November 10, 2015
Dear Key Communicators,
I hope you are all enjoying the mild fall weather, that you’re getting ready to root for the boys state semi-final soccer game tonight at Henderson Field, and that you are enjoying the deep connections to others in our community as you prepare for Thanksgiving.
There is really so much to be thankful for in our school district. Most of all, I am thankful to serve students and their families in Hood River, Cascade Locks, Parkdale, Odell and all points in-between. Each day, I try to get into a classroom, a library, a gym, or a cafeteria to talk with students, teachers, or other staff; to observe a lesson; or to examine our fields and facilities. In my third year on the job in HRCSD, I can tell you with absolute confidence that our staff members really care about our youth and their relations with the community at large. I regularly see people going above and beyond their basic job expectations, who put our children’s needs above their own, and who care deeply about the important work they do. Also, I’m thankful and amazed at the number of volunteers I see in classrooms and on our athletic fields; about the number of fundraisers and events our community members organize to improve offerings for students; and the number of private-public partnerships that are in place and growing to make a positive difference in the lives of students and community members alike. Lastly, I’m thankful that I get to work with a truly committed school board that cares deeply about students and the future of our school district.
Long-Range Facilities Planning
Part of that future is being discussed right now in connection to our facilities and fields, and conversations about the possibilities of a school bond in the upcoming election cycle. Specifically, we have been engaged in a long-range facilities planning effort for close to a year now. While this sounds drab (“long-range facilities planning”), the outcomes of this process will define our educational and community-use spaces for years to come. A number of processes to examine the needs of our facilities and fields are underway and will come to a head this winter when the School Board will make decisions about how to prioritize and pay for identified areas of critical need in deferred maintenance, enrollment/student growth, health/safety, energy/building performance, seismic upgrades, and program enhancements (for instance, investments to bolster programming in technology, science, engineering and the arts). Activities that have been completed or are currently underway include:
- completion of a Facility Condition Assessment that analyzed and documented the condition of every corner of our facilities and fields;
- completion of engineering assessments to measure the seismic conditions of our buildings;
- a synthesis of population growth data and enrollment capacities at our schools;
- conducting a number of Facilities Planning Community Workgroup meetings, where we engaged over 40 community members and staff to help understand and prioritize needs; and,
- conducting a number of community outreach meetings where we discussed the results of the Facility Condition Assessment and received feedback from community members.
Some of the key issues facing our school district…
Age of Facilities
I shared in the September Key Communicator that this is our 150th anniversary as a school district. As you probably know, our buildings are quite old and require a lot of upkeep and care to maintain at an appropriate level. Our newest school is the high school at 47 years old and many of your students attend school in facilities nearing 100 years old. Within the walls of many of our older schools are 90-year heating and water pipes, 100-year boilers, and dated electrical systems. Many of our roofs are at the end-of life stage. Some of our facilities, while they have been maintained with excellence over the years, are at the phase where we have to seriously consider the cost-benefit in maintaining them for the next few decades or figuring out a strategy for replacing them entirely.
Even the most conservative estimates on population growth indicate moderate growth projections for many parts of our County. Growth rates for lower valley areas exceed projections for Cascade Locks and the mid & upper valley areas. To provide a sense of our ability to actually house increased enrollment in our schools, Mid Valley, Westside, May Street, Hood River Middle, and Hood River Valley High Schools are all at or over capacity. We have some room at Wy’east and Parkdale, and quite a bit of space at Cascade Locks Elementary. May Street and Mid Valley are so packed that we could not add even one more teacher at those schools as there simply is not the classroom space for a teacher to work in. The 40+-member Community Workgroup has recognized that we will need to increase capacity in the lower and mid valley regions at the elementary and middle school levels in the very short term.
Facility Upgrades to Support 21st Century Learning
What kind of programs and learning do our students need to compete for college entrance and the jobs of tomorrow? Do you think it’s important that students are involved in real-life learning tasks, to solve real problems, to use technology in their learning? What kinds of learning environments and capital investments in curriculum and technology will be necessary to support this kind of learning? What partnerships are necessary to provide continued community use on school district fields and in the facilities? These questions are also being asked as we consider potential school improvements.
The Facility Condition Assessment identified close to $100 million of maintenance, safety, and energy projects that were considered “serious.” That number is not a misprint. Clearly we do not have the ability to take care of every “serious” need and plan for enrollment growth. However, we may have an opportunity to address many critical areas as our voter-approved bond from 2000 is falling off the books. One option our Board will likely consider is asking voters to support a continuation of that bond (in other words, maintaining the current tax rate). Additionally, because Oregon school facilities have been so poorly funded over the years, the legislature passed a major piece of legislation in June that provides between $4 million and $8 million of state match funding to communities that pass school construction bonds. Much of this additional funding is first come-first serve. To be eligible for this state match, districts must have recently completed long-range facility planning processes - so score one for HRCSD! Our community will likely be at the front of the line for a major state match if we decide to continue our bond.
If you are interested in reviewing materials from the Community Workgroup meetings or School Board presentations, you can find materials on our webpage at www.hoodriver.k12.or.us; just click “Long-Range Facility Planning” under the “Site Shortcuts” section on the right side of the page. You can always just give me a call, too.
Progress Towards the 20/20 Vision
As you know, from prior Key Communicator messages, periodically I update folks on our progress on the school district’s strategic plan, the “20/20 Vision.” We have one overarching district goal in HRCSD: Every student graduates with the knowledge and courage to learn, serve, and pursue their dreams. Toward this end, the school board has adopted seven commitments with a number of supporting strategies. In this message I’ll focus on our 7th commitment: “Target Human And Fiscal Resources Toward Achieving These Commitments.”
- Align resources to our shared commitments in this Vision for 2020
- Increase grant funding and other creative investments to support this Vision for 2020.
- Find efficiencies and prioritize resources to protect class sizes, especially at the primary level.
- Prioritize resources toward programs that are intentionally designed to ensure equity and close the achievement gap.
- Effectively monitor all district funds and be accountable to the community for their use.
- Engage stakeholders in annual budget decisions.
- Ensure all facilities are maintained in a manner that supports student learning and safety for all.
- Reduced K-3 class sizes by 8% since 2012-13;
- Increased FTE for reading interventions in K-5 to identify and intervene with struggling readers early and with great intensity;
- Won the largest number of competitive state grant dollars in Oregon (per capita), increasing our ability to innovate, provide professional development experiences for teachers and other staff, develop a contiguous Spanish Dual Language program at Mid Valley, purchase high-tech equipment for the high school Career-Tech programs;
- Sustained the AVID college prep programming at Hood River Middle, Wy’east Middle and Hood River Valley High Schools;
- Shifted resources to support a district-wide coach for Positive Behavior Support programming to work in all schools on creating predictable, safe learning environments;
- Supported training efforts for our K-5 teachers to utilize the new research-based literacy curriculum “Reading Wonders”;
- Purchased K-12 English Language Development curriculum to increase the academic outcomes for our many English language learners;
- Funding a comprehensive math curriculum renewal process aimed at improving our curriculum and instruction in math in 2016-17;
- Fundraised over $25,000 so far this year from private sources to provide scholarships and fee reduction for middle school student participation in after school athletics;
- Received an “unmodified” audit from external auditors, demonstrating fiscal stewardship and accountability;
- Held a large number of Community Listening Sessions for budget planning in 2013-14 and 2014-15; and,
- Proudly, despite Oregon public schools being funded a full $2 billion short of the national average (for context the entire State School Fund is $7.4 billion), our ending fund balance was stronger than projected. We attribute this to 1) the actions taken within our school district to find efficiencies away from the classroom (i.e., think of prior messages concerning transportation, technology, and energy conservation efforts); 2) exceptional lobbying by our community at the state level for increased education dollars at the end of the legislative sessions which raised the total State School Fund to $7.4 billion from the first-adopted number of $7.35 billion; 3) the support of our community through the Local Option Levy, which brought in more resources than anticipated; and 4) winning a large number of meaningful grants that reduced our general fund spending for teacher and classified substitutes. As a result, I am optimistic that we’ll be able to expand program offerings for students in 2016-17.
I know that’s a long report. Thanks for continuing to care deeply about our youth and our schools! I remain humbled and thankful to serve our community. I wish you the very best as we head into Thanksgiving.