Roots Alternative Program proposed for Warm Springs

by: PIONEER PHOTO - Rory OsterThe resignation of Madras High School Athletic Director Rory Oster was accepted at Monday night’s 509-J Board of Director’s meeting, because he has accepted an AD position at the 2,000-student Camas High School in Washington.

Two board members commented, saying they knew many would be disappointed to hear the news.

Tom Norton Jr. noted, “I hope this is not looked upon as a negative thing that he’s leaving. I’m proud that we were able to have a young AD here for two years. In a successful business, when people leave and go on to take a better job, it’s considered a step up and I think we should be proud of this.”

Lyle Rehwinkel agreed, saying, “We had the opportunity to hire Rory in his first job as an athletic director, and now his goal is to be a college AD. I think that says something about our district. We are looking for those star people who are moving up and on.”

At the meeting, which was held in Warm Springs, Warm Springs Elementary Principal Dawn Smith and committee members gave a presentation on the Roots Alternative School she is developing and for which she has secured a grant.

“The `roots’ concept has so many meanings: The roots of where I belong, roots of support and encouragement, and everything connected to bring about growth for these kids,” she said of students who are at risk or have dropped out of school.

“They are the ones who traditionally haven’t been engaged in school. This program will weave cultural goals of the tribes, natural resources and the agriculture of the area into the studies to really engage the kids so they can begin to grow,” Smith said.

Tribal Council member Orvie Danzuka said he was fortunate that his parents stressed the importance of education, but that’s not true for a lot of students. “We’re not just preparing some students to move on to college, we’re preparing some to get a job, get some sort of direction. For some students, their main focus is survival,” he said.

He said teacher Bill Wysham and his forestry program at MHS “was the reason I finished high school.” Danzuka now works as a forest manager.

Sue Matters, of KWSO Radio in Warm Springs, offered to work with students to show them the importance of reading, writing and communication skills. “This is a program with some vision and real-life application,” she said.

Teacher Adris Clark said the small number of tribal students completing high school was mind boggling, and students needed to be shown career paths. “Roots is a credit recovery program, but it blends tribal culture with academic studies,” she said.

Board members were enthusiastic about the program. “I think it’s great; there are a lot of kids who would elect to do this,” said board member Stan Sullivan.

“I think it’s exciting and I hope you include Madras businesses, too. There are a lot of job opportunities there for things like mechanics and truck drivers, and a lot of businesses would partner with you,” Norton said.

Teacher Tom Tyler noted, “Kids don’t drop out in high school, they start that process in kindergarten. Right now there are 135 kids sitting on couches on the reservation and that is probably their future. This is an opportunity to capture some of those students. You’re not dragging them out of a high school, you’re dragging them off a couch.”

Superintendent Rick Molitor said the board would discuss how to put the Roots theory into place at the next meeting.

In other business, the board approved a declaration of nonuse for the Warm Springs Elementary buildings. Molitor said that meant, “We have to give six months notice that Warm Springs Elementary will no longer be used by the 509-J District. After six months, the property goes back to Bureau of Indian Affairs ownership.”

However, the district needs a place to locate the Roots Alternative Program. After having the property reassessed, the district found it owns a large piece of property west of the bus road near the back playground. 509-J will keep two of the newer modular classrooms, and move them to that property to use for the alternative program. Summer programs will still be able to run at the school, it was noted.

Concerning district construction, Molitor announced that the MHS stadium and parking area will be open and available as of Aug. 29, and a tentative ribbon-cutting for Warm Springs K-8 Academy has been set for Sept. 4.

The board passed a revised policy for school visitors and volunteers which requires visitors to wear “visitor” badges. They may attend events monitored by school staff, and also classroom activities if invited by a teacher.

If they want to visit, observe or assist in classrooms, they must register as a district “volunteer,” which requires a background check.

Board members also approved a policy to have the high school acknowledge a senior class valedictorian and salutatorian each year during graduation ceremonies.

There was discussion of a proposal to recognize Dawn Smith’s one year of student teaching and 39 years with the district by naming a room at the new Warm Springs K-8 Academy as “The Dawn Smith Discovery Lab,” but board members had split opinions on the idea.

Rehwinkel and Norton were in favor, but Sullivan and Laurie Danzuka weren’t so sure.

“The reason we haven’t done this before, is because of possible controversy of naming things after people. We need to be cautious,” Sullivan said.

“Just because it hasn’t been done in the past is no reason not to do it. We’re not going to make everyone happy. Dawn’s given 40 years of her life to this district and something needs to be done,” Rehwinkel said.

Since board member Brad Holliday was absent from the meeting, and board members wanted more time to think it over, the subject was tabled until the next meeting.

The board adopted a 2014-15 budget of $58,607,506, and levied taxes in the amount of $4.58 per $1,000 of assessed property value; and $2.4 million for debt service on construction bonds.

New English arts textbooks were recommended and are on display at the district office for public review. Curriculum Director Melinda Boyle said the text selections were exciting because, “We have an alignment (of curriculum) from fourth to 12th grades, and K-3 are aligned.” The board approved $400,000 in purchases for the “Read Well,” “Journeys,” and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt “Collections” textbooks, that meet common core state standards.

Under personnel, resignations were accepted from Rory Oster, language teacher Kelly Daly, math teacher Natalie Hill, first-grade teacher Hannah Feigner, and third-grade teacher Rebecca Carnes. Charlene Loughlin was hired as a special education teacher for Warm Springs K-8 Academy.

In coaching assignments, Zachary Lillebo was hired as the MHS girls head basketball coach, and Amy Kestek as the MHS Girls assistant soccer coach.

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