Meyer launches new programs, returns to core curriculum

MeyerMelissa Meyer’s computer at MITCH Charter School has a simple message on it: “Keep calm and carry on.”

That’s an important reminder in a school that has seen its share of turmoil in the past few years.

Meyer took over the 250-student school in June and has plans to turn things around.

MITCH — which stands for Multi-sensory Instruction, Teaching Children Hands-on — is the Tigard-Tualatin School District’s only charter school. Founded more than a decade ago by longtime director Debi Lorence, the school bounced across the district for years before finding a permanent home in Tualatin three years ago.

Lorence resigned last January, bringing to light a series of conflicts between parents, teachers and staff.

A teacher resigned in protest of “fear” she said teachers and staff were subjected to, and parents pulled children from the school, saying MITCH had developed a “systemic silencing” through policies, fear and shame. Those parents claimed they could no longer recommend the school to others.

The school’s board of directors asked the Oregon School Board Association to investigate the school, citing complaints from staff. Even the board of directors has seen members step down in the past few years.

Now, six months on the job, Meyer — a former librarian at Westside Christian and Horizon Christian high schools — is working to pick up the pieces of the broken school.

Culture change

Meyer spent the summer hiring new teachers to fill vacant positions. “Then we hit the ground running,” she said. “We have great, awesome, amazing teachers. That’s the core of who we are.”

Some of the work the school is doing to rebuild is structural, Meyer said. For years, the school has run its middle school program like an elementary school, with self-contained classrooms. This year, MITCH moved to a more traditional middle school model, with electives for students, and teachers focusing on specialized areas of study, such as language arts or science. Meyer even set up lockers for students.

MITCH’s curriculum is largely focused on agriculture, but the school did not have a garden of its own, Meyer said. The school established its first garden, and she is working to create a full-fledged library, the first the school has seen.

“The culture that we are trying to build is one of collaboration between myself and teachers,” she said. “We are trying to create a culture where teachers are valued. They are professionals who have worked very hard to get to where they are. They bring a lot of experience doing what they do, and we want them to be seen as valued professionals.”

Meyer said the school has drifted from its mission.

“Over the years, we have moved away from what we do best,” she said, which is teach curriculum known as the Core Knowledge Sequence. “Students taught using their curriculum score very well on standardized tests without being taught to the tests.”

The school is re-evaluating the way it teaches the subjects, to bring them closer to the Core Knowledge model, she said.

There are still plenty of hurdles to overcome. Test scores have dropped in the school in the past few years.

“I would love to see 100 percent of our students meet benchmark. That’s not an unreasonable goal — it’s not pie in the sky,” she said.

Meyer said those drops come from a few places.

“The turmoil in the school had a huge impact on a couple of classes, and that’s not good for students,” she said.

But that was only part of the issue, Meyer said. Other possible factors include the way the school launched its middle school program three years ago, the same year scores began to drop.

“Rather than build from fifth grade into sixth grade, we just opened up three grades at one time,” she said. “We got a number of students who had not gone through the program. Their test scores did not reflect our program.”

Meyer said students are receiving a top-notch education, but the tests aren’t reflecting that. Meyer said MITCH just needs a little care to get it back up to where it was performing.

“I want to create a place where all of the teachers, adults and the community are stable and secure so as students are learning, they don’t have to worry about that, they can pay attention to their job, which is learning.”

MITCH Charter School is located at 19550 S.W. 90th Court, off Tualatin-Sherwood Road, in Tualatin.

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