Jan. 18, 2020 — “We are elected by the people, and the people have entrusted us with their very precious school district. It’s really crucial that we get input from people. A robust caring community is what makes a school great,” Mapleton board member Michelle Holman told the Siuslaw News. “We need to get outside input.”
The issue of community involvement was at the heart of multiple conversations during Wednesday nights’ Mapleton School Board meeting, as the board discussed creating a new Facebook page, changing the date of the meeting to allow more participation, updating the district’s website, holding public meetings at different locations and loosening restrictions on public comments during meetings.
Many of these changes are an attempt by the district to bring about a larger conversation in the community about the district itself, and the upriver community as a whole.
“We’re just trying to be responsive to the needs of our community and create a climate of broader, more open communication,” Holman said.
In late 2019, the district created a Continuous Improvement Plan that focused on three areas of improvement for the district: mental health/behavior support, language arts learning outcomes and increased community involvement.
The first goal was already being worked on with a partnership with the Western Lane Health Network, while the second goal was largely covered by instructional strategies which the district had already been implementing.
It was the third goal, community involvement, that had the least amount of groundwork.
“The whole communication piece has eroded since we lost our local newspaper, which was the Mapleton Sailor, years ago,” Holman explained. “Due to budget cuts, we stopped sending out our Mapleton school newsletter.”
The district has a webpage, but the social media footprint is small, aside from a Facebook page which posts news on local athletics.
As far as public input directly to the board, Wednesday night’s board meeting was a stark reminder of how difficult it can be to get people involved as the board spoke to an empty room — an almost monthly occurrence.
“When we see empty chairs, it’s almost like the school board is operating in a vacuum,” Hollman said.
This can be difficult not only for the board and the families of the 153 students the district serves, but for the projects that affect the community beyond school walls.
As the only elected government in the upriver community, the issues discussed by Mapleton School Board go far beyond just what happens within the walls of the school.
Recent discussions have included work to bring public transit to the area and the community clinic, which the school will be in charge of constructing through a $400,000 partnership with PeaceHealth Peace Harbor.
“This new clinic is a boon for the entire Mapleton community,” Holman said. “You don’t have to have just kids. It’s going to serve everyone that lives within our district. And the district is huge, geographically. We may not have a huge population, but it spans a broad landmass.”
And then there’s just general conversations about the community as a whole, which range from issues on jobs in the community, recreation and homelessness.
“We have conversations about land use, and how we can provide more housing for more families that really do want to live and school our kids in our district,” Holman said.
In many ways, the district acts as a hub of progress for the upriver community — a “heart of the community,” as Hollman put it.
But to make that work, Mapleton needs to get the public involved.
“It’s just a more lively, deeper conversation that happens when there’s members of the community there watching and listening,” Holman said. “We encourage public participation. If you have a question or an issue, you’re always invited to come to the district, sign up and get your concerns registered. I think it just makes for a more robust meeting when there are members of the community in attendance.”
To help create that discussion, the district is beginning to expand its outreach, though the steps are somewhat incremental.
The first part will be updating the website mapleton.k12.or.us with calendar updates. The district’s business manager Jeron Ricks has been working on this with students, and will also work on creating a Facebook page for the district itself.
The district is also looking to reinstitute the school newsletter, digitally at first.
“And for those of our residents that don’t have computers, we are making the switch to paper notices and newsletters for them,” Holman said.
The district will move its board meeting to the third Wednesday of each month as well, a date that will no longer compete with the Siuslaw School District, which holds its meeting on the second Wednesday.
Mapleton School District will also look to rework its policy regarding public comment during the meetings, which originally stipulated that the public had to fill out and submit a form 48 hours in advance to speak, a rule that the board generally ignored anyway.
Finally, the board also wants to take their meetings on the road.
“For some number of years, we’ve had the Deadwood Community host a school board meeting, but we could have meetings in other parts of our community, which could make it easier for people to talk to us,” Holman added.
But to know where to go, the board needs the community to talk to them.
“We’re a small enough district that the lines of communication can be very open,” Holman said. “It’s easy to contact your school board member, it’s easy to have access to your school board member. We encourage that because it makes our job more meaningful, and the decisions that actually get made have more meaning because there’s buy-in from the community.”
In other news from Wednesday’s meeting, an update was given on “Friday school,” which is held by Mapleton High School Principal Brenda Moyer and teacher Lou Burruss from 9 a.m. to noon. Officially, the district does not have classes on Fridays, but the two have been opening the doors for any student who needs to work on school projects, or just to have fun, including a project devoted to making Rube Goldberg devices.
“It was just a good thing for kids to come in and get stuff done,” Burruss explained. “It gets them on the right side of the line, whether it’s an F to a C or a B to an A. It depends on the kid and it’s totally informal, but it’s been helping.”
A program has also been instituted for student athletes, a study hall held twice weekly that helps the basketball players keep on their grades.
“I am so impressed by the culture that has been established there,” Moyer said. “They said it was a lot easier to stay ahead than to get behind.”