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Market school district to wider audience, panel says

After meeting five times to review programs in the Lake Oswego School District, an ad hoc parent committee concluded that offerings are excellent and should be marketed to a wider audience.

The committee - one of two such groups organized by district officials to combat declining enrollment - was given the charge of considering district programs to assist the board in providing the most value with its given resources.

The group was also asked to present a final report to the board, but its 10 members said that they need additional time to analyze programs - especially at the high school level.

So far, the committee has thoroughly reviewed the elementary and middle level programs to make preliminary recommendations.

The committee will reconvene in the fall to discuss high school programs and finalize their report for the board.

Committee leader Carol Middleton and parent members Anne Woodbury and John Wendland presented a few suggestions, a summary of activities and meeting minutes to the board Monday.

'Overall the committee finds the district programs to be of excellent quality and value,' the report said. '(The committee has) been pleased to learn of the depth and breath of the programs and the consistency within the elementary and junior high programs across the district.'

The committee said it has also repeatedly discussed ideas for publicizing and marketing the district's strengths. They noted that Communications Coordinator Nancy Duin recently updated the district Web site.

According to the report, the district must 'capitalize on the fact that we have small schools and our niche - who we are and what we do well, our sense of community and core values.'

This must be communicated to the public both inside and outside of the district, the report added.

'People know we have great schools, but don't have an understanding of the quality, richness and depth of the programs,' according to the report.

The committee's ideas for improvement included: Expansion of the world language offerings and academic electives at the junior high level; the hiring of 'readers' at the junior high level to support the writing program; possible expansion of world languages offered through Community Schools at the elementary level; and expansion of the full-day kindergarten program.

Wendland and Woodbury also noted that the district could always work on shrinking class size.

'We're sitting in a wonderful position and our biggest thing is that we need to get out and market it,' especially to those choosing a district, Wendland said.

Woodbury, a Lakeridge High School parent, said the district has come a long way since the days when her children attended elementary school. She especially approves of the easy access to teachers and administrators.

The committee will continue to compare and contrast programs with those in other districts and private schools and consider whether their ideas would be possible - or desirable - for the district.

Board members Linda Brown and Rich Akerman thanked committee members for their help and communicating their perspective to the board.

'It's the parents who have the kids that work so hard,' Akerman said. 'And we have really great kids all around … We do have something pretty special here.'

In other school board news:

The district plans to 'cautiously' pilot 'Parent Assistant,' an online component of eSIS, an electronic student information system currently used in the district to track registration and grades.

The program, already used in several Oregon school districts, acts as a way to share educational information with parents. That information may include a student's assignments, attendance, demographic data, transcript, school calendar, daily schedule and more.

During the pilot period, which begins in April, Parent Assist access will be limited to a sample of parents, mainly school advisory committee members. The group will only be able to access demographics and attendance information, officials said.

'We're cautiously testing the waters to see what the parent response is,' said Middleton, executive director of schools and educational programs.

If implemented, Parent Assist will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for parent access through the district Web site. Parents will be required to login using a username and password provided by the district. Teachers will submit information to the site according to their own schedule.

The district plans to finish the pilot in May and gather feedback from parents. By fall, its hopes to implement attendance and other modules.

Similar programs are already used in the Springfield, David Douglas, Reynolds and Oregon Trail school districts.