May 4, 2019 — The Siuslaw School District created the new Facilities Advisory Committee (FAC) from the previous Bond Advisory Committee. According to committee member Bob Orr, the committee is seeking community input on the state of the district’s facilities and academics. It held two public workshops at the end of April to go over four topics in small groups and get some additional feedback.
In addition, the committee has a short, anonymous survey asking many of the same questions. People can participate at https:/bit.ly/SiuslawSurvey through July to have their comments heard before the Siuslaw School Board’s August meeting.
At FAC’s April 30 meeting at Siuslaw Public Library, community members were able to eat cookies prepared by Siuslaw High School’s culinary students and gather into small groups to share their views on a wide range of topics relating to the schools, including educational offerings, facility requirements, meeting the present and future needs of students and more.
“We’re gathering information,” Orr said at the start of the meeting. “We don’t have an agenda to sell. We’re just asking for input.”
He said the purpose of the meetings was to collect comments ultimately for the school board on a wide variety of things, due in part to the district’s failure in the past years to pass two separate school bonds for upgrades and improvements to the district’s buildings.
“Our goal is to help them to know what the community is thinking relative specifically to facilities issues,” he said. “We have broadened the scope of our inquiry because there are things that are kind of peripherally related to facilities, and we want to talk about those as well.”
Topics ranged between school and community interaction, needed or perceived facility improvements, school safety and the incorporation of 21st century academics.
“We don’t have an agenda in terms of what we’re asking you to say,” Orr insisted. “We want you to be honest, we want you to be open — we do want you to be nice, if you would please — but we want your honest feedback.”
Twenty-one attendees, including FAC members and district personnel, split into small groups. From there, people offered varying and sometimes opposite perspectives on the state of the facilities, quality of education, success of communication and the need for a future bond.
“One person said we really need to light a fire under the community to support the schools, but another person said the community is very supportive,” said Vonnie McClellan, school board executive assistant, who read responses from the table covering school quality.
At another table, FAC member Michael Allen discussed the options of repairing or replacing the buildings for Siuslaw elementary and high schools. Those two items were the biggest components of the Siuslaw’s failed bond last November, which requested from taxpayers $108,700,000 over 31 years. $88 million of that was recommended by architects for the construction of a new high school and nearly $19 million would have gone to the elementary school.
“I think of all the core groups that came through, there’s a consensus that we should concentrate on replacing the high school,” Allen said. “Many did agree that the elementary school has a lot of importance, and if they had to vote on it again, they would vote for both.”
While Allen summarized his group’s perspectives, other people were adamant in why they did not vote for the bond in November. At the close of the election, 4,933 voters had voted against the bond, compared with 3,615 who voted to fund it.
“Probably we lost the last bond based on the fact that we were trying to get something they felt we couldn’t afford,” Allen said, again reading from the various points discussed throughout the workshop. “And there might have been some confusion about that in terms of how much it was really costing them.”
Based on that table’s discussion, people felt there should be more “focus” to the bond — fewer items to upgrade, more supplemental sources of funds and better communication to the public about needs for the facilities, both in terms of structural safety and technology requirements for modern education.
In terms of building safety, Siuslaw School Board President Suzanne Mann-Heintz was the spokesperson from her table.
“Our topic was school safety and we were to discuss earthquakes and intruders — and we were unanimously against both,” she said. “None of the groups felt like we should ignore either of the issues.”
At that table, people said it was a priority to have Siuslaw’s schools be seismically sound and safe for students. They suggested reducing entry points in the schools, increasing video surveillance and possibly incorporating metal detectors and swipe card entry for the high school.
Mann-Heintz added that people might be relieved to find out about the training the district has already done in terms of emergency response and safety measures.
The final table covered communication and collaboration between the schools and the Florence area community. Again, viewpoints suggested both that there is a strong tie of community support and that there has not been a consistent invitation for community involvement.
“There were some comments and viewpoints indicating that the schools have isolated themselves, not reaching out to the community or not reaching out as well as they could to inform the community about what’s going on inside the schools,” said Diane McCalmont, secretary at Siuslaw Elementary. “It was communicated that there are a lot of community members that don’t have a connection with the school, maybe they don’t have kids with the school, so they fail to see how the schools function, or they don’t care or don’t know how the schools function — and don’t care. Even some parents seem to need more info about after school programs and resources that are available.”
One way families and residents can learn about the state of the district is by attending the Siuslaw Education Foundation’s Education Celebration at Siuslaw Middle School from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 11. There will be demonstrations, entertainment, carnival games and snacks, including BJ’s Ice Cream, for a small fee.
Mann-Heintz said, “It won’t be expensive. It will mostly just be fun. If you need to go into the schools and find out what’s there, this is your chance. Please feel free to come.”
The topic of communication, especially, had been considered by the FAC as it also has planned a comprehensive Education Expo for next year. More information about the expo will be available at educationexpo.org.
“We’re planning ahead for Feb. 29, 2020, which is Leap Day of Leap Year. It will be an annual event once every four years,” Orr said. “Hopefully, we’re going to have a lot of different organizations in the community which provide educational services of one kind or another. … We’re going to try to get as many as possible together, of course with the schools as well, invite the entire community and really have a celebration of all the educational opportunities in the community. One of the things obviously we are trying to do is connect better the schools with the community, and this is one way we’re trying to do that.”
Allen added, “It’s one of our ways of presenting to the community how good not only our school district but our whole community is for education. We need to sell them on that, that we do already have a wonderful school district.”
“Just not a good building,” quipped an attendee.
“Right,” Allen agreed. “It could be much better.”
Additional comments throughout the night were about bringing in trained professionals and retirees to talk about the arts, trades, the digital world and technology; inviting people to volunteer and get involved; increasing internship and experience options for students; and raising the educational standards.
“There are comments about the community being discouraged about what’s coming out of the high school as far as what level kids are being graduated at,” McCalmont continued. “They said the bar has been lowered and needs to be raised so that we are providing kids with skills and confidence once they are coming out of the high school. And we need to do better inside the building to prepare successful students as they go out into the world.”
People were also able to write additional comments on various posters throughout the room, listing “what needs improving at Siuslaw schools,” if they would consider supporting a new high school building, how much they could afford to pay each month for a bond, “What’s good about Siuslaw schools” and more.
“I want to thank all of you for coming this evening,” Orr said. “This has been tremendously valuable for us. We have learned a great deal and truly appreciate it.”
People can continue to provide comment by taking the survey at https:/bit.ly/SiuslawSurvey.