School board discusses on-track graduations

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
The Lebanon Community School District board discussed during its Nov. 9 meeting the need to provide opportunities for high school students to get on track for graduation.
“Our biggest concern is making sure that we account for every student,” superintendent Bo Yates said. “So if we have students that aren’t graduating, we have them on a plan and we’re trying to make sure that they can be successful, and if they need extra support, whether it be social, emotional or whatever support they might need, that’s just a priority.”
A report presented at the meeting (and found in the agenda packet) indicated that 60% of ninth-grade students are on track to graduate while only 55% of 10th-graders are on track. In the remaining grades, 63% of juniors and 76% of seniors are on track.
“We don’t want kids to fall through the cracks,” Yates said. “And right now is just incredibly difficult; it’s a different way of teaching, there’s more vulnerability, there’s more challenges for our teaching staff, and considerably more challenges for our kids, and the impact of CDL [comprehensive distance learning] on our kids has been negative. So we are really gonna have to work hard and be creative and work together to figure out how we accelerate learning.”
Tenth-graders must earn at least six credits to be on track. About 51 of those students who are not on track earned at least five credits. If the district required five or more, then the total percentage of 10th-grade students on track to graduate would be 70%, but board member Todd Gestrin said it’s “dicey” to lower the bar just to make the numbers look better.
Yates noted that the disruption in class time due to COVID-19 has made data more insufficient and clearly has affected students’ track records.
“We haven’t given students the opportunity to get the credits that they normally would have, but the requirements to graduate are the same,” board member Tom Oliver said. “So there’s really no choice but to figure out how to get them more time in the classroom, or some alternative method of delivering those credits.”
Yates responded that, in hindsight, it would have been a good idea to provide extra credits in, for example, the form of an elective technology credit, but at this point the district needs to project forward and find ways to provide more time to earn credits.
The district’s administrative team is looking into ways they can provide more support for the students who need help, he said.
“Our goal is to get that rate under 10% by the end of the semester,” Yates said. “There’s pressure, but we want it to be constructive pressure, just not reactive pressure.”
Oliver noted extra resources are available to the district if that would help the kids.
“I want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to provide the resources that the team needs to make headway here,” Oliver said.
Gestrin made a side note pointing out that all the K-8 students are also affected by the pandemic disruption, and they too will be working hard to get back on track.
“The school district, everyone who works there, we have a challenge that’s going to take years to recover from,” Gestrin said.
The district needs urgency at every grade level to get back on track, Yates said, and it’s working on a system to provide assistance where needed.
Also present at the meeting were chair Mike Martin, vice chair Richard Borden, and board member Tammy Schilling.

In other business, the board:
♦ Awarded a contract to Wildish Construction Company for services at the Phillips Subdivision Project for required street improvements in the amount of $583,657;
♦ Heard a report from Santiam Academy president Susanne Stefani about the first quarter progress of the new online K-8 school.
A member asked how online students would transition to in-person high school attendance and graduate successfully. Stefani responded that the staff and district will watch how the online format works for students, and perhaps consider expanding in the future.
“But also to speak to that, too, I think that a lot of what this school is doing for some of its students is just affirming them as scholars and learners,” she said, “and sometimes that’s a major step.”