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Kitzhaber welcomes students back to school

Governor has plans for reforming state education system


by: PHOTO BY JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber welcomes students at Metzger Elementary School back to school in an assembly, Wednesday.by: PHOTO BY JAIME VALDEZ - Students at Metzger Elementary School listen as Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber welcomes them to a new school year on Wednesday morning.Dressed in blue jeans and blazer, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber spent his Wednesday morning with students at Metzger Elementary School.

“How are you doing?” Kitzhaber asked a group of fifth grade students in the Metzger library, before joining their classmates for an all-school assembly to welcome the governor.

Kitzhaber was in Metzger to discuss his plans for the coming school year, and his goal to have every student in the state graduate high school by 2025.

“I especially want to welcome our incoming kindergartners. They probably don’t know it and might care less, but they will play a significant role in how education is delivered in Oregon in the years ahead,” Kitzhaber told a room of parents and reporters Wednesday morning. “They are the class of 2025, the year we set an aspirational goal of 100 percent high school graduation.”

It’s an uphill climb for a state that currently has a 67 percent on-time graduation rate — a percentage Kitzhaber said was “unacceptable.”

However, Kitzhaber said, “impossible” things have been done before.

“When (President John F.) Kennedy made that speech to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, he had just received a report from the National Science Academy saying that it was impossible,” Kitzhaber said. “What he gave us was a destination, not a roadmap. That destination was powerful enough to motivate the American people to pull together and achieve that. This is our ‘Apollo moment.’ We’ve set the destination, and with the motivation, I am absolutely convinced that we can get there.”

Kitzhaber said he was looking at the work being done in the Tigard-Tualatin School District to help him achieve that goal.

Former Superintendent Rob Saxton left the district in July at the governor’s request to become the state’s first deputy superintendent of public instruction.

by: PHOTO BY JAIME VALDEZ - Kitzhaber said that the state had a long road to reform education, but said that Tigard-Tualatin was a model for how to accomplish big things, with few resources.The district has one of the best graduation rates in the Portland area and has won awards for closing the achievement gap every year.

“One of the remarkable things about this school district during Rob’s tenure is that they have really moved the dial on second grade reading and a variety of things,” Kitzhaber said. “They’ve demonstrated that even with the resources we have, you can make a huge difference for kids.”

Kitzhaber said parents could expect changes starting this year with principal and teacher evaluations and a focus on literacy in elementary and science in secondary school.

These changes come as Tigard-Tualatin is bracing itself for even more budget cuts later this year. Saxton said for months before moving to Salem that the cuts would be significant unless the state gives more money to public education.

More funding is something Kitzhaber wants to see as well, he said.

“It is crucial that we better protect our economy and that we better protect our public school system from the boom and bust economic cycles which have funded us in the past,” he said.

Kitzhaber told the Metzger student body that the challenge for adults like him was to bring the success of Tigard-Tualatin students to other areas of the state.

“One of our strategies is to take what is working for some kids in some schools, and deliver those outcomes to all kids, in all schools,” he said.