With every new school year comes a number of changes and South Lane School District, like districts throughout the state of Oregon, isn’t immune.
Fall has nearly arrived in full and school got back into session over two weeks ago. Fortunately, the administrators at the district office spent the summer proactively tackling potential issues that may arise with new staff as well as outlining areas of focus that the district office and local schools will emphasize throughout the year.
Lest community members feel as though staff turnover from the previous school year was extreme or abnormal, Interim Assistant Superintendent Brian McCasline put the changes into perspective.
“As I look back over the last five years, there was a year that we had more hires. There were a few years where we had around the same amount of hires … and there’s been a year here and there where we had a lot less hires. Last year, we hired 14 teachers and I think that was the lowest over the last five years. So, it just fluctuates. Right now, it’s a county-wide issue where a lot of folks moved around — and we experienced that as well.”
While staff changes are, overall, in line with changes at other area districts, it’s nonetheless a situation that will and has provided some level of challenge for the district.
“With leadership changes, the challenge that we meet head on is to continue the trajectory, continue the vision, continue the things that we’re doing to keep going in the same direction we were going before,” said McCasline, emphasizing the need for consistency and communication.
“We have facilitated conversations between the new principal, the new athletic director and current staff over the summer to make sure that the new administration knew the direction of where the high school was headed … That’s the challenge, but it’s something that, if you do it right, it can go really well.
“And I think it’s going well.”
Administration and athletics aren’t the only departments where residents can expect to see new faces as there are around 15 new teachers in the district as well. However, McCasline is confident that steps taken over the summer will help the newer teachers integrate into their respective schools, in a way not too dissimilar from how the upperclassmen Link Crew members help incoming freshmen get comfortable in a new environment.
“With teachers, any teacher that was new to the profession who hasn’t been a full-time teacher before, they have a mentor … that’s a fellow teacher in our district that is dedicated to helping them as a peer, not as an evaluator — not as anything more than someone who has more experience and has some of the skills that they’re seeking,”
In regard to areas of focus and approaches to the school year, the district office has highlighted multiple items that will receive particular attention through the spring and beyond.
Perhaps chief among them will be a district-wide push to implement and standardize the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system.
PBIS is a system that emphasizes teaching behavior in a similar way to how a school teaches math or science, the idea being that a child cannot be reasonably expected to exhibit proper behavior without knowing what that looks like. In short, when it comes to behavior management, the general goal of PBIS is the prevention of disruptive behaviors rather than punishment — and it’s a system that works best when all parties buy in equally.
“This year it’s district-supported,” said McCasline. “Before, schools were at different levels of implementation and we’ve pushed to be implemented in all schools and we’re going to fund that. So, it’s not left up to a principal to figure out how to bring in a specialist to come in and talk to the staff or how to get the team trained. It’s the district’s responsibility and we’re really taking that on as a district.”
In addition to PBIS, South Lane will also put special attention on prioritizing and expanding the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs that already exist in the district. The focus will be further and more pointed integration of CTE into the local job market, evaluating what programs and classes would best suit local students — and, conversely, local employers — in their future professional endeavors.
“CTE is almost its own animal only because it’s not so much a matter of equity as it is a matter of meeting the need, of making sure we’re offering the right programs and the right classes in those programs,” said McCasline, alluding to one other primary area of importance: the promotion of equity and equitable practices to increase student achievement across all demographics.
Where the practice of equality in education would aim to treat every student the same, regardless of background and ability, equity goes one step further. Equitable practices in a school district operate under the concept that each student — with myriad backgrounds and varied abilities — will need different levels of support based on their own individual situation. As an example, equality is giving each and every student five minutes of one-on-one math instruction. Equity is discerning which students already have a working understanding of a subject or activity and meting out assistance based on individual need.
The district aims to tackle equity both in the classroom and on a larger scale, increasing supports for migrant and non-English speaking families and students, as well as planning professional development training on equity and equitable practices for staff members.
All in all, each area of focus carries with it the larger goal of improving student achievement and academic success for all students, regardless of any extenuating circumstances.