The Clatskanie School District has reached out to the community in developing a plan to use $638,000 for student investment.
According to Clatskanie School District Superintendent Cathy Hurowitz, the Student Success Act, signed into law in May, 2019, is a historic opportunity for Oregon schools.
When fully implemented, the act will invest approximately $2 billion for early learning and K-12 education, and close to $500 million will go directly to Oregon school districts and eligible charter schools through the Student Investment Account.
Hurowitz said the Clatskanie School District will get an additional $638,000 to support students. The focus of the Student Investment Account is focused on four key areas for improvement:
- Reducing class size
- Increasing instructional time
- Addressing health and safety needs
- Ensuring a well-rounded education
The law requires school districts to meaningfully engage their community to determine the best investments for students in their local community while explicitly focusing on:
- Student mental and behavioral health
- Addressing disparities based on race
- Students with disabilities
- Improving teaching and learning conditions
"Our school district has an important role to play," Hurowitz said. "We are required to develop a plan for how we want to invest additional education funding."
Hurowitz said the District needs community help and support and a online questionnaire was available at the District's website for public participation.
"Our plan must be developed with broad input from staff, students, families and the community," she said.
The following is a conversation with Hurowitz about development of the student investment plan.
The Chief: By engaging the community, what is your hope for the outcome of this project?
Hurowitz: It is our hope to get feedback from our stakeholders, especially our target populations, so that we can better serve the students. We need to hear the community priorities. Community input from a variety of stakeholder groups is required for submission of the Student Success Fund Application/Plan.
The Chief: Is the funding specifically limited to the four areas of improvement?
Hurowitz: Yes, the funding is limited to those areas. With that said, the areas for improvement are broad enough to support most students and all teachers. For example, if it is determined that we need more professional development for staff to deal with disruptive students in the classroom, all students will benefit from the additional staff training. We cannot use the funds to raise salaries or build classrooms to reduce class size.
The Chief: At this point, what is the average class size at the elementary school, and at the middle / high school and what has been the impact on student learning?
Hurowitz: Clatskanie Elementary School's average class size is 25.5 students per classroom, the state average is 25. At CMHS the average class size is 23 which is lower than the state average of 25. We have had increased numbers especially at our elementary schools.
Research tells us that reducing class size alone will not improve student achievement alone, quality teachers in every classroom in every grade and every subject has the biggest impact on student learning however; the research does support reduced class size in the early grades if classes are reduced below 17 students. One of the caveats that has been placed on these funds is that whatever we decide to do with the funds must be supported with sound research and proven in practice.
The Chief: How has the District attempted to reduce those class sizes?
Hurowitz: We had a large class of kindergarten students entering CES this year and we added an additional teacher. As these students move into 1st grade we will have an additional teacher to support the large class. We are in conversations with stakeholders as well as looking at our data to determine if reducing class size in the early grades is an option. The problem is that we are limited by our facility, we only have so many classrooms available.
The Chief: How much time, on average, goes into instructional time currently and how could the District increase that instructional time.. and in what areas?
Hurowitz: We currently have 175 student contact days and Governor Brown is encouraging districts to move to a 180 student contact day calendar. We also have minimum and maximum minutes that each grade and class must meet. Currently our District exceeds the minimum number of instructional minutes at all grade and course levels. We would be able to increase instructional time by extending our school year, offering summer programs, adding after school academic tutoring or even Saturday school. There are many options to increase instructional time.
The Chief: What are the District's challenges now with student mental and behavioral health.. what are the issues teachers and staff face?
Hurowitz: We have many students facing anxiety issues in our schools. We are also seeing a huge increase in our youngest students entering schools with difficulty self regulating. Many students have experienced traumas or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Staff at both schools are participating in multi year professional development learning about how to support students and build resilience. One of our biggest challenges is staff. We do not have the mental health staff available to us in Clatskanie that the more urban districts have, so access to the support for students is a problem.
The Chief: What options could be put into place to overcome those student mental and behavioral health challenges?
Hurowitz: There are a variety of options that a district can put in place to support the behavior and mental health needs of students. We can hire licensed social workers, behavior specialists, mental health counselors but, again, those professionals are hard to find. We have a variety of support now for our students including a CCMH (Columbia County Mental Health) counselor that serves our students 2.5 days a week. In collaboration with Vernonia and Rainier we have a Behavior Support/Mental Health specialist in our district two days per week.
The Chief: When does the District receive this funding, what happens next with this project, and how can folks follow the outcome?
Hurowitz: Once all of the data is in and organized into qualitative and quantitative data points the District Leadership Team will meet in February to review the data and make recommendations as to how to utilize the funds. The Leadership Team consists of teachers from both schools, classified staff from both schools, administration , family members, community members , and students. The meeting will be facilitated by an ESD consultant.
The district must turn in the Student Success Fund application by April 15. The application will go to the Board for approval during the March Board Meeting. Funding will come in quarterly. The first quarter funds will be released in August and we will be responsible for submitting our spending reports each quarter to the Oregon Department of Education for monitoring to ensure that we are following the budget of our Student Success Fund Plan/Application.
The Student Success Fund Application/Plan will be on the District website for community to review once there is Board approval.