Jeff Rose says district will demonstrate its strength and resolve
by: Jonathan House, Superintendent Jeff Rose says the changes ahead will force educators to look at solutions that have never been entertained.

Superintendent Jeff Rose's first year at the helm of the Beaverton School District has been a challenging one.

After making the transition from the Canby School District, which educates about 5,000 students in nine schools in Clackamas County, to one that serves more than 39,000 students in 51 schools, Rose said Friday it was 'a huge change' that offered him the opportunity to learn new things every day on the job.

As the 2011-12 school year winded to a close, he took time to reflect.

'I had a very interesting, unique year - it was a year like no other for myself and the district,' Rose said. 'At times it was fascinating and exciting, and at other times, it was overwhelming and daunting.'

With his new leadership role, Rose challenged district administrators this year to get out into the schools and really examine the system to determine if Beaverton is a cohesive school district or a district of schools.

'One of the things I feel really proud of is the transition we are making internally,' Rose said. 'There has been a great deal of alignment in the district.

'There is a yearning to be a united system with a common thread that runs through all of our schools. That thread should be tied to our strategic plan. It's a new way of working as a school district that I think will have huge dividends in the future.'

New focus

While there are a lot of great things going on in schools, Rose noted, 'We're juggling way too many initiatives. We need to focus on one to do extremely well in the future.'

This year, school leaders have decided to focus on the individual student growth component of the district's strategic plan and examine how teacher collaboration leads to student success in the classroom and beyond.

'We need to be very intentional,' Rose said of efforts to do more than merely dabble in teacher collaboration. 'Individual student growth is the most important part of our strategic plan. Internally, we are ramping up to set the stage to do that extremely well, using the teacher collaboration model.

'Having teachers engaged in the discussion makes a dramatic difference and it honors the voice and expertise of our educators. We're all more focused on creating a cohesive school district as opposed to a district of schools.'

As part of building that cohesion within the district from building to building, the district also looked at its technology needs.

'We don't have the necessary technology nor tools in the hands of kids to support learning,' Rose said. 'We have a long, long way to go.'

However, the district did invest in a new computer lease program that equips all certified staff with laptop computers next year that will allow them to all work on the same, consistent platform. Rose said this will be the first step to 'one day integrate technology in the classroom at a much greater level.'

'We're creating a base for the future to focus dollars on putting technology into the hands of our kids, and I'm very excited about that,' Rose added. 'Class size is a very real dilemma - we're all worried about it. We're also worried that we don't have a computer in the hands of every student. Being proficient in the use of computers and technology is a critical skill in the job market. Even during difficult times, we need to start looking toward our goals. We need to provide access to support kids' future success.'

Daunting cuts

There is one accomplishment Rose said he does not feel good about: Balancing the 2012-13 budget, which called for identifying $37 million in reductions.

Balancing that budget meant eliminating 344 staff positions, shaving five days from the calendar, eliminating programs and increasing class sizes.

'It was a major task and a goal we were forced to reach,' Rose said. 'It's odd to reach a goal and feel sick about it.

'There was a need for our district to create a more sustainable budget. We knew that last spring. In the future, we will be able to focus on building stability in programs versus a reduction in programs. This budget builds a new base.'

While he is not happy with the tough cuts district leaders were forced to make, Rose said they were necessary based on the revenue the district brings in to fund education. 'We've had years of a non-sustainable staffing model,' he said. 'While I personally and philosophically agree with that staffing model, at this point in time, it's a staffing model we can't afford.'

Behind the scenes, the district's strategic budget team did a lot more than build a budget, he said. 'We created new levels on consistency through all levels of our schools, K-12. It's a cultural shift.'

A shift he feels will allow schools to work more closely together and become stronger as a district over time, Rose added.

Resilience despite uncertainty

For now, he admitted times are extremely tough for Beaverton educators as layoffs are revealed.

'One of the hardest things we are suffering through right now is all of the unknowns,' Rose said. 'We are getting through our staffing scenarios of who will be in what position and in what building. At the high school level, there is also the complexity of courses and schedules.

'We won't know about some of our layoffs for weeks. We are working through some right now, but it's a domino issue.We're trying to go as fast as we can because it's the right thing to do for our employees.'

What is certain is that schools will look different when students return to class in September. Class sizes will be larger, program and class offerings will be different and many familiar faces will no longer be in schools.

Looking ahead, Rose said, 'We need to work smarter and more strategic than we've ever been. These changes will force us to look at solutions that have never been entertained. This is the time we will demonstrate our strength and our resolve as a school district.'

In light of the uncertainty ahead, Rose has been inspired by the resilience of district leaders and staff as they continue to stand strong.

'Even though this is hard, there are so many people who have not lost faith in the end of the story,' Rose said. 'They inspire me and give me a firmer belief that this district can be collectively greater.'

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