Trustees balk a bit at urged alternative school move

By Audrey Caro

Lebanon Local

Lebanon Community School District Board  members held a lengthy discussion with Superintendent Rob Hess about his alternative school proposal at their May 10 board meeting.

In a meeting on April 26, board members balked at Hess’s request to actually form an alternative school, but approved applying for an identification number through the Oregon Department of Education because of a May 1 deadline.

Board members requested more detailed information about the proposed school.

On May 10, Hess again requested approval to form the Lebanon Academy, which he said would be a K-12 alternative school.

After his second presentation, board members again requested more information.

Hess started his presentation by listing endorsements for the school from Lebanon High School Principal Brad Shreve, Associate Principal Kraig Hoene and Seven Oak interim principal Mike Hillman, who formerly was the district’s alternative education coordinator.

Board member Mike Martin asked for a breakdown by grade of students who are currently in an alternative program.

Hess said he didn’t have a chart of all the levels in front of him, but estimated 50 students in grades 9 through 12, about 20 seventh- and eighth-graders, and about 15 to 20 in the elementary grades.

Hess said right now, the district doesn’t “offer a lot of supports.”

Martin asked what the  criteria are for moving a student to an alternative program.

Hess said the district needs parental permission and that students go into an alternative school with a personalized plan.

Board member Richard Borden asked Hess to explain the work that went into preparing the information before it was presented to the board.

Hess said the district talked before about creating a charter school for career and technical training and this stemmed out of that.

“These kids aren’t going away,” Hess said.

Even if they don’t have a separate school, the district will still need to provide services, he added.

Establishing an alternative school will provide better data, more accountability and more resources from the state, Hess said.

Regarding data, he said attendance for students in the alternative education programs currently is included in the high school attendance. That’s inaccurate, he said.

“Having the student data out of the high school for the kids that aren’t really going there, that’s going to make that data more accurate,” Hess said. “Just by having them attached to their own school, it’s more accurate.”

Board member Nick Brooks said it will be more accurate but will cause a big jump in attendance, year to year.

“We need to not lose track that what we’re asking is to improve attendance, improve graduation overall,” Brooks said. “We can’t change how we’re measuring.”

“The purpose of this is not to monkey with the numbers,” Hess said. “It’s to serve kids that need more time.”

Board Chair Tom Oliver said the board needs to establish benchmarks for the alternative school.

Martin said his biggest problem with the proposal is the process and how the board found out about it, “and now we’re playing catch-up.”

“I think the program could serve the district well, but I’d kind of like to start at the beginning with a couple of visits to alternative schools,” Martin said.

Hess said staff has visited alternative schools in Albany, Corvallis and Bend.

Brooks asked Hess who collaborated with him and helped develop the proposal.

“I’ve worked with the principals and the alt ed staff and the leadership team,” Hess said.

In talking about the staffing needed for the school, Hess said the plan includes a counselor/social worker, four teachers who are licensed in different disciplines, two instructional aides, a school registrar, a special education teacher and tutors as need.

The current Teen Center alternative education staff consists of two teachers, one coordinator, one instructional assistant and nine part-time tutors at various locations.

One of Hess’s slides displayed information about the students in the alternative education program, by month, from August to May of the 2017-18 school year.

The number of students for each month was a cumulative of students in all the alternative programs, not broken down by grade or program.

There also was a number listed for each month to show how many students had withdrawn from alternative programs, but did not specify why they had withdrawn, only that it could be because they returned to school, completed the program, moved or dropped out.

Lebanon Local requested a breakdown of the numbers, including how many students returned to regular schools, how many completed the program, how many moved, how many dropped out.
Lebanon Local also requested which programs were included and how many students are in each.

On May 15, the district said it may take another week to provide that information.

Brooks said that in concept, he was in favor of the alternative education school, but he was not willing to approve it that night.

“If we’re going to do this, we want to make sure we’re going to do it right,” Oliver said. “We want to see more of the details and level of involvement across the district.”

Hess said he didn’t know what else to bring to the board.

Brooks said they have said “two or three or half a dozen things we want to see.”

Martin said he’d like to see realistic numbers for potential attendance.

Oliver said he would prefer to not lose momentum on the project.

“We can’t always be in a rush,” Brooks said. “We have to get forward thinking.”

Hess said this is an opportunity.

“If this was such a great opportunity, why did it come up in April instead of December?” Brooks asked.

Martin added that the alternative school is not really an offshoot of the CTE program.

“It was a notion of looking at what we’re currently doing,” Hess said. “The reason it came up in April is we’re not fundamentally changing what we’re doing.”

Borden said the timing is not as much of an issue for him as for the other board members.

“We can bring you all more numbers on where these kids come from and help educate you on the process that gets them to the alt school,” Hess said.

“We can move forward with the expectation we’re not going to try to move this forward next year,” Oliver said.

During board communication Brooks said his first nine months on the board has been different than he anticipated.

“I really am surprised to see that we do not have this high level of collaboration in the district,” Brooks said. “It doesn’t feel that way. From admin to teachers to staff.”

He said “highest performance teams” collaborate.

“It doesn’t slow you down, it speeds you up,” Brooks said.

He said sometimes people have really good ideas but aren’t able to execute them.

“Sometimes, people have really crappy ideas that someone else could make great,” he added.