With the largest state investment in education in 30 years comes high expectations, D21 Superintendent Candy Armstrong told the school board Sept 26. If results aren’t achieved, she said, the money will dry up.

The Student Success Act passed by the Oregon Legislature earlier this year will funnel $1 billion a year into Oregon schools, $2 million of which goes to North Wasco County School District 21.

The mission is to close the “achievement gap,” or the disparity in academic performance between groups of students.

A key new obligation is reaching out to traditionally unreached groups, Armstrong said, and doing so on a short timeframe. “So we’ll be scrambling to do that,” she said.

Instead of having a school meeting and hoping people will show up—the ones who do are typically families who already know the system, she said—a new tactic is being pursued. As part of it, Armstrong will be speaking at a migrant parents meeting next week.

She’ll ask them what barriers they’re facing and what the district can do differently to help them.

Educational equity, which translates into resource allocation, education rigor and opportunities for historically and currently marginalized youth and families, is a major push behind the new funding.

Armstrong showed a 1970s-era elementary classroom photo from an education leader in Oregon. The class was small, with all white students. Armstrong said today’s class would have about eight more students, and be much more diverse, with more students of color and maybe some students with disabilities.

She cited a statistic that found the expulsion/suspension rate for black students in Oregon was 7.4 percent—“in kindergarten.”

She said a lot of families are in an income strata where they don’t qualify for Head Start, a government-funded pre-school, but they can’t afford private pre-school. The result is students arriving in kindergarten without the social ande emotional skills to calm themselves.

She said it presents itself as a discipline issue but it’s really a school readiness issue.

The school district will establish its own accountability targets, but the state will “negotiate our targets with us,” Armstrong said.

Target areas include curbing absenteeism, boosting on-time graduation, and boosting third grade reading proficiency rates.

She said the new parameters under the Student Success Act are more stringent than past parameters set by the state.

The Legislature also provided funding to the state’s 16 education service districts to help the school districts in their area implement changes. The local Columbia Gorge Education Service District, which will get about $330,000 over two years, will hire a liaison to work with local districts by facilitating local engagement and doing outreach to traditionally underserved populations. They will also help with professional development and with coaching and analysis of data on student performance.

Pat Sublette, superintendent of the local ESD, said the two main foci of the Student Success Act are student achievement and behavioral health.

In answer to a question from D21 Board member Rebecca Thistlethwaite about the tight timeframe of accomplishing their goals, Sublette said, “They talk about building the airplane as you fly them.”

The work that needs to be done will take time, Sublette said. “We can’t ask people that we’ve never listened to before to trust us. That takes years.”

Thistlethwaite asked if students would be polled for their opinion, and Armstrong said they would, and that the district would specifically reach out to less represented students.

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