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Forest Grove education summit wraps up

Four-day week, partnerships get a look by study teams as summit disbands
by: Chase Allgood Director of Student Achievement John O’Neill, who’ll become assistant superintendent of Forest Grove schools next year, lays out data for about 100 community members who participated in this winter’s Summit on Education.

The Forest Grove School District's community Summit on Education wrapped up five weeks of work March 8 with five study teams presenting their research and findings on various money-saving options.

District officials are facing a budget deficit that will force them to cut between $7 million and $11 million next year, about 20 percent of the district's general fund budget.

In the process, 50 to 70 teachers could get pink slips, and at least one school could be closed.

Two of the study team reports appear below. Three more, on volunteers, grade level configurations and school consolidation/closure, will be published in the News-Times in future weeks.

Four-day week study team report

Participants: Heidi Alsop, Deb Bratland, Sara Logue, Cherie Kinnersley, Anna Schneider and district spokeswoman Connie Potter

Would there be a savings to district budget? Yes. The amount depends on how it's structured. Other districts reported anywhere from minimal savings to more than $400,000 per year.

Would this savings be sustainable? Yes

Short summary of the group's discussion/conclusions: Each study team member contacted two or three districts that are either on a four-day week or tried a four-day week and returned to a five-day schedule. Districts contacted were Corbett, Nestucca, Taft, Redmond, Wallowa, Central Linn, St. Helens, Amity, Pine Eagle, North Powder, Union, Siuslaw and North Wasco (The Dalles).

Most of the districts extended their school day by about 30 minutes at the elementary level and 45 minutes at the secondary level. In most districts, teachers worked occasional Fridays (anywhere from one or two Fridays per month to one Friday per quarter), and all staff development and staff meetings were held on Fridays. Districts on four-day school weeks all love the schedule. Two districts tried it and went back to five days for various reasons. Redmond's teachers disliked the four-day schedule because they had no prep time during the school day. In the North Wasco district, there were union issues, scheduling and paperwork issues.

Childcare was an initial issue in all of the districts, but wasn't a big issue after several months. Some districts organized Friday programs and childcare options to help ease the transition for families. Most discontinued them after several months because families seemed to solve their childcare issues.

The group liked the Redmond School District's idea to offer 'Choice Fridays,' where dozens of community groups offered programs and enrichment activities to students on Fridays.

Most of the study team members favor moving to a four-day school week, depending on how it was structured. If the district moves to a four-day week, the group recommends that full-day kindergarten be offered, even if it's only two days a week.

Pros: Save on busing, utilities and substitutes; fewer student and staff absences due to the ability to schedule personal appointments on Fridays; parents need less child care on school days; older students can get paying jobs on Fridays; more time for family activities; students can do reports and homework on Fridays; teachers can teach in longer chunks of uninterrupted time; it could be a recruiting tool for new staff; might be a morale booster for existing staff.

Cons: Days are too long or tiring; students miss more when absent because teachers cover more content in a longer day; childcare issue for Fridays; older students may be left home unsupervised on Fridays; students who already have a long bus ride will arrive home late and in the dark; may be a hardship for students on free or reduced lunch who wouldn't have access to school lunch on Fridays.

Partnerships with outside resources study team report

Participants: Susan Amort, Anita Zijdemans Boudreau, Marian Cakarnis, Alex Doyle, Hillary Frie, Elizabeth Leitko, Ricardo Palazuelos and Superintendent Yvonne Curtis

Would there be a savings to district budget? Not applicable

Short summary of the group's discussion/conclusions: Forest Grove School District has a number of successful partnerships. This project has provided the district an opportunity to take an inventory of our current partnerships. The group met one time and determined there would not be any cost savings to be considered in developing the 2011-12 budget.

Future: We plan to continue meeting and will work toward achieving the goals we've defined. New partnerships could provide new opportunities for students by replacing programs that were eliminated due to budget cuts.

The group identified the following possible goals: Fill gaps caused by budget cuts; strengthen existing community partnerships (i.e. Centro Cultural in Cornelius) and create new partnerships and connections; use partners to move the district to the next level; find new funding sources; and enable technology solutions with partners, including flexible, virtual classes.

Possible sources for partnerships: Grants, partnerships, contractors and underutilized volunteer skills.

Possible mission statements: To develop relationships enabling the district to offer new solutions for preparing students for college, career and citizenship; and to develop a strategic plan for technology integration and explore possibilities for establishing a virtual school or online course options within the district. We would want to add to the two objectives above within the scope of the looming budget cuts.