Students get off the bus for the first day of school at Bush Elementary, Sept. 4, 2019. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Salem-Keizer administrators want to help thousands of kids do better in school with more than two dozen changes to district programs affecting everything from math class to yellow buses.
The public got an early look at their plan for spending $35 million in new state money expected in the fall at a Tuesday school board meeting. There are no dollars tied to specific projects yet - those will come at a presentation next week.
About 41,000 students attend Salem-Keizer schools.
Many of the ideas come from a community task force. The group included school staff, parents, students and local volunteers and spent months listening to thousands of residents say how local schools could improve.
The public will find out how dollars are tied to improvements at the school board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18, and can offer comments.
Here, is a summary of key recommendations and what they’re designed to help fix.
District administrator recommendations
Improve elementary reading at selected elementary schools that are struggling.
This includes hiring teachers to help readers in kindergarten and first grade and better identify and help kids who are behind grade. The goal is to have more kids reading at grade level by fifth grade. Salem-Keizer
Increase the number of non-native speakers who are proficient in English by seventh grade.
One in three Salem-Keizer students are not native English speakers. Those who learn English in elementary and middle school on average do well in high school, with 83% graduating on time. But of those who are still learning English in high school, just under half graduate in four years.
Assistant superintendents Kraig Sproles and Linda Myers suggested more teachers to coach students in bilingual programs, more training, and an overhaul of middle and high school programs. One factor they plan to address: Salem-Keizer’s English learning programs have been largely designed with native Spanish speakers in mind, but the district has growing numbers of students who speak other languages, notably Marshallese and Chuukese.
Increase the number of students passing middle school math
Math is often the subject holding kids back from completing needed high school credits, and success in middle school is a good indicator of success in high school, administrators said. They want to hire more math teachers for selected middle schools, establish a common math curriculum across all schools and arrange more time for math instruction.
Ruth Langmoir, an August 2019 McKay High School graduate, gets a hug from graduation coach Ken Ramirez after earning her diploma. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Get more students on the track for graduation by the end of freshman year
This includes more teachers for algebra, a course students often struggle with, at some high schools. Administrators also want to help teams at each high school to monitor 9th graders falling behind and help them pass necessary classes.
Increase the number of students who feel they belong at school, and help families with behavior and mental health
Besides hiring more counselors, school psychologists and behavior staff, administrators want a social and emotional learning curriculum in middle and high school. They also want to increase partnerships with community organizations working on mental health and drug and alcohol addiction so students and families have an easier time finding help.
Hallman students gather during the school's morning assembly. (Fred Joe/Special to Salem Reporter)
Task force recommendations
Superintendent Christy Perry asked task force members to compile ways to boost achievement for students who lag behind: black, Pacific Islander and Native American students, students from low-income families, students with disabilities, those learning English and those who are homeless or in foster care.
After gathering feedback, task force members representing each of those groups recommended what they thought would help most.
The task force’s final list ranks priorities based on how many groups recommended the same specific item. We’ve listed them in the order they appear, with several similar suggestions consolidated.
More staff training to support students with disabilities, teaching in ways that account for diverse student cultures, and working with students experiencing trauma
More extracurricular programs with transportation provided, including free athletic programs
Many students want to participate in after-school programs but can’t because of transportation, cost or other factors. The task force suggested expanding these programs to include before and after school help, specific cultural programs and celebrations and better access for students with disabilities.
Meet student mental health needs by hiring more social workers and counselors, and placing therapists in schools.
Art teacher Brenda Dobbins slides a ring made of a recycled seltzer can onto the finger of Leslie Villaseñor, a 6th grade student at Leslie Middle School, during art class at migrant summer school. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Hire more diverse staff, including bilingual staff
More school staff would be assigned to work one-on-one with students and families, similar to the community workers credited with boosting black and Pacific Islander graduation rates this year by building relationships with students.
This recommendation also includes community-school outreach coordinators, typically part-time office staff bilingual in Spanish and English who reach out to families about attendance and help with challenges like finding health care or free school supplies.
Improve communication with families, especially in languages other than English and Spanish, and give families opportunities to respond
Make transportation to school easier by decreasing walk zones and considering creative solutions like smaller vehicles for buses.
Smaller class sizes and reduced caseloads for staff like counselors
Increase arts education, including music, drama and visual arts
Help families get support and be involved in school, including connecting to mental health resources, making sure all families feel welcome at school and helping them understand school systems
Improve programs for students with disabilities
The task force recommended focusing on transition years at new schools (kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade), considering changing the curriculum for some special education students and exploring special education in students’ native languages.
Give homeless students more school advocates and help them learn skills like banking, rental applications and resume writing
Improve accountability for discriminatory practices at schools by improving the system for handling complaints and tracking disproportionate discipline students of color
Expand summer programs for Native American students
Expand community engagement programs for black students, including through Boys & Girls Club and the faith community
Provide more basic resources for families like food and clothing
Make preschool easier for low-income families to use
Make bilingual programs more consistent across the district
Reporter Rachel Alexander: (503) 575-1241 or [email protected]