Florida shooting puts focus on safety plan developed by Salem-Keizer schools

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Used by dozens of districts nationwide, the Salem-Keizer Threat Response System is considered the gold standard for school prevention efforts.

The protocol includes step-by-step instructions to report, investigate and prevent potentially dangerous situations.

The topic returned to the forefront Wednesday with the Parkland, Florida school shooting that left 17 people dead and more than a dozen wounded.

Read the original story: Florida shooting puts focus on safety plan developed by Salem-Keizer schools

“School safety is on everyone’s mind,” said Christy Perry, Salem-Keizer Public Schools superintendent, in a district-wide email. “It is, without question, our biggest priority.”

John Van Dreal, director of the district’s Safety & Risk Management Services, has been working on this subject for nearly 30 years, having started his career as a school psychologist.

He created and has continually refined the system Salem-Keizer has used for nearly 20 years. Van Dreal went over it again at the district’s Tuesday board meeting, less than 24 hours before the Parkland tragedy.

Salem-Keizer staff is trained to look for suicidal threats or indicators, student sexual misconduct that is not normal based on age or psychological development, fire-setting behavior and adult threats directed at staff or students.

The Statesman Journal sat down with Van Dreal Thursday to ask about the system, his reactions to Florida and how the district plans to move forward. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How did you create the system in 1999?

A: We had an adult threat assessment system in 1998. We used that system to address threats against our staff, our teachers and … for threats against dignitaries, judges and domestic violence.

It seemed like a very good idea to extend that same service and process to our student population. The problem was, at that time, there wasn’t anything like it …. as a template. So we had to develop our own design.

That’s why we get credit for being the first district to have it.

Q: Can you give some examples of how the system works?

A: There’s a Level 1 team, which is site-based. That means every school has a cadre of administrators, law enforcement, parents, etc. who do threat assessment using that protocol. And the protocol drives not only their questions, but the way they formulate their decisions and their interventions.

Once they have the situation under control, they move forward either with less supervision and intervention, or one of the possible interventions is to refer to what is called the Level 2 team.

That is a community collaboration consisting of all the public agencies that serve youth. That team, then, generates any of the interventions, resources and support for the school.

Q: Since it’s been implemented, have there been any major attacks in Salem-Keizer?

A: No. But it’s important to note, it’s a preventative and a protocol-driven model. So it has rules, guides and questions that are designed to get ahead of the problem before it gets really bad.

It’s preventative because we’re able to increase supervision and intervention, rather than take punitive measures.

Q:  How would Salem-Keizer staff respond to an immediate issue, like the Florida shooting?

A: It ceases to be a threat assessment at that point. That’s most commonly referred to as “active shooter training,” we call it “options-based decisions making.”

That is basically a police response and the staff and the school operate under our lockdown procedures. And that is a template that is fairly well set.

Q: So staff is trained on this? What are they told?

A: Our current policy is to not share our operations … but I’ll tell you, in short, we use lockdown procedures and barricading, which is, by far, the most successful way to stay safe. We train our staff on further options if lockdown procedures don’t work. And the details of that training include … evacuation, further lockdown and considering different options available to protect your students.

But the bottom line is, every educator knows they are obligated to protect the kids. It’s called, “In Loco Parentis,” … which means we are the parents in that situation and we do everything possible to protect the kids.

Q: Do we have an idea, statewide and nationally, how many districts use the Salem-Keizer model of threat assessment?

A: About a quarter of the districts in Oregon use the Salem model, either through an education service district or directly as a district … as well as a variety across Washington state. I would say Washington state is moving forward very well.

Nationally, I’ve trained, or people have come here to be trained, probably two dozen school districts from all over the place, most recently, mid-state New York.

Q: As far as you’re aware, the school in Florida did not use this model?

A: I don’t know. People from Florida have been out and been trained at our annual, comprehensive threat assessment training. I haven’t been able to look yet; I have been curious. I’d have to check with Willamette University, which helps us run the training.

Q: Since the attacker is still alive and will be questioned, do you see that changing how we handle threat assessment?

A: It might add to our understanding. The way I started in writing the protocol, I identified the risk factors identified by a project called the Safe Schools Initiative, which is a collaborative project with the United States Secret Service, the United States Department of Education … and the Department of Justice. They interviewed school shooters and basically determined what the risk factors were.

As time has gone on, as more of these events have occurred, we found more risk factors along the way. Some of those are anecdotal. I’ve vetted those through a number of professionals in the FBI, U.S. Dept. of Education and the Secret Service because I have access to the original authors of the Safe Schools Initiative.

Q: Salem-Keizer has a new partnership with Safe Oregon, an anonymous tip line managed by the Oregon State Police, created by the Oregon Legislature in 2016. How did the district get involved?

A: They were very kind to include us in early conversations before they launched it. They did that because we had a functional system of reporting and assessing. And their goal was to make sure that it would fit with a functional system. We were able to guide them, to some degree, as they moved forward. They did an excellent job on this.

The next step for us was to prudently examine how Safe Oregon would fit with our system, having conversations with principals and Portland Public Schools and Beaverton about their implementation.

Our launch will be March 1, but people can call anywhere in the district now and they will channel the call to the Safety & Risk Management office.

Q: The FBI had received reports on the attacker in Florida. Do you have any initial thoughts on how the district in Florida, or the FBI, could have handled this differently?

A: I do not. I wish I’d had more time to think about that, but we don’t generally comment on those kinds of events from an after-the-fact perspective.

Q: In the last few decades, there seems to be a shift from seeing schools as a safe place for students and educators. What would you say to parents wanting to know their students are safe, teachers wanting to know they can go to work without fearing for their lives?

A: The fact is, schools are considerably safer than they were in the 70s and 80s. The homicide rate in schools was double in those two decades. American schools are at the top of the safest schools in the world, and that includes industrialized countries like Canada and England.

Overall, the country is safer — crime is down, homicide is down, aggravated assault is down. I think our communities and law enforcement and the government are doing a very good job of making the country and our district safer.

The problem that occurs is that these events are very sensational and they’re terrifying. And when they occur, they impact the national psyche. They traumatize everyone.

And so while the rates of death are down in schools, when they do occur, they are terrible, tragic events that include a large number of people. There is not a goal of hostage-taking or political grandstanding. The event is to do as much harm to as many people as possible.

Those are very personal and they affect all of us. We’re educators, we work with kids who look just like those kids, teachers who look just like those teachers. So it reaches out and touches us … in a way that the deaths during the 70s and 80s didn’t.

Q: What is the key to preventing these attacks?

A: We can’t say enough about communication because that’s how we find out if something is being planned if someone is considering it. And I believe students are reporting concerns more frequently.

Threat assessment is really identifying these communication lines, interrupting them and gathering information. That’s how we do our work.

Q: What behaviors should people look for that may be an indication someone is planning something like Florida?

A: First of all, the communications — that someone is intending to attack a target — then behavior that suggests they are continuing to consider that. And then behavior that shows they are preparing to do it. There’s an academic name for that and it’s called “attack-related behavior.”

Talk of suicide, discussions of plan, social media posts, acquisition of weapons are all examples.

Communication is one thing, but behaviorally, if someone is making preparations that show they are planning to follow through with it, that would increase your concern.

Q: After this incident, is the district planning to do anything differently?

A: We send a memo out to all of our leadership, reminding them to keep their eyes open and we list the kind of communications and behaviors that would lead us to be concerned. We’ll do that on Monday … and we will probably do it again in April.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

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Proposed Oregon law would force class size into school budget talks

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A bill coming before the Oregon Legislature, which convenes Monday, could finally assuage teachers of crammed classrooms.

House Bill 4113 changes only five words to existing collective bargaining laws, but would make class size a mandatory subject.

This means districts would be required to discuss class size along with things like salaries and benefits when making budget decisions.

“(Class size) tends to exacerbate any other issue we have in the education system,” said John Larson, president of the Oregon Education Association.

“The way things work right now, either side could say, ‘No, we don’t want to talk about that,'” he said. “The more times we don’t have that conversation, the worst (the) problem becomes.”

Read the original story at www.StatesmanJournal.com.

Oregon has some of the largest classes nationwide, with an average of 25 students per class.

In 2014-15, there were more than 450 math classes in the state with more than 36 students per class, plus more than 70 science classes with more than 46 students, according to Oregon Department of Education’s 2016 Class Size Report. Additionally, more than 20 percent of kindergarten classes had more than 26 students.

Studies show large class sizes can negatively affect absenteeism, standardized test scores, graduation rates and teacher retention.

Large class sizes are particularly damaging in lower grades, where teachers are building students’ understanding of core subjects, such as reading, writing and math. This is in addition to developing social and emotional skills, including how to follow instructions, how to share and how to sit still.

“At some point, you are so overloaded you just hope everyone has a place to sit,” Larson said, referring the challenges teachers face. “And students just don’t learn when there are so many students in a room.”

The bill was presented to lawmakers last session, but died after its public hearing in front of the House Education Committee.

Sponsors are trying it again in the short session, this time with the House Committee on Business and Labor.

“We get that there’s a finite amount of dollars for every school,” Larson said. “But we believe educators should have some say in how they use those dollars.”

Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, a chief sponsor on the bill, told the Statesman Journal class size is his top priority this session. But he doesn’t have a strong idea yet whether the bill will pass.

“It is unacceptable when there are more students than desks,” he said. “I want (families and educators) in there complaining about class size.

“It should be the highest priority of the district. Everything else should come second,” he said. “And then, if they say, great, now we don’t have enough money, I’m happy to fight for more money.”

Clem said this is one option the state can take, but it isn’t the only one.

“It doesn’t get them more money, but it does put them in the middle of the conversation,” he said.

Opponents of the bill, including the Oregon School Boards Association, argue ramifications from the bill could cost districts millions of dollars they would otherwise use to hire new staff, train existing employees and create and expand programs that benefit students.

“Is it important to talk about? Yes,” said Jim Green, executive director of the school boards association. “At the bargaining table, though? No.”

What’s the deal with large classes? Class size on the rise in Salem-Keizer schools

Green who also serves as a member of the Salem-Keizer School Board, is wary of any bill that makes something mandatory. “Class size is important, but forcing (it) could cause a strike,” he said.

But Green doesn’t deny Oregon has a class size problem. The more kids, the more expectations, the more issues, he said. “Classroom management is an issue.”

Green presented an outcome in which a certain number would be set for the maximum number of students that could be in one class. Any additional students would require the district to pay the teacher additional money.

Districts, he said, would have to cut support staff, programs and the number of instructional days in an already short school year.

In addition to budget constraints, Green said districts often don’t have the facilities or bodies to accommodate the changes either, which is a much larger financial undertaking.

Green is worried the complex issue, which would impact Oregon’s 197 districts, won’t have the time it needs to be discussed in a short session.

“If it’s required to bargain, (the district) is not able to offer programs we offer to all other schools,” he said. “(There is) population growth in certain parts of the city — you need that flexibility.”

This would lead, he suspects, to extensive mediation processes and strikes. “It doesn’t actually do better for teachers,” he said.

Larson countered, saying that’s very extreme. “I don’t think we have any locals who go into bargain thinking they want to go on strike.

“Strikes are really awful things,” he said. “(They’re) a last-ditch effort.”

Larson said the bill allows each district to address class size as they see fit.

He emphasized smaller districts may not have an issue with class size, comparing the idea to Measure 98 funds for career technical education or dropout prevention efforts where individual districts can allocate money for their specific needs.

“The bill doesn’t set a threshold,” Larson said. “It lets each district have a meaningful conversation about what a good class size would be.

“We may not come to any solution,” he said. “But at least we have the conversation and at least it’s out there.”

public hearing and possible work session on the bill is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 1 p.m. in Hearing Room E at the Capitol.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

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Oregon graduation rates up, Latino students see substantial progress

Oregon’s Native American students face obstacles to stay in, complete school

Oregon bill combats DACA termination, continues college tuition equity

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Despite national efforts to end DACA, undocumented students in Oregon will continue to have access to tuition equity if Senate Bill 1563 passes.

Students who are not citizens have historically had to apply for “official federal identification” — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals documentation — before they can be eligible for resident tuition at public universities.

Otherwise, they have to pay non-resident or international tuition costs, which can be three or four times more than in-state tuition per year.

But since the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s deferred action program was terminated in 2017, the department is no longer accepting applications.

The Oregon bill is an attempt to bridge that gap, removing the restriction from undocumented students living in the state and continuing protections put into place in Oregon years ago.

In short, it would allow these students to continue getting access to lower tuition costs, scholarships and other financial aid.

Read the original story at www.StatesmanJournal.com.

“This is the only country, the only state and the only home they have ever known,” said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, one of the chief sponsors of the bill. “Pure and simple, they are Americans in thought, word and deed.”

Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, and Rep. Teresa Alonso León, D-Woodburn, are also chief sponsors.

Courtney worked on various bills in the past that sought similar equity for undocumented students, but did not come to fruition, including Senate Bill 10 in 2003 and Senate Bill 742 in 2011. Both passed the Senate but not the House, even with bipartisan support.

However, a Tuition Equity bill was passed via House Bill 2787 in 2013. This session’s bill would protect the 2013 legislation, keeping the path to college open for the same students covered before.

“I didn’t know what I was doing at the time. I didn’t know about ‘tuition equity’ or federal immigration laws, we didn’t have DACA or DREAMers,” Courtney said. ” And the frustration these students felt after working so hard to graduate, only to realize they would be unable to afford college.”

Not much opposition was voiced at the Senate Education Committee hearing Wednesday afternoon. However, Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, requested additional stats on how many students would truly stand to benefit from the program.

The students covered by this bill must have been brought to the United States under the age of 16, are younger than 30 years old, do not pose a threat to national security or public safety and have continuously resided in the U.S. for the past five years.

Many of the education committee members, in addition to those listed as chief sponsors, are regular sponsors, including Chair Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, and Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton.

“To punish young people brought here by their undocumented parents would be wrong. It would be cruel. It would be un-American,” Courtney said. “They are every bit a part of our American family.

“Let’s send Senate Bill 1563 to the Floor,” he said.

The work session for the bill was held over to the next committee meeting, scheduled for Monday, Feb. 12 at 1 p.m. in Hearing Room C at the Capitol.

One student’s story

Edith Gomez Navarrete was brought to Oregon illegally from Mexico when she was 1 year old.

She graduated high school with honors, earned Bachelor’s and Masters degrees and become a fourth-grade teacher at a dual English-Spanish immersion school in Eugene.

And even though she was one of only five students in her high school class to earn a full International Baccalaureate Diploma, she still faced many obstacles accessing higher education.

In 2012, Gomez Navarrete was accepted to Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, but was told she would have to pay international student tuition — close to $30,000 a year.

She was already living on her own and supporting herself. She said it would have been impossible to pay $120,000 for an undergraduate degree plus living costs.

“Undocumented students are ineligible for most scholarships, no matter how hard we work or how strong our academic record because the minimum documentation requirement is permanent residency,” she said.

Gomez Navarrete shared her story when testifying at the hearing Wednesday.

She was able to access a school’s Tuition Equity program and earn some scholarships as well, but could not access federal aid as an undocumented student.

“Without Tuition Equity, there was truly no possible chance we could ever pay for college,” she said. “All we want is an opportunity.”

In high school, Gomez Navarrete heard from many friends who saw no sense in even completing high school, because college seemed unattainable. Many dropped out.

“Look what happened when I had the opportunity,” she said. “When we talk about the need to diversify Oregon’s teaching force so we can better reach all kids – they are talking about me.”

While not all people who are undocumented at Latino, and not all Latino people are undocumented, there is a persistent educational achievement gap for Latino students.

More than 40 percent of Latinos in Oregon have earned less than a high school diploma, compared to only 9 percent of their white counterparts.

Additionally, only 23 percent of Latinos have some college or Associate Degree, only 12 percent have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. These numbers compare to 36 percent and 31 percent for their white counterparts, respectively.

“Oregon needs to pass Senate Bill 1563 to keep these opportunities alive, so young people have a reason to finish high school and have an opportunity to meet their potential,” she finished. “We just want to find the chance to do what we were meant to do.”

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

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Mandatory reporting bill gets traction, age amendment brings controversy

Proposed law would force class size into school budget talks

Investigation: Sen. Kruse exhibited ‘longstanding’ pattern of sexual harassment

Oregon mandatory reporting bill gets traction, age amendment brings controversy

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Teachers may no longer be required to report sexual activity between teenagers under a bill that a legislative committee sent to the full Senate Tuesday.

Under current law, school staff and other mandatory reporters have to report any sexual activity — from kissing to intercourse — involving someone under the age of 18. The report must be filed with law enforcement or the Oregon Department of Human Services.

The purpose is to identify and protect children from abuse. But the strict interpretation, brought to light in a Salem-Keizer Public Schools staff training last year, was met with scrutiny by many concerned this cuts off communication between students and trusted adults.

Opponents also feared it would put mandatory reporters in a difficult position, making them more likely to be punished for not reporting something they saw as consensual.

Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, and Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, sought to quell these concerns with Senate Bill 1540.

Read the original story at www.StatesmanJournal.com.

The bill clarifies a report does not have to be made for sexual activity between 14- to 21-year-olds who are within three years of each other.

However, reports are still required if there is any suspicion of abuse, harassment, force or coercion, regardless of age.

Read the backstory: Teachers told to report any student sexual activity, including own kids

The bill was expected to move through and pass easily, especially with bipartisan and bicameral support with the co-sponsors.

But it met opposition this week when an amendment expanding the lower age bracket down from 14 to 12 was introduced.

Gelser said the proposed amendment to 12 years of age aligned with current practice across the state. Keeping it at 14 would require major policy and practice change for all medical professionals across the state, she said, based on regulations going back 20 years.

Various health care practitioners gave testimony at the hearing Tuesday, including officials from the Oregon Medical Association, supporting Gelser’s argument.

“In our effort to create legislation that keeps us at the status quo of where we have always been,” Gelser said, “that number would be 12.

“If it’s 14, every healthcare practitioner, therapist, counselor, psychiatrist will have to change their practice and their training,” she said. “And it raises questions about unintended consequences.”

Gelser acknowledged the concerns, saying she, herself, was worried when it was first brought to her attention last week. However, she eventually came to the same conclusion.

“The argument is not that the Legislature … thinks 12-year-olds should be having sex,” Gelser said.

“Do I personally believe that if two 12-year-olds are engaged in sexual activity there should be a conversation with an adult? Absolutely,” she said. “But do I believe that conversation should come with a knock on the door from a police officer if there was no abuse? I don’t.”

She reiterated that mandatory reporters can and should continue to report, regardless of age, if there is suspicion of abuse.

“You can always report,” she said. “Anytime you are concerned, you should report.”

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Students Marissa Dougall, right, and Kimberly Schott, center, met with Salem-Keizer Superintendent Christy Perry, left, and legislators Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, at the Oregon State Capitol to discuss mandatory reporting and child abuse laws. (Photo: NATALIE PATE/Statesman Journal)

Post, whose wife is a special education teacher in Salem-Keizer, was opposed to the amendment but continued to support the bill.

“I wish all young people would refrain from sex at that age,” he said, “but if not, I want them to have someone to talk to and I don’t want that person’s job on the line.”

While Post said “his heart just doesn’t like (the amendment),” he continued to support the bill because “his constituents need (it).”

“I want to do what’s right for those kids and the teachers,” he said.

A representative from the Oregon District Attorney’s Association argued the amendment made the bill too broad and expressed concern that this would limit the number of reports they receive — something that is invaluable in detecting and preventing abuse.

“I think we can all agree we need to do a better job of recognizing and protecting kids from abuse,” said Brendan Murphy, a deputy district attorney for Marion County.

Murphy said mandatory reporting is often incorrectly seen as something that will immediately result in criminal charges.

Instead, he said they should be seen as a “snapshot of information used to assess if kids are safe, whether that be a school response (or) DHS response or criminal investigation.”

“When child abuse occurs, child safety experts only get snapshots or pieces of information to put that puzzle together,” he said. “Experts need as many puzzle pieces as possible to see the picture, and get it right.”

Murphy argued the ball has historically been dropped in protecting college gymnasts, kids in football camps and altar boys in Catholic churches. And he said that any sexual activity of children 12 and 13 years old concerns him.

“We need all the help we can get,” he said.

Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, voted against the age-range amendment.

The overall bill, including both amendments, was approved unanimously with one absence and sent to the Senate floor.

Kimberly Schott, a junior at McNary High School in Keizer, was one of the leading forces behind the initial bill.

After hearing about the requirement from a teacher, Schott became concerned this would limit students’ abilities to speak with trusted adults, especially students who couldn’t talk about the topic with their families.

So Schott took action. She and other students started an online petition and held a small protest outside the Capitol in October. They met with Post and Gelser in the fall, looking for answers.

Now, more than 4,500 people have signed the petition and the bill is moving forward.

“It’s really cool,” Schott said. “It shows how far … a high school student can get. It shows all the people who said I couldn’t make a difference — it shows they were wrong.”

Students take action: Salem-Keizer students work to change sex reporting rule with district, legislators

However, after hearing about the age-range amendment, Schott had a lot of reservations.

“That could put students at risk and that’s not what I’m fighting for,” she told the Statesman Journal. “I feel like that would make it easier for 12-year-olds to be abused.”

Schott said she wanted to voice her concern about the amendment since “it could turn south” and her “name is behind it.”

As for the district, Lillian Govus, a spokeswoman for Salem-Keizer, said, “Our role is to comply with the law as it is written.” No district staff spoke on the bill at the hearing Tuesday.

“If there are legislative changes, we’ll work with the (district attorney) to ensure that we are in full compliance,” she said, “just as we’ve done in the past.”

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

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Only half of Oregon’s homeless students graduate on time

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Half of Oregon’s homeless students aren’t graduating from high school on time.

For the first time, the Oregon Department of Education published a four-year graduation rate for students experiencing homelessness. The rate was included in statewide data released Thursday.

The result — only 50.7 percent of these students are graduating in four years.

When including students who graduated in five years and those who earned a modified diploma or GED — students considered “completers” — the rate rises to 63.1 percent.

Homeless students have experienced a “lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence” at some time in their K-12 career, according to the department.

Read the original story at www.StatesmanJournal.com.

This looks different for each student. For some, being homeless means living in an emergency shelter with their families, while others are sleeping in tents or cars, or crashing on friends’ couches.

More than 22,540 of Oregon’s K-12 students, about four percent of Oregon’s total K-12 enrollment, were homeless in the 2016-17 school year.

This is the highest rate of homeless students yet, increasing from 19,040 students in 2009-10.

Main report: Oregon graduation rates up, Latino students see substantial progress More on student homelessness: What happens when there is no home for homework?

Speaking from experience

As co-founder of Simply Birthdays, a nonprofit that throws birthday parties for children living in homeless shelters, Salem-Keizer board member Sheronne Blasi sees the impact homelessness has on students on a regular basis.

“We kind of forget when students leave the schoolhouse,” she said, “we don’t always know their home life.”

Getting a good nights sleep, taking a shower, dressing in clean clothes, eating breakfast and dinner, having a safe, warm and quiet place to study and access to a computer, are all examples of things Blasi said people take for granted that can affect a student’s ability to focus and learn.

“Once you get behind … it is incredibly hard to catch up,” she said, adding that falling behind in core subjects like reading and math can increase a student’s risk of dropping out.

Young people who experience homelessness are about 87 percent more likely to stop going to school, according to the 2014 “Don’t Call Them Dropouts” report by Tufts University.

More than 1,160 students in Salem-Keizer Public Schools were considered homeless in 2016-17. But this is likely only part of the problem.

“The need is greater than the numbers we see,” Blasi said. “If our community knew … how to contribute, that (could really go) a long way.”

Fellow Salem-Keizer board member Jesse Lippold experienced being homeless firsthand when he was a Salem-Keizer student.

“You can’t focus,” he said. “You’re sitting in class and thinking about how hungry you are and where you’re going to stay that night.”

Lippold said he was so “focused on survival,” college wasn’t even on his mind. In fact, high school didn’t even seem possible.

“The moment a family took me in, when I was adopted, my grades shot back up to As and Bs,” he said.

Now in a position of influence, Lippold thinks it’s important to help these students so they have more opportunities in life.

Statewide efforts

Colt Gill, acting superintendent for the state, said many of these students have experienced some kind of trauma, like the death of a family member.

Many don’t have a trusted adult to go to, they are forced to transfer schools or they don’t have a place to do their homework, he said.

“It makes it really difficult to keep up with coursework,” he said.

Gill said the state is working with districts to implement more “trauma-informed” practices. These are research-based strategies for educators to better interact with students who have experienced trauma.

Trauma can include homelessness and abuse, among other things.

Looking forward, the department doesn’t know how the homeless student graduation rate will change, but Gill said they have a lot of hope with new programs underway.

Some of these programs include Measure 98-funded programs that increase student engagement through career technical courses and dropout prevention efforts, a statewide $7.4 million investment to address chronic absenteeism and the Tribal Attendance Pilot Projects to help increase attendance rates of Native American students.

Blasi added that individuals can help by mentoring students, donating food, clothing and shoes, and giving money for scholarships.

“These kinds of programs are just the beginning,” Gill said.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

Read more: McKay student dies in shooting on Fisher Road NE | Oregon NAACP leaders say state did not fairly allocate funds for black students |  Legislators tasked with fixing Oregon’s dismal graduation rate

Oregon graduation rates up, Latino students see substantial progress

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Whether students are graduating in four or five years, or completing high school by earning a modified diploma or GED, the goal is to finish.

And more than 83 percent of Oregon students are doing that.

But typically, the four-year graduation rate — students who earn a traditional diploma in the preferred amount of time — is used to gauge the success of a state’s education system.

And in that regard, Oregon is still doing poorly — third lowest in the country. About one in four Oregon high schoolers will fail to graduate in four years.

But there has been improvement.

Read the original story at www.StatesmanJournal.com.

The latest numbers from the Oregon Department of Education, released Thursday, show a 2-percentage-point increase from 74.8 percent in 2015-16 to 76.7 percent in 2016-17. This is a marked improvement from 2008-09 when the rate was 66.2 percent.

Perhaps the most impressive gains were made by Hispanic/Latino students, who have increased their graduation rate by 7.6 percentage points in three years and are graduating at a rate higher than the statewide average was three years ago.

Dropout rates, not to be confused with “non-completers” who may continue their enrollment, have remained practically stagnant statewide. At 3.86 percent, this is the lowest dropout rate the state has seen in five years.

Additionally, this is the first year the department issued data on the four-year graduation rate for homeless students statewide, coming in at 50.7 percent.

State lawmakers and education officials see graduation rates as one of the most important issues facing K-12 education in the state.

​​​​​​Research shows as long as graduation rates are below 100 percent, non-graduates earn less and require more social services, costing Oregonians hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid, lost tax revenue and incarceration expenses every year.

The Legislature has instructed the state education department to reach a 100 percent graduation rate by 2025.

Read more on the latest report: Half of Oregon’s homeless students don’t graduate

Latino students lead progress

Hispanic/Latino students’ four-year graduation rate reached a high of 72.5 percent in 2016-17.

This is a substantial improvement from 2011-12 when these students were graduating at a rate of 59.5 percent.

Other student subgroups, including Black/African American students, have seen similar increases, though they have smaller enrollments.

Roughly 20 percent of the students calculated in this year’s graduation rate identify as Hispanic/Latino.

This progress is being made at a time when the state’s achievement gap is notably shrinking.

The gap in four-year graduation rates between students of historically underserved races/ethnicities — Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander — and other students — White, Asian and multiracial — has been notably wide.

But it has been cut in half over the last seven years, from more than 18 percentage points to less than 9 percentage points.

Colt Gill, acting superintendent for the state, said the education department has done a better job providing information to schools on things like chronic absenteeism that can show earlier when students are getting off track.

Rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, Gill said the state is looking for strategies that can address individual district’s needs.

Annalivia Palazzo-Angulo, executive director for the Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality, has seen a lot of progress made in Salem-Keizer schools.

Salem-Keizer’s overall, four-year graduation rate is 73.36 percent, according to the state’s latest data. This is an increase from 71.71 percent in the prior year, 2015-16.

Hispanic/Latino students, who make up about half of the district’s overall enrollment, have also seen gains, going from 67.51 percent in 2015-16 to 69.95 percent in 2016-17.

Palazzo-Angulo attributes much of this progress to increased parent involvement, more options to graduate, an increased focus on equity and equity training, higher amounts and number of scholarships in Title I schools, and more bilingual and dual-language programs.

But Palazzo-Angulo anticipates more gains down the road.

“It takes 12 years of really good change to see the benefits, you know?” she said. “Nothing is ‘done,’ but it’s on its way.”

Read more about students of color: Why aren’t Native American students graduating on time? | Oregon falls short on equity for students |  Oregon school diversity, absenteeism up, salaries down 

Reaching the finish line

By law, Oregon public schools must provide schooling for students until they are 21 years old.

And for some, a little extra time is all they need to reach the finish line.

“There’s nothing wrong with taking five years,” Palazzo-Angulo said.

Statewide, the graduation rate increases to 78.9 percent for the five-year cohort. It increases even further if you include students considered “completers.”

Four-year completers had a rate of 80.2 percent in 2016-17 and five-year completers had a rate of 83.2 percent.

Some students are included in the five-year rate for simply needing one additional class to complete their diploma. Others may need to take another year or two.

In some states, six- and seven-year graduation rates are published for this reason.

Students who transfer schools and students living in poverty are at especially high risk of dropping out. Gill said schools are working to bring back students who haven’t finished and keep them engaged.

“Our primary hope is (for students to) graduate in four years of high school,” Gill said. “But we don’t give up on them if they don’t.”

Read more on graduation rates: Lawmakers launch effort to address graduation rates |  Audit: Oregon can do more to boost graduation rates

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

Read more on education in Oregon: Oregon OKs money for African American students after concerns voiced by NAACP | Salem-Keizer board unanimously approves bond package for nearly $620 million

Oregon OKs money for African American students

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For nearly two years, presidents from Oregon’s four NAACP branches have voiced objections to how the Oregon Department of Education allocated money meant for African American students statewide.

Thursday, the State Board of Education voted for groups outside the Portland area to start receiving some of the millions of dollars legislators earmarked for black students and their families in 2015.

In a nearly-unanimous vote, the board approved the suggested changes to the African American/Black Student Success Grants.

The changes clarified how the state defines “African American,” distinguished the difference between culturally-specific and community-based organizations and specified that social welfare organizations can be included.

They also broadened the language detailing the number of students who identify as African American or black that have to be involved in the programs applying.

But the largest change was removing the limit on the number of programs that can receive a grant.

In 2015, nearly $2.7 million in general funds was allocated under House Bill 2016 with the goal to reduce the disparity in educational outcomes, including graduation rates, between black students and their white peers.

But when the money was allocated to only Portland-based groups — serving 875 of Portland’s 10,839 African American students — NAACP leaders argued the money was not equitably distributed across the state.

Read the full backstory: Oregon NAACP leaders say state did not fairly allocate funds for black students

Acting Deputy Superintendent Colt Gill clarified that while three of the four programs serve only Portland metro students, one does serve some students in Yamhill, Polk and Lane counties.

This still left more than 2,000 of Oregon’s African American students without the same financial support from the state.

“I think we can make further improvements,” Colt said during Thursday’s board meeting.

After a review of the programs in 2017, the state reapproved the same four programs for a second year of the grant program, increasing the amount to about $5 million to satisfy the length of the biennium-based budget.

The state then offered a new grant opportunity totaling $650,000 for programs outside the Portland area.

But the original grant documents specified up to only four organizations could receive money.

So when the state planned to allocate the new grants, they couldn’t.

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Oregon’s State Board of Education held a meeting Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018 in Salem. (Photo: Natalie Pate)

“It’s really concerning to me that this opportunity was missed,” said state board Vice-chair Anthony Veliz, the only member who voted against the changes Thursday.

He argued the funding was an example of how rural areas are frequently left out. He also said the state shouldn’t put “unrealistic expectations on these dollars” since communities of color have been marginalized for years.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Veliz said.

About 80 percent of Oregon students who identify as African American or black live in Portland. In the new biennium, Colt said about 90 percent of the funds are going to programs based in Portland.

State officials said the changes passed Thursday were meant to reinforce “the original legislative intent” and “yield greater equity among applicants.”

The recipients of the newer grants were originally scheduled to be announced in November. The education department now will announce the recipients of the $650,000 in grants on Feb. 22.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

Read more on racial disparities:

Students, community leaders remember MLK Jr.’s legacy

Oregon schools: Diversity and absenteeism up, salaries and discipline down

Why are Native American students struggling in school?