Feb. 22, 2020 — Mapleton School District is in the process of gathering opinions on how it should spend over $200,000 in funds provided by the Student Success Act, which was passed by the Oregon legislature last year in an effort to improve a variety of issues within the state’s school districts, from class sizes to the mental health of students.
Upcoming meetings will be held on Monday, Feb. 24, at the Deadwood Grange, with food being served at 5:30 p.m. and discussion beginning at 6. On Tuesday, Feb. 25, the discussion moves to Mapleton High School, with snacks again being served at 5:30 with discussion starting at 6.
“We’re hoping for people to come out and give us important input and feedback to help the district serve our students better,” said Mapleton Superintendent Jodi O’Mara.
The district has already been holding meetings throughout the month of February, the first of which was held on Feb. 12 — a student-only discussion where the students were able to speak freely regarding how they thought SSA funding should be sent, and their feelings on the school in general.
That meeting was followed up by a community meeting in Swisshome last Tuesday.
“There were 12 community members and three district staff that attended, which we were thrilled to have come give us input,” O’Mara said, adding that the district has been eager to gather community input on not only SSA funding, but the school in general.
The meeting was held in a series of “world cafe” roundtables, where small groups of individuals would discuss various questions that were given to them.
“All of the conversations were around what we need to do to support our kids and our staff and build our community,” O’Mara said. “It was really heartwarming. Everyone had such great and diverse ideas.”
A wide variety of topics were discussed, from introducing new programs in the school to strengthening existing ones, such as the “Beyond Me” program.
“Career Technical Education (CTE) was a big conversation, bringing back woodshop, bringing in people from the community that have those skills that they can teach the kids,” the superintendent said.
Creating a sustained CTE program is something the district is working on. Right now, only one class is offered, introduction to business, though the district has had difficulties finding other instructors.
“When we lost our woodshop teacher four years ago, we have not been able to find someone to replace them,” O’Mara said.
One of the difficulties is finding individuals who can be certified to teach CTE, which can be a complicated process.
“In order to get a teacher certified in CTE, they have to either already have a teaching license, or be a tradesperson who has a certain number of years of experience in that field,” O’Mara said. “And then Lane ESD works with us to get them certified and to follow the program of study to get certified.”
For nearby Siuslaw School District and the majority of schools in Oregon, getting someone to go through that process is challenging. For a rural district like Mapleton, it can be impossible.
Instead, the district is looking at alternative ways to build a CTE program.
“We’re actually working with Lane Community College and Lane ESD on a CTE revitalization that is in the works to have programs of study that are about two or three weeks long,” O’Mara said. “They actually come to your site and teach a program of study, like becoming a mechanic.”
The students could travel to the places of business to take part in a truncated apprenticeship program, or they could take classes at districts like Siuslaw which already have an established CTE program.
For most schools, finding the time to travel for such programs would be an issue, but for the four-day a week Mapleton district, this could be a perfect opportunity for students to take part in the programs.
In both the student and community discussions, one of the biggest points of interest was the institution of Friday school.
Last year, Mapleton teacher Lou Burruss, along with High School Principal Brenda Moyer, began opening up the school on Fridays. Initially, they began showing up on Friday mornings to work on prep, but the day soon grew to be an opportunity to help students.
However, the unofficial day has had some drawbacks. Resources are limited, with no bus service to the district on Friday and an inconsistency as to when staff decide to come in. While the limited staff is able to tutor certain subjects, they don’t have the knowledge base to help students with every class the high school offers.
The district applied for a grant to bolster the program, but were denied. However, SSA funds could be used for Friday school.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for kids to come in and either get help on the work that they missed in the week, and also just to make it fun,” said junior Heather Wierichs. “Do extra schooling stuff, but outside of school. Like field trips, I think. I think Friday should be outside school where we go and do something, but make it a learning experience, too. Not just to have fun, you know?”
A majority of the 20 students who attended the forum were supportive of instituting Friday school, as long as the issues could be worked out.
“It’s absolutely doable,” O’Mara said afterward. “But if we had Friday school with our SSA dollars, it would be every week. And I could probably go out on a limb and say this would even be during professional development Fridays. That’s how important we’re hearing that it is.”
While SSA funding could not pay for the entire staff to come to Friday school, it could help bring in a limited number of teachers on a rotation throughout the month. For times when teachers would not attend, homework assignments could be set aside for students who may have missed classes.
Regarding transportation, the district could run limited bus pickup. Instead of door to door, they could run snow route locations, picking up students from a few select points such as the Swisshome Post Office and the Deadwood Country Market.
It could also help with the CTE component.
“On Tuesday, I talked to the Oakridge superintendent,” O’Mara said. “What they’re looking at doing, because they’re also a four-day-a-week school, is two Fridays a month, calling them CTE experience days. They’re taking a bus to drop kids off so they can have a day-long experience in a business.”
She said these opportunities could include visiting LCC’s main campus in Eugene to tour available programs or visiting small businesses like BJ’s Ice Cream in Florence to learn about the creamery.
“It doesn’t take them out of core classes during the week, since it’s Friday,” O’Mara said. “I love that idea.”
One of the biggest issues that the students felt SSA funds could help with was improving the quality of food served at the district.
“There are kids who straight up just refuse to eat the food here,” said freshman Kiana Moody. “By skipping meals, you can create an eating disorder, which we don’t want.”
SSA funding could not be used for improving the quality of school food, though it’s an issue that the administration is aware of and working on, O’Mara said.
“That’s actually one of our goals in our plan. It’s something we’ve been working on for two years now — improving the quality of the food,” she said.
Issues with meals arose just after the remodel. Before, all meals were served out of the elementary cafeteria, which forced middle and high school students to cross the campus during lunch time. Many older students didn’t make the journey, so it was decided the remodel would bring food services to the high school as well.
After the remodel, more high school and middle school students were taking meals, but the budget for food services remained the same. The school had to do more with already limited funding.
“Our step now is reevaluating what our menu is, what it looks like,” O’Mara said, stating that the district was open to suggestions from the community and students.
During the student forum, the students acknowledged that even if SSA funds could be used for food services, the limited funds wouldn’t be sustainable, so they began coming up with alternative ideas.
“Having a bigger Farm to Table class and growing fruits and veggies might help, or buying local,” Moody said. “I know some things you can’t do because you have to order mass food quantities, but maybe we can start making fresh food for the high school.”
“That’s a great idea,” O’Mara said after being told about the suggestion. “Those are the things that spark changes and I love that.”
The other big concern for the students was the block scheduling the district employees, two-hour classes offered every other day.
Another student, AJ Moso, said, “I would like to say that I think what our school district can do is to support our students in school, is to go down on our two-hour block periods. With one-hour classes, it helps our brains think critically faster than having two-hour classes. Our brains will be less functioning in a two-hour block period so people will not want to come. So we can cut that down to one hour classes every day.”
After Moso spoke, students around him clapped and cheered at the idea.
The problem that many students had with the block schedules was not only that the hours seemed to drag, but it was often difficult to get fully involved with a subject twice a week, instead of every day.
O’Mara said that the district would be willing to work on changing the schedule.
“Absolutely,” she said. “The schedule changing, that’s not a deal breaker. It’s hard when you have class Monday first period and you don’t have it again until Wednesday first period.”
One of the main goals of SSA funds is to reduce class sizes, though there was debate among the students as to whether or not that was necessary. Some students took issue with class sizes being too small, while another student pointed out that the geometry class seemed overcrowded with 30 students.
“Part of that is due to the requirements for the state, and where our kids are at right now in math,” O’Mara explained.
While the majority of Mapleton’s classes hover around 15-20 students, every once in a while, when a group of students need to take a required class to graduation, the sizes can swell.
“When all our kids need geometry to graduate, boom, there’s 30 kids in class,” she said.
Hiring more math teachers is a difficult balancing act for the school. While an additional teacher may reduce the size of geometry, it would further decrease class sizes with already low numbers.
“It’s not that we aren’t wanting to hire more staff to support our kiddos, but right now it’s hard to justify hiring a teacher when you have a class of 30 in geometry, but the rest of our classes are low numbers,” she said.
Class size and resources is also an issue with special education, a concern that the students also brought up. Some of the students questioned whether or not the district even had a special education program, as some of the students they knew with special needs ended up attending different schools.
“We have special education students here, whether they’re receiving speech services or specific learning disabilities where they get additional help and support,” O’Mara clarified afterward. “Though there are times when students are better served in other schools, there are some high needs special education students that we have placed in programs outside of our district.”
The reason for this is a combination of limited resources in the rural area, and a limited number of students with special education needs.
Depending on what a particular student needs, a wide variety of resources can be needed to help students be successful.
“Sometimes they have occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists or communication specialists,” O’Mara explained.
But a lot of those resources aren’t available in Mapleton like they are in other schools.
“The programs that we send our kids to at times are behavior programs,” O’Mara said. “They are specific to support kids with behavioral needs that may be more than what we are able to support. On site, they have behavioral specialists, counselors and clinical social workers, as well as very structured behavior plans to help manage students, with the goal of getting students back into their home schools.”
While Mapleton could invest in hiring those types of positions, there are then issues with how many students would actually need those services.
“If we were to offer more programs here, one of the huge negatives is that there are no peers,” O’Mara said. “Their peers are regular ed kids, instead of special ed kids. That relational piece is important.”
Being around students with similar experiences is important for growth and independence. That’s not to say that the district moves all special education students to other areas; the vast majority do stay in Mapleton and work with the special education teacher the district employs.
“It’s all about being able to provide the best education for the student. And that can create hard decisions,” O’Mara said.
Improving social emotional needs for all students is a large part of SSA funding goals, and within the student and community discussions, these issues dominated the conversations.
“That includes ensuring that our teachers and staff are trained to support our kids,” O’Mara said. “There’s a catchphrase, ‘trauma informed care.’ It’s not just where there’s one major trauma that happens in a student’s life, it’s the constant trauma that a lot of our families deal with. Whether that’s poverty or food insecurity, whether that’s homelessness or a loss of job, a loss of family. We want to make sure our staff understand where our kids come from, and how we support them.”
While funds from SSA are designed to create a framework to support those needs, many of the issues brought up in the student discussion were beyond what $200,000 could accomplish — school bullying, communication with staff and what opportunities students feel they have after they graduate.
“While not all of the comments and the stuff here fits into the buckets of SSA dollars, it’s still important and we still need to listen to it,” O’Mara said.
In next week’s edition, the Siuslaw News will examine how students feel about those issues as we give the students the floor, letting them speak openly about their issues at the small, rural school.
“It will actually help, not just only us as individuals, it will show parents and everybody what we see behind the walls of the school,” said student Phillip Burnett.