...if we reject divisive rhetoric

As a life-long resident, with family roots reaching back more than a century, I have a unique perspective regarding the recent tumult within our school district.

A streak of non-conformist, 'us against the establishment,' attitude has always existed in our town. This has led to many interesting and excellent community events, home-grown companies and plenty of debate. Our collective beliefs, however, allowed us to maintain a small-town feel and community-oriented vision.

We have faced many issues and our community holds many differing opinions, but one thing was always true of our disagreements: bullying was not often successfully employed.

Thus, it has been difficult to watch a very small group thrust us into an ugly debate with potentially damaging outcomes to our educational system and our students.

While I whole-heartedly support the right to disagree and create discourse, the tactics being used by supporters of the school board recall are dishonest and classically political. Their efforts could lead to events that weaken our schools and create division where none existed.

The recall supporters would have you believe their fight is about issues affecting all students. This is simply not true. If it was, they would stop their unreasoned and unfounded claims that our district didn't need and won't benefit from a reading program.

Our elementary teachers have worked tirelessly for years while clocking many hours beyond contractual obligations. Most, however, are not reading specialists and because of lack of resources, were forced to find their own materials to build their own reading programs.

Their efforts have been noble, and some were very successful. But the fact is, the majority of students enter fifth grade reading at least one year below grade level and in many cases two years. In 2008-2009, 55 percent of students entering fifth grade read below grade level.

This is not an indictment of our elementary educators. Rather, it is the result of a largely uncoordinated approach to reading instruction that generally lacked a systemic vision.

Research is clear that if children don't read at grade level by third grade, they are likely never to fully catch up to grade level. This leads to tragic consequences. Investing in the future of our students by purchasing a reading program was not only the right course of action but also a moral imperative.

As the parent of an incoming first grader who could already read, I had to consider how her instruction would look with adoption of the reading program.

Would the program propel her forward or hinder her growth? What about her peers for whom reading does not come as easily? What about our teachers who devote so much time and effort without the benefit of a coordinated guide and curriculum helping organize resources and inform instructional decisions?

Ultimately, the right decision was to consider what was best for all students. For my daughter, it has worked out well.

If you ask teachers now using the program, you will find many supportive and cautiously optimistic - while cognizant of the amount of time it is taking to learn and implement. They are hopeful that this coordinated approach in which real, comparable data can be gathered, analyzed and utilized will lead to higher achievement results.

It is exciting to consider that in a few years, many of the reading support classes now in place at the high school can be phased out for electives and other engaging opportunities for our students.

Our district leadership, and specifically Superintendent Yvonne Curtis, has a vision for this district that includes adapting to a changing educational landscape while continuing to strive for equity in achievement and opportunity for all students.

In a community with as much diversity and as many economic challenges as ours, building on the successes our district has had and the positive notoriety we are gaining across the region is imperative. It would be shortsighted to imperil the function and direction of our district now.

Supporters of the recall have shown a lack of empathy for all children in our district and a dearth of understanding about the reasons behind certain decisions with which they disagree. Predictably, our local paper has more than obliged their rhetoric, whether accurate or not.

You can be proud of what is currently happening in your schools. Despite the challenges of last spring and the impending financial difficulties we face, our teachers are positive and energized. Our students are happily making the best of diminished choices and difficult changes. Our community has, as always, stepped in to fill many of the painful gaps created through last year's budget reductions. Our district is on a path to healthy recovery and continued improvement.

I implore you to consider the implications of voting in support of this ill-conceived recall. I ask that you send a clear message to those who would use their personal affronts and disappointments to force their will upon us all. Just vote.

Lastly, ask yourself if you remember how your primary grade teachers taught you to read. If you are over 30, likely it was with the use and benefit of a core reading program.

- Editor's note: Brandon Hundley is the principal of Neil Armstrong Middle School. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the school or the Forest Grove School District.

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