Each month, Dr. Zorn reaches out to our business community via the Kelso Longview Chamber of Commerce newsletter with information about the successes and challenges of our public schools.
I greatly appreciated the opportunity to participate in the recent Chamber’s State of Education luncheon. For those who were unable to attend, this month’s column provides a summary of my comments.
Longview Public Schools have two goals; 1) Increase student achievement levels and 2) Improve climate and culture.
We primarily rely on our end-of-year state assessments in reading and mathematics to measure our student achievement. Results in reading over the past three years remain relatively unchanged and below state averages. However, one exception is sophomore proficiency levels increased 15% over the past three years–which places them above the state average. Math performance levels also show frustratingly-little improvement. One exception is our our middle school results show a closing of the gap between our students’ performance and that of the state.
To address our student achievement goals, we are working to assure that each of our classrooms, regardless of content area or grade level, provide all students regular reading, writing, and discourse opportunities all of the time. We are focused on improving our instructional practices by creating clear and rigorous standards, assuring lessons are delivered to achieve the standards, increasing student engagement in lessons, and providing effective feedback to our students.
Our middle and high schools teachers are using new mathematics materials, and our elementary schools are selecting new mathematics materials to be used next year. We are confident that these focused efforts will help us improve our student achievement levels.
Climate and Culture
To measure climate and culture in our schools, ultimately we look at graduation rates—and here we have much to celebrate. Since 2012, Longview’s graduation rate has risen over 11%. The gap between our graduation rate and the state average has narrowed to within 1%. We are focused upon improving student connectedness to schools and are creating more elective classes for our middle-and high school students. We believe that more and more-relevant elective classes help students be excited and engaged in school. We are particularly focused on increasing our students’ access to Career Technical Education (CTE/vocational) classes as we develop a 7-period class day for next year.
We added to the counseling services at our middle schools; our five highest- poverty elementary schools now have “climate and culture” specialists who help with the social and emotional needs of our students, and we’ve partnered with local mental health providers to have therapists in a number of our schools.
While our efforts have improved the perceptions of our teachers and students about the climate and culture in our schools, the perceptions of our parents have remained stagnant. It clear to us that we have work to do to improve our communication with the parents of the students we serve.
The staff and citizen Facilities Advisory Committee identified many district facility needs in its two years of study. The Nov. 7 facilities bond request attempts to address a portion of elementary school needs to assure that our students have quality learning environments for many generations to come.
To address ongoing building maintenance and technology needs, we rely on the voter-approved Capital Projects/Technology levy. It provides $750,000 a year for major building maintenance which is augmented by $500,000 a year from the general fund. An additional $750,000 is earmarked for teaching and learning equipment for our teachers and students. This levy expires in 2018, and a renewal Capital Projects/Technology levy will be requested in February.
New School Funding Model
A new school funding model is being phased in over the next two years, and as a result, Longview taxpayers will see some tax relief starting in 2019. The new funding model includes a “levy swap” that limits district’s Maintenance and Operations Levy amounts in exchange for increased support from taxes collected throughout the state. The district’s current M & O levy will expire in 2018; and a lower “Enhancement Levy” will be proposed in February 2018.
The new funding model provides increased funding for Career Technical Education, extra learning services in high poverty schools, and programs serving highly-capable and special education students. However, the additional funding for special education still falls short of the district’s special education costs. In addition, under the new funding model, our ability to offer competitive teacher salaries is strained due to the cost-of-living adjustments provided in Clark County.
The year to come holds much promise and many challenges for Longview Public Schools. I look forward to working with each of you as we seek to make the Longview Public Schools the district of choice in Southwest Washington.