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Reynolds tackles challenging conversations

An education summit brings stakeholders together to discuss how the district can improve


When Rob Saxton saw Oregon’s high school graduation rate was at 68 percent — the fourth lowest in the nation — the state deputy superintendent of education just about choked.

“People want to know who’s responsible for the education of our children,” Saxton said. “Is it the superintendent? The deputy superintendent? The student? The principal, parent, teacher, bus driver, guy who owns a business downtown or the Legislature?

“The answer is yes. You have to make it your own personal responsibility and declare in your mind it is no one else’s.”

Saxton

Saxton spoke before about 200 Reynolds School District parents, students and staff during an education summit Thursday, Feb. 28, urging participants to unite and change the system.

During the three-hour event, the multipurpose room of Reynolds High School was filled with spirited conversation — touching on race and economic disparities — as stakeholders pored over four questions related to the mission and vision of the district.

Participants spent 18 minutes answering questions from the district with each table of six to eight reporting back in the last half of the summit.

Responses compiled during the summit will be posted on the district website and incorporated into district planning, said Superintendent Linda Florence.

Florence

“I came to the district July 1 and had a vision I shared with many of you,” Florence said. “Each and every child needs to be prepared for a world yet to be imagined. We don’t know what this world is going to look like by 2025, but if we look at scores and outcomes, we’re not meeting it right now. You’re here to help us take the next steps to ensure every child gets the education he or she deserves.”

Florence described Reynolds as a district of five municipalities with great diversity, yet great challenges to overcome.

With a 2010-11 school year graduation rate of 48 percent and a 2011-12 rate of 58 percent, the district has made a leap, but it’s still 10 percent behind the state level.

“Your system is perfectly designed to get those outcomes,” Saxton said. “Tonight we’re visioning to design a new system so that you can reach 68, 88, 98 percent graduation rates.”

Saxton presented Gov. John Kitzhaber’s educational goal called 40-40-20, which calls for 100 percent of high school students to receive a diploma. By 2025, the state is aiming for 40 percent of high school graduates to enroll in a four-year college, 40 percent to enter an associate degree or trade program, and the remaining 20 percent of graduates to join the work force.

He also described how the state is looking at education as a kindergarten through college model instead of separate levels, trying to transition students more smoothly from elementary to secondary to higher education.

“You cannot keep the system that you have,” Saxton said. “You have to change to get a different outcome.”

Saxton also presented statewide graduation rates for students of color, saying the state needed to close the achievement gap. Statewide, the graduation rate is 56 percent for Latinos, 54 percent for African-Americans, 53 percent for Native Americans and 55 percent for Asian or Pacific Islander students.

After the table discussions and sharing, Florence said the summit was a great way to gain momentum for the district. She said more events will be held in the future.

“It’s urgent we create a climate of equity for each and every child, no matter his or her background, economic status, culture, religion, ability, gender or race,” Florence said. “We need to put supports in place to be prepared for the next step.”

Diego Hernandez, a 2005 Reynolds High School graduate and school board candidate, said the summit was a step in the right direction for the district.

“We’ve been through a lot of challenges, and something like this was needed,” Hernandez said. “We have a lot of moving forward to go through in trying to get on the same page.

“I think the questions on the survey were really impactful. There was a sense of inclusivity having conversations about the issues and the diversity in our community.”




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