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Its time to step up for our kids


Soapbox: 2012-13 school year will bring challenges and changes to Tigard-Tualatin schools

Barry Albertson is a member of the Tigard-Tualatin School Board.

The approach of September always seems to bring a flurry of activities around Tigard-Tualatin. But, five weeks ago, with the announcement by Gov. John Kitzhaber that our superintendent, Rob Saxton, had been personally “hand-picked” by him to become Oregon’s new state superintendent of all K-12 public schools, September and the beginning of another academic year felt a bit like “tomorrow.”

I knew we had work to do, probably the most important job any School Board gets to perform — find an interim (and eventually a permanent) superintendent, who could fill some pretty big shoes and then lead us through a year packed with hurdles. Among those are crafting a 2013-14 budget (with all of its funding shortfall implications), and then work with new classified employees, teachers and administrators, including a new chief financial officer, to navigate contractual negotiations with our three employee groups; work on the new Common Core State Standards for teaching and curriculum; tackle the Governor’s 40/40/20 student achievement goal, decode Dr. Rudy Crew’s assessment of our new state “compacts” (I knew that shot was going to be fired, sooner or later.); work within the framework of Oregon’s waiver from the federal “No Child Left Behind” requirements; sort out the potential impact of legislation (and most certainly popular votes) that could include the legalization of marijuana and a new state rainy day fund for K-12 schools fabricated from “corporation kicker” refunds; and then generally lead our schools, our community, our parents and our students. Well, in short,we now have a new, “top-flight” interim superintendent in Roger Rada as August comes to a close and the 2012-13 school year knocks at the front door.

So, what about the kids? Are they ready for this new school year? I hope so, because 2012-13 will bring challenges and changes.

First, reading for all kids at all grade levels will be stressed and treated, like always, as pivotal. We chalked up pretty good state reading requirement scores for our graduates this past year, and we want to keep that ball rolling. And everyone knows, good readers make good writers. Remember, new state writing and math graduation requirements are soon to come.

Second, increasing our graduation and lowering our drop-out rates will be a continuing goal. This point has been driven home by Robert Balfanz, at Johns Hopkins University, who continues to remind middle school teachers and administrators that for many sixth-graders, school attendance less than 80 percent of the time, coupled with unsatisfactory “behavior grades” in a core course or failing either math or English translates to those students having a 75 percent chance of dropping out of high school.

Third, because we again lost teachers this year, class sizes will almost certainly be larger in our elementary schools and in many “core courses” in our secondary schools. Electives may be quite crowded or gone altogether.

Fourth, now that “differentiated instruction” are our new buzz-words — meaning classroom teachers must tailor their instruction in these larger classes to a wider variety of kids with much more variability in learning abilities — our teachers will have their hands, and their plates, full.

And fifth, increased “academic rigor” in our classrooms will be the order of the day, from kindergarten through middle and high school. For example, our middle schools won’t be engaged in the Middle Years IB Program, but that’s no reason we can’t and shouldn’t expect more from these students to prepare and then encourage them to take more advanced courses during their secondary years. And all (or nearly all) freshmen entering Tigard High will be taking advanced English in heterogeneously mixed classes, rather than previous years’ standard option of advanced English for some and regular, freshman English for others.

I know our teachers have been working long hours, many over their summer break, to make these expectations become a reality. They do the regular stuff and the extras. They do what many professionals do: Listen to the student, take care of the student and go the extra mile for the student. But, frankly, they can’t do it alone.

They need us, their community and especially our students’ parents or guardians to put the full-court-press on at home. For openers, moms and dads must read to their young children every chance they get — right before bedtime is the perfect opportunity. And, older kids, too, need to be encouraged daily to read — something, anything, perhaps Road & Track, Field & Stream, Cosmopolitan, People, Us, Reader’s Digest, the newspaper, or, if they’re really gutsy, John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner or Stephen King.

Parents, now more than ever before, really need to step up to the plate and work with their kids everyday to change the mindset from “just getting by” in school to “really setting the house on fire.”

Our school district must give these kids opportunities, in and out of the classroom. We must make all our schools academically and functionally attractive. Our teachers engage our kids from 7:45 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and work tirelessly doing it. We parents need to pick up the slack for the other waking hours of the day and on the weekends with our children.

Yes, summer’s almost over. And, the Tigard -Tualatin School District is ready and anxious for school to start. Our teachers are already preparing for their assignments and classes. Curricula are being refined and improved. Classrooms are being prepped. Books are being unboxed. School libraries, theaters and athletic venues are being readied. The wheels of public education are humming in our schools and administrative building. Because soon it will be Sept. 5, and, as we all know, that’s when school really starts — not just for our children, but for all of us.

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