YOUR GOVERNMENT: School board to hear proposal for new charter school

The Salem-Keizer School Board will hear a proposal for a new district charter school and vote on policy updates at a Tuesday meeting.


Board members will hear a proposal for Iris Valley Charter School, which hopes to open in Salem next fall. According to the board packet, the school would enroll 135 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run, with their own boards of directors, and typically accept students via a lottery system. Public charter schools operate under agreement with a sponsoring district.

The school was developed in response to the academic challenges of the Covid pandemic, according to the submission to the school board. Teachers will be specifically trained to work with students with mental health conditions and processing disorders.

“When students went back to school in a hybrid model, it became clear that smaller class sizes truly are the answer for a better learning environment, especially for students who have been diagnosed with a processing disorder. Finally, it also became clear that online learning does not work for most students and does not promote social or emotional growth at any age. Iris Valley Charter School will be a place that will strive to recognize these adaptations, needs, and challenges, and meet students at their current levels to help them reach their goals,” the charter application says.

The charter applicant is teacher Karen O’Connell, who has been a licensed Oregon teacher since 2003 and worked in the district and at private schools, according to the packet. She currently runs a tutoring business.

The board will vote on the charter proposal at its next meeting on Jan. 24.

The school board will also consider adopting revised governing policies, which outline the board’s responsibilities and how board members supervise the superintendent and district operations.

The changes include stating that the board will have loyalty to the “students, families, and community in Salem-Keizer School District,” rather than the “stakeholders and people of Marion and Polk counties.” Other changes include provisions saying board members should respect collective decisions, even those they personally disagree with, and adding statements saying that only the board chair may speak on behalf of the board to the public or press.

Board Chair Ashley Carson Cottingham will give an update on the superintendent search. According to a written report, board members expect to discuss the slate of candidates during a Jan. 21 meeting, and interview finalists Feb. 11. Under a confidential search process the board adopted last fall, those meetings will be closed to the public.

To participate: The meeting starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10. 

The board will meet in person, but members of the public may only attend and comment virtually.

Members of the public can sign up for in-person or virtual public comment before the meeting starts until 3 p.m. Monday using the link here.

The meeting will be streamed on CC:Media, channel 21, and on YouTube at the links below.



Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter. Click I want to subscribe!

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.