the Latino student population was increasing locally and she was thrilled when the school district hired Principal Sarita Amaya — also Latina — at Lowrie Primary in July. Escobar said while the population of Latino students is rising, Latino staff and administration needs to increase with the student population.

"Kids need to see people in those positions that look like them," she said.

"That's a huge priority for us, is diversifying our staff," said Kilstrom, adding that the district strives to have a safe, accepting culture of all students.

Kilstrom said Latino staff went up from about 3 percent in 2013 to 6 percent in 2017-18 and he thinks the number might go up about one percentage point next year.

"We will see; it truly is a priority," he said.

According to the 2017-18 state report card, 11 percent of students and 6 percent of teachers are Hispanic or Latino in the school district.

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