Sports participation for charter school students discussed
by Samantha White
Harney County School District (HCSD) No. 3 held a work session prior to its regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, May 12 to discuss educational options for Eastern Oregon Academy (EOA) youth.
EOA is a 24-hour residential youth facility for males ages 13 and older.
During the work session, HCSD No. 3 Superintendent Dr. Marilyn McBride said the Oregon Department of Education had been pushing the district to have a service agreement signed and negotiated with EOA management with a “tight time line.” She added that the department has since pulled back, but a management team is continuing its efforts to determine what can be done.
EOA youth currently attend classes in the district office building (former Lincoln Junior High School), and McBride said some of their behaviors have caused concern for the security and safety of staff and other students who use the building. She said examples include using inappropriate language, making threats, throwing objects (including desks), damaging property, and exhibiting inappropriate sexual behavior.
Ron Wassom (principal of EOA Alternative School, Eastern Oregon Youth Correctional Facility’s Monroe Alternative School, and Burns High Alternative School) said these behaviors are much more extreme than those exhibited by Burns High School (BHS) students. He added that law enforcement had to be called four times in two days.
Board vice chair Doug Gunderson said students would be expelled if they acted that way at BHS, but the district “can’t really do that with these kids.”
McBride said EOA youth need to be stabilized before education can begin, adding that behavior plans need to be developed and students’ reading and math levels need to be assessed. She explained that many youth enter EOA without any records concerning their educational history.
Wassom agreed, stating that it can take weeks for the records to come in, and some aren’t up-to-date when they arrive.
Board member Tara McLain asked how long the youth are at EOA before they begin classes, and Wassom replied that they start school the next day.
“These kids need somebody to look at the whole picture,” board chair Lori Cheek said. “They have to be able to sit for a while and be comfortable with where they are sleeping,” she added. “We’ve got to put more focus on what they need.”
McBride said EOA and district staff need to provide consistent rewards and consequences for students, and she suggested using Google Docs to record and share information concerning students’ behavior. She also encouraged the development of short and long-term goals for EOA students, suggested adding a quiet room/ “cool down space,” and encouraged EOA to provide an on-site counselor.
Wassom said funding was made available for an EOA employee to remain in the classroom full time and that the presence of this employee has made a difference in the students’ attitude, language, and work.
“We really appreciate that they’ve stepped up,” Wassom said regarding EOA staff.
McLain asked why students are no longer taught at the EOA facility.
Cheek replied that, “This was the only thing that the school district could come up with, and they did like having the gym.”
McLain also asked whether the district has to provide education for EOA youth.
“They are residents of our district,” McBride replied. “We do have an obligation to provide for them, just like any student that is in our district.”
However, she added that EOA can be thought of as a parent who can choose to enroll its students in online, private, or homeschool programs.
McBride added that the district and EOA have been touring facilities, including Washington School, to determine the advantages and disadvantages of holding classes at those sites. However, she said neither the district nor EOA can fund the overhead cost of operating the Washington School building, and board member Ralph Dickenson expressed concern about the school’s proximity to Washington Park.
McBride asked the board whether funding should be increased to address some of the safety concerns. McLain, Cheek and Gunderson replied that they don’t want to provide any additional funding.
Monica McCanna, who attended on behalf of classified employees, urged the board to do anything it can to protect staff.
Gunderson said he agreed with protecting staff, but he felt the money would be better spent serving other students.
McLain said she felt the funding should remain the same, and these students should be educated at the EOA facility.
Board member Lisa King commented that, “Having to call the cops is not bettering the students’ outlook on anything. It just flames the fire.”
During the public comment portion of the regular meeting, Jen Keady addressed the board concerning charter school students’ ability to play sports at Hines Middle School (HMS).
“I would appreciate a true conversation about how to make it happen,” she said.
Gunderson and Dickenson said they weren’t opposed to the idea. However, it requires a policy change. Gunderson and McLain both expressed that they would not like to change policy for high school students.
Regarding the middle school, Gunderson said he thought it should be up to the principal, and possibly the team, to decide.
HMS Principal Jerry Mayes said he’d like to meet as a group and discuss the ramifications.
“I’m fearful of adults abusing the policy,” he said. “I want our kids to be as successful as possible, but I don’t want to throw in loopholes where students jump ship and go into charter school after their sports season.”
Keady suggested that requirements for students’ grades apply regardless of whether they attended HMS or a charter school.
Mayes suggested that a group meet to write the policy, which can be presented to the board during its next meeting. He added that he’d like to engage Athletic Director Paula Toney in this effort.
Keady thanked the board for its consideration.
In other business:
• Slater Elementary School Principal Chandra Ferguson reported that Tears of Joy Theatre performed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for Slater students.
She added that Dr. Kevin Feldman and Dean Richards from Oregon Response to Instruction and Intervention, an organization that provides technical assistance to Oregon school districts, conducted learning walks at the end of April. She said both commented that they were very impressed with teachers’ increased use of engagement and instructional strategies.
Ferguson concluded by informing the board that Preschool Visitation Day is scheduled for May 21.
• Mayes reported that Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) assessment testing and schedules went as anticipated, but Smarter Balanced tests are taking longer than expected.
He thanked the BHS leadership class for hosting the Ronald McDonald fundraiser dance and Austin Feist for putting on a “fantastic career day” for HMS students.
Mayes also informed the board about a school-wide challenge to increase students’ attendance.
BHS Principal Brandon Yant reported that 18 new members were inducted into the Robert Burns Chapter of the National Honor Society, and the Burns FFA Chapter has 57 members.
He said Garrett Blackburn and Baylee Hanner each received Ron Mackenzie scholarships in the amount of $8,500, and Diana Camacho was awarded $3,000.
Yant also reported that Sam Ellibee placed first in the State Solo Competition, and Jon Caponetto placed second.
He said BHS completed its five-year accreditation review in mid-April, and the external review reinforced findings that the school was already aware of. He added that a Site Council Committee was formed to work on a school improvement plan.
• Wassom reported that a new ventilation system was installed in the vocational shops at Monroe Alternative School. He added that the school’s graduation ceremony is scheduled for Friday, June 12 at 10 a.m., and teacher Terry Graham will provide the commencement address.
• During the public comment period, McCanna encouraged board members to spend a day job shadowing a classified employee next year.
• The board accepted a $100 donation from TopLoc Asphalt Maintenance LLC for the senior prom; an $800 donation from Xi Delta Gamma for BHS softball; and a $2,000 donation from Golden Four Inc. for BHS football uniforms.
• The board approved personnel hires for Gordon Black (Monroe, mechanics); Erin Jenks (Slater, teaching); Amber Kohler (Slater, teaching); Taci Weil (Slater, special education); Nancy Moon (Slater, principal); Garr Van Orden (HMS, drama and electives); and Kathy Wassom (BHS, health, physical education, and senior project).
• The board accepted policies “Disposal of District Property,” “Emergency Drills,” and “Emergency Closures” with the changes that King read during the previous meeting. Upon recommendation from Dickenson, the board agreed to table “Staff Complaints” until it has more time for discussion.
• Cheek provided an update on the biomass heating project. She reported that the cooperative has been formed, and a project manager has been hired. Cheek and King volunteered to serve on the cooperative’s board.
The next regularly-scheduled school board meeting will be held Tuesday, June 9, at 7 p.m. in the district office building.