The Oregon school board is focusing on making significant changes in the district’s core curriculum that are expected to be implemented within the next few years.
“This is going to apply to all of our students within the context of our school districts,” Diane Gadus, vice president of the school board, said at a special meeting on March 5. “This is a major overhaul of our educational system here in Oregon City Schools. In essence, it’s going to change the context of education as you and I had experienced when we were back in elementary, middle school and high school. So it’s going to look nothing like we’ve experienced.”
Superintendent Dr. Mike Zalar said the district has been in the process of implementing a strategic plan the board adopted in February 2010,
“So we’re about two years into that,” he said of the plan, which he described as a road map for the district.
“There are some areas where the district has made some significant progress, some areas that progress has been less and has yet to be determined. I want to refocus the board’s attention to this because this is really where we need to be looking to provide direction for the district,” he said. “One component of the plan dealt with curriculum, and that’s the primary area I want to focus on tonight.”
Beginning in 2009, the district entered into the Ohio Improvement Process, a designation that the state pushed on districts for not making annual progress based on test scores, he added. “So that’s a big mile marker that happened in conjunction with the strategic plan.” The Ohio Improvement Process is designed to help districts improve their test scores with students on the Ohio Achievement Test (OCT) from grades K-8, and the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) for the 10th grade.
The state is also in the process of adopting common core state standards, which are national standards currently being adopted by the Ohio Department of Education. They will replace the current state standards in the academic core content areas and will be in place in 2014-2015, according to Zalar. The district is also involved in the Race to the Top Grant program that is looking at changing the Teacher Evaluation System and making it more performance based.
All of the initiatives need to be aligned into a coherent school improvement plan going forward, he said. The District Leadership Team, made up of district teachers, administrators and staff, has been developing a strategy to help the district achieve the goal of becoming an excellent school district. Some of the changes being proposed for board consideration include adopting ACT Quality Core standards, examining current district grading practices and taking another look at grade level reconfiguration.
“These are all ideas that have been discussed in the district and community previously. However, given the changes occurring at the state level and the district’s desire to improve student achievement, the board feels the time is right to move in this direction,” Zalar said after the meeting.
Forty-four percent of graduating high school students in Ohio are taking remedial classes at the college level in math and reading, according to Zalar.
“That’s Ohio in general. Our statistics are very much in line with that. So we have a problem. I’ve been in the district for nine years. Most of our central office staff have been here for the same amount of time. We’ve been talking about the same type of initiatives the last nine years, pretty much. We just haven’t been able to get any traction on any of those. The focus has been on finances, trying to pass a levy, trying not to alienate the community. At the same time, our test scores have been stagnant. We’ve maintained the quality of our program during a time when we’ve had to reduce our budget significantly. There’s a lot that’s going on, a lot that’s been driven by the Ohio Improvement Process. A lot has been driven by the district’s decision to participate in the Race to the Top Grant. We have a strategic plan that alludes to some of these initiatives. But we’re asking the board to provide some direction for us as administrators to work with the staff, the district leadership team, and see where we want to go with the district.”
Community surveys, said Zalar, shows a strong desire for the district to be designated as an excellent school district.
“In order for us to become an excellent school district, I believe there needs to be some significant structural changes that happen. It’s not that people are not working hard. I don’t believe that for one minute. Teachers work very hard every day in the classrooms. I think that the consensus among our district leadership team is that we’re just not organized in the most efficient, effective way to achieve the kind of results we want to achieve. So I think what we’re looking for is a directive to say we need to start engaging our community in our conversation and to see what they want to do, what the direction is that they want to go. Based on the data we have, they’re telling us they want to be an excellent district. We expect better performance out of our students related to test scores and other types of data. If we’re going to get that, we have to do something different because we’ve been doing the same thing for many, many years and expecting a different result. And it’s not getting us where we need to be. If we want to change the results we’ve been getting, we’re going to have to do some things that we traditionally have not done in the past,” said Zalar.
“We’re at a crossroads in the district,” said Zalar. “We’ve had a lot of traction in a number of different areas. In order for us to make significant progress, we may have to look at doing some things that may not even be in the strategic plan. One of those is going to be looking at how we’re currently organized by grades, by schools, by students utilizing our staff and resources more effectively so we can achieve the kind of outcome the community expects from us.”
Gadus said the board is going to have to consider how to provide information on the changes to the community.
“How is this information going to be conveyed to the community? This is huge,” she said.
“We’re going to need to develop a community engagement process to inform the community what the issues are, and make them aware of what the proposals are to accomplish the intended goals and outcomes we are looking for,” said Zalar.
The District Leadership team will continue to study the proposed change initiatives this spring and into the fall of next year, said Zalar after the meeting. “When the research has been finished, including input from parents and the community, a recommendation will be taken to the board of education for a decision. Most likely, any significant change will be for the 2013 and 2014 school year.”