First published in theworldlink.com on October 12th, 2018. COOS COUNTY – State senators spent two days touring local school districts this week.
The 79th Legislative Assembly Joint Committee on Student Success ended its statewide tour in Coos County, having already traveled 2,678 miles from Salem and taken testimony from over 273 Oregonians.
The purpose of the tour was to gain insight on how to improve public education and provide better funding.
On Wednesday, the JCSS began the Coos County tour at the Coquille School District.
“This has been an excellent way for us to see what is happening in the schools,” said Lew Frederick, State Senator for District 22 in Portland. “This is the last full tour . . . and this has to be one of my favorite things as a senator. We start off talking with a group of students, asking how they feel about things, what they think is working and not working, and we have heard powerful insights.”
Though The World spoke with Frederick before the committee heard from Coquille School District students, he recalled some of the testimonies from students across the state.
“Without fail, they talk about the fact that they feel they are over-tested and that the tests don’t tell them anything,” he said. “They don’t get information from the test and spend too much time preparing and cancels out other things they would like to be learning.”
Oregon students have told the JCSS their concerns on mental health issues and the fact that schools lack mental health professionals.
While at the Coquille School District, the JCSS took a look at how the district has improved its early learning. They also sat through a presentation at the Coquille Junior and Senior High School where they learned about the district’s participation in a new program through the University of Oregon.
Professor of Practice Nancy Golden explained that Coquille High School is one of four schools in the state working with the university to “do our part to help high school kids graduate,” she said.
The other schools in the pilot program include Roosevelt High School, Pendleton High School, and North Eugene High School. Essentially, the University of Oregon works with a well-respected teacher from each of these schools and makes them into a courtesy clinical professor. From there, they work together on issues the schools are having and come up with innovative ways to solve them.
“That’s the big vision,” Golden said.
From Coquille, Jennifer Sweeney is the teacher on special assignment. She has brought the district’s chronic absenteeism to the table and is working on ways to fix it with these other professionals.
“In Coquille High, about 30 percent of our students are chronically absent,” Sweeney said. “Though the district is growing, the high school is declining. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, so our goal is to see why they aren’t going to school and my job is to help teachers solve the problem.”
Golden hopes to expand the program to later include 10 high schools.
District 5 Senator Arnie Roblan said the tour went well in Coquille.
“Coquille is a good example of what creative school districts are doing to meet the need of some of our earliest learners,” he said. “Coquille was also clear they have work to do with attendance, and they have building needs but have been creative in solutions and in finding teachers.”
He and Frederick addressed the teacher shortage and that they hope to find more resources to keep teachers in Oregon.
“Right now we’re identifying the needs, what they cost and then how to get the revenue,” Roblan said.
“Our goal is to have policies and revenue in place by the end of the next session, so the beginning of the next school year,” he said. “That’s a big order.”
The JCSS also met with the business community at Marshfield High School’s Pirate Hall, where professionals from places like the Bandon Dunes and Bay Area Enterprises met.
“From the business community, we want to find out what they think the schools are doing,” Roblan said of the business round table. “Many are school board members, so they have perspective on how it works.”
Local business members that spoke to the committee said that they would like to see students graduate high school trained to work with money, in the trades, and also have their driver’s licenses.
During the tour, Frederick and the committee also saw that not every school had equal opportunities. He recalled during some student discussions, Career and Technical Education Programs were brought up by one student and another said they didn’t know they could take college level courses in high school.
“That happened on a regular basis,” he said.
Frederick hopes that the tour will result in positive change for Oregon schools, including putting counselors and mental health professionals in every school.
“I think we can do that if we set it up with the community care organizations,” he said. “We can have CCO’s take that role and take the burden off the regular schools and education funding. I also think we need to find some way to increase revenues and not try to do this cheap approach to education.”
Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.