New supt.: District gaining in achievement

Lebanon schools Supt. Bo Yates and the School District are pursuing multiple paths to boost academic achievement among their students, and he says they’ve seen some gains this year.

The board last month hired Yates as superintendent. He served as interim superintendent this year while the School Board conducted a search for the position.

Settling into the role, he said, the district “is just addressing some of the needs,” making sure kids are at grade level and maintaining “that sense of urgency to get kids where they need to be and not accepting when they’re not.”

This year, the district added support for students who are behind in reading, Yates said. The Boys and Girls Club has helped with that through the after-school 21st Century Community Learning Centers for fifth- through ninth grade students.

The district is also providing after-school support at every grade level.

Summer school will be available at every grade level this year too, Yates said. “We know that kids in the summer lose reading; they lose math.”

Every child who can keep what they’ve learned through the summer is a win, Yates said. The summer slide can impact how much teachers must go back to work with students who are behind.

The district has also tried to increase its Title I programs, ‘noting that 17 percent of students are in special education, which is reimbursed by the state at 12 percent, Yates said, and “we feel like we’ve made some gains.”

During the year, the district has been able to move students upward in terms of academic performance, Yates said. “It just shows what a great job our teachers are doing. All of our schools have made some significant improvement with the kids.”

Based on STAR assessments in math and reading, Yates said, every school has made measurable gains this year.

The number of students in the bottom quartile has decreased in all but one case from fall to winter, while all but one school increased the number of students at or above the 50th percentile.

As a district 33 percent of students were in the bottom quartile in math during the fall. That number fell to 29 percent in the winter. The number of students at or above the 50th percentile increased from 46 percent in the fall to 52 percent in the winter.

In reading, the number of students in the bottom quartile districtwide was 40 percent in the fall in reading. In the winter, it had fallen to 35 percent. Some 36 percent were at or above the 50th percentile in the fall, and 41 percent were at or above the 50th percentile in the winter.

Around the district Pioneer School had some of the strongest gains in reading, going from a district low 34 percent in the bottom quartile in reading to 24 percent, a 10-point gain, while increasing the number at or above the 50th percentile from a district high 43 percent to 60 percent.

Cascades School made the biggest gain in reading, reducing the number of students in the bottom quartile in reading from 46 percent to 31 percent, a 15-point gain and the largest gain in the district in reading.

In math, Green Acres School went from 47 percent in the bottom quartile to 30 percent, a gain of 17  points, the largest gain in the district. Lacomb fell from a district low 29 percent to 22 percent, While Pioneer went from 30 percent to a district low of 15 percent.

Lacomb improved a district high number of students at or above the 50th percentile in math by five points, to 58 percent. Pioneer went from 44 percent to a district high of 66 percent of students at or above the 50th percentile.

The only case where performance declined as at Cascades where 31 percent were in the bottom quartile for math in the fall. In the winter 33 percent were in the bottom quartile. The only case where a school did not achieve gains in the number of students reaching the 50th percentile was Seven Oak which had 32 percent of students at or above that mark in both the fall and winter.

With recent transitions at Seven Oak, Yates said, he is happy not seeing it move backward. With the additional supports, he anticipates seeing the school improve in the coming years.

“We want to be better than average in our growth to get our kids where they need to be,” Yates said, noting that the students reaching the 50th percentile are at grade level.

Using the testing data, the district and schools can look at the classroom level, identify who is making the most gains and replicate it in other schools and classrooms, Yates said.

In addition to after-school and summer school support, the district is developing its alternative education program, with behavioral support in every school, Yates said. Every school is dealing with students who have social and emotional issues.

Cascades and Seven Oak both have district-level programs, and the district is creating an alternative high school program at the district office next year.

The alternative education has already been working with students, providing extra support in small groups for students, at the district office this year,  Yates said. When students have extreme behavior issues, teachers cannot teach, and the district doesn’t want to “normalize” the poor behavior.

The district does want to help the students function better in a classroom, and they’ll have summer school to help them, Yates said.

Going forward, Yates’ priorities are for the district to be as effective as it can be, to make sure kids are at grade level, to provide support so all students can be successful and to instill a sense of self-determination where kids can do what they feel they want to do.

“We’ve worked hard to improve our TAG (talented and gifted) programs,” Yates said. Also the district is working with the high school to get high school students in the elementary schools to help with reading.

Ultimately, he would like to grow a cadet teaching program, particularly among juniors and seniors, to give them a chance to find out about teaching and to start building good future teachers, Yates said. The district has had eight to 10 high school students working in elementary schools this year.

While reading at grade level by the third grade is “super important,” correlated to later success, Yates said, “we want every grade level to be super important.”

The district wants intervention available in every school of every kid who is struggling, Yates said.

At the high school level, the freshman class will function as a small cohort, a tighter group that will see the same group of teachers in each subject, Yates said. The school has done this before, and it’s returning to that model.

The school is going to provide more opportunities in career and technical education, Yates said. Many students don’t plan to go to college. “They need to be prepared for learning how to be a successful adult and to be in charge of their future.”

Among its efforts, the district is finishing a large flexible classroom facility at the Land Lab. To support freshman, Measure 98 funds support a horticulture class there.

The district is teaming with up with the Boys and Girls Club for panels and presentations with business leader, who share information about various career opportunities, Yates said.

“I’m so excited about having this job,” Yates said. “I grew up in this community.”

He taught high school and then became an administrator in the district, he said. “This is a pretty awesome opportunity for me. I have such a good group of people to work with.”

The teachers, administrators and classified are dedicated to Lebanon’s kids, Yates said.

The district’s efforts are tied to funding, he said. “We’ll try to do the best we can with the funding we have.”

The district will look at options like a $4.5 million bond matching program offered by the state to repair roofs and make sure buildings are structurally sound, Yates said. That would help the buildings last until the district can pursue bonds to build new schools.

“We want the community to feel really positive about our schools and our schools to reflect positively on our community,” Yates said. “We want people to move here” because of the schools, and the district has been working hard to make that happen.”