Football aside, its a good time to compare and contrast school programs

by: Tyler Graf A bus drops off students at Scappoose’s Petersen Elementary Sept. 13.

It's been 12 years since Scappoose and St. Helens high school football teams squared off on the gridiron. As Friday's attendance reflected, there is clear demand in south Columbia County to see how these two football programs fare against each other.

In this most recent version, Scappoose came away the victor with a 43-25 score. But that hasn't always been the case. In fact, St. Helens - as The Spotlight's sports editor informs - holds the historical edge when it comes to football scores.

While that is a significant accomplishment and source of pride for the winning program, it's important to keep it in perspective. From our point of view, there are criteria other than football scores the districts should be using to gauge competitiveness with each other.

Some are obvious, such as test scores, graduation and drop-out rates. Others, such as transparency, cooperativeness, taxpayer and parent satisfaction, less so.

As the school year gets underway, the effects of the current state budget crisis are sure to be felt in both districts. As Tyler Graf reports this week, teachers and district administrators are having to cope with unprecedented classroom sizes. Even small, previously minor obstacles to providing quality education will be magnified in light of the resource - teachers, supplies, etc. - reductions.

But there are immediate ways administrators in both schools can make a difference.

In our effort to report on budget-induced effects within the districts, we contacted several teachers with the purpose of gaining access to the classrooms. Much has been reported - and broadcasted from the districts - about the increase in classroom sizes and other hardships due to budget cuts. We wanted to experience such effects firsthand and talk to the teachers who are on the front lines of the current budget crisis as it affects our local schools and the students who attend them.

In St. Helens, the reception we received from teachers has been positive; they want to talk about the challenges they are experiencing in the classroom. In fact, in some cases the teachers felt it was vitally important to convey that information. Others thought it was too political right now, considering current contract negotiations occurring between the administration and the teachers union.

Several of those who initially said they were willing to talk to us had to backtrack, however, citing follow-up discussions with district administrators who said teachers could only talk to us with prior approval from the superintendent.

This isn't the first time we've experienced roadblocks to access or have been met with a cool reception when attempting to report on the St. Helens School District. Regretfully, this is a story we've heard before - often from parents who believe the district has been dismissive of their concerns. Some have attributed the district's attitude to the reason St. Helens' voters habitually reject money initiatives to improve school facilities. In this sense, new Superintendent Mark Davalos has the opportunity to have a tremendous positive effect: Be transparent and receptive to the questions of those within the district, not evasive or defensive. We would like to see the cultivation of a customer service-oriented culture, one that is cooperative and community-spirited.

Already, we believe Mr. Davalos' open and congenial demeanor is having a positive effect, and after his involvement we were able to continue our coverage.

The Scappoose School District, in our experience, approaches information and access requests with a helpful, cooperative spirit, while still maintaining its role as protector of student health and safety.

This was once again our experience when attempting to pull together data and experiences regarding the effect of budget cuts on Scappoose classroom sizes.

Notably, the Scappoose district - with the hard work of many of its invested volunteers - in 2008 successfully passed a $42 million levy to rebuild one of its dilapidated buildings.

Both Davalos and new Scappoose School District Superintendent John Miner have their hands full attempting to build solid, enlightened education programs in the midst of budget blackouts.

It won't be an easy task.

As much as the districts are on the hook to provide quality education to our children, so must local parents evaluate their own contributions to their children's education.

Now, perhaps more than any other moment, is the time to get involved and to make a difference.