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Budget Message: May 2012

posted May 20, 2012, 9:29 AM by Rob Hess   [ updated May 20, 2012, 9:30 AM ]

The following budget message was delivered when the budget was officially presented on May 17th:

Historically, the amount of funding available for public schools for the 2012-2013 year is comparably the worst it has ever been.  We are in the second year of a 5.7 billion biennium budget.   The reduction represents funding levels we had six years ago in actual dollars.  Needless to say the cost of PERS, insurance, supplies, and materials has steadily climbed.  As a result, we will have less staff in every job classification (administrators, teachers, and classified staff). 

While we are not proud of funds available to us this year, we are proud of how we have managed our resources, aggressively pursued grants, and capitalized on every opportunity to make our dollars stretch further including reducing the number of students leaving Lebanon for surrounding communities.   Within three years we have restored confidence in Lebanon schools as evidenced by reversing the number of students leaving Lebanon by over 90 students.  Our kindergarten class of 379 students is the largest class in the district. 

Even more importantly, our heroic staff has put themselves on the line day after day by taking furlough days and working with minimal to no increases while their jobs have become more challenging due to larger class sizes and increased expectations.  They are doing more with less. 

It is our hope that the next biennium will reach funding levels of over 6 Billion.   If it does, we will be able to make some strategic additions to help us achieve the recommendations outlined in our 2020 Vision.   We are more committed than ever to continue our pursuit and reputation of excellence.  During these lean years, the lessons we are learning through efficiency will pay dividends when resources increase. 


Budget Update #2: Snow Days and School Closure

posted Mar 24, 2012, 6:18 AM by Rob Hess   [ updated Mar 24, 2012, 6:19 AM ]

I wanted to take a moment and thank everyone for their patience over the last few days before spring break with the school closures and confusion that existed—especially on Thursday when late breaking developments forced us to close LHS and Seven Oak at the last minute.  

 Due to the fact that most of the employees scheduled to work on Wednesday worked either from home or came to school to prepare for parent conferences and/or report cards that were soon due, and we required all scheduled staff to report to work on Thursday, the district will not be seeking to make up or furlough those two days.   Some of our students (Seven Oak and LHS) did miss two days of school, but state law does allow for up two school closure emergencies without those days counting against the required hours. 

Over the next few weeks, we will be working hard to move as many full time jobs from the General Fund to grant funds in order to save jobs and help us build a balanced budget.  In addition to our Federal grants (IDEA, Title IA, and Title IIA), we are also pursuing a state CLASS implementation grant from ODE and a CTE grant from ODE.  Securing these grants would help us shift jobs out of the General Fund as well.  All of these efforts will require some voluntary and involuntary transfers when they play out.  We will work with everyone who is affected by these moves as they develop and appreciate your patience and support during this difficult budget season.

We also understand during the snow days that some parents were scheduled for conferences and may not have been able to attend the conference due to the weather.  These parents may request to meet with you during your office hours over the next few weeks once the report cards go home.  In addition, please make an extra effort to reach out to parents whose students are not making adequate progress if you were not able to connect with them during the scheduled conferences.  Thanks for all you do to support our students being successful.  It is very much appreciated. 

Have a wonderful spring break, and I will see you in April!

May 12th: No Limits Day

posted Mar 18, 2012, 5:22 PM by Rob Hess

I wanted to let you know that our district is working with the Lebanon Education Foundation to host a community-wide event on Saturday, May 12th at Lebanon High School.  We are very excited to host a variety of events including a 3 on 3 basketball tournament, Ultimate Frisbee Tournament on the turf field, 5 K relay, car show, and more.  We are hoping this will be a fun community day that many of our staff and students participant in.  All money raised from the event will go to the Lebanon Education Foundation for classroom innovation grants and supporting students in need.  

Staff will have an opportunity to apply for classroom grants via electronic applications in August.  We are hopeful that we will be able to offer several $500 dollar grants to support innovation and 21st century learning in our classrooms.  

If you would like to know the schedule of events on May 12th or register, please click on the link below.  You can also register for the event with Kathy at the district office.  If you would like to help volunteer for No Limits, please send me an e-mail, and I will let you know when the planning team is meeting and how you can help.

Link to Register:
http://events.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=tp94hvcab&oeidk=a07e5hrdqve93d7e4b2

A Humble Thank You...

posted Mar 18, 2012, 5:20 PM by Rob Hess

I wanted to thank those of you who nominated me for Lebanon's Man of the Year.  I was totally taken by surprise at the event which just shows how out of it I am or how good many of you (including my wife) are at keeping secrets.  Either interpretation is troubling for me.  In all seriousness, it was a tremendous honor to be recognized by our city, and I consider the honor one we have all collectively earned by doing great work day after day for our students and restoring the confidence of our community in our schools. 

We all know we still have a long way to go to ensure all of our students are reaching their potential.  Transforming our schools is hard, grueling work.  Thank for your commitment to that work and making a difference every day.  Every once in a while it is good to pause, look how far we have come and gather the strength to keep moving up the mountain of educational excellence.  Thank you for being willing to make that journey with me.

Budget Update #1: Unstable and Inadequate Funding

posted Mar 18, 2012, 1:01 PM by Rob Hess   [ updated Mar 18, 2012, 1:02 PM ]

School funding is Oregon is woefully inadequate and unstable.  Last June when the legislature passed the budget, they promised to release to the State School Fund 56 million dollars (which is about $400,000 to LCSD) in February 2012.  Well, the economy continued to be sluggish throughout the fall and winter months.  As a result, when the legislature came back in February, they said they couldn’t afford to release the 56 million, but they did do some restructuring to health care, which meant they weren’t going to take additional funds from us.  Somehow, that whole course of events got interpreted as “good news” for schools.

The district would like to thank everyone for their support to take three furlough days this year (January 20, May 25, and June 8).   The school board voted to approve the proposal that was presented by both Associations at the school board meeting on March 1st.   The district understands that furloughing these three days is a big sacrifice and will result in a painful pay reduction for all employees.  It is also a sacrifice for students and families who will lose instructional time.  

The three furlough days will result in a savings of about $270,000 for the district.  This amount is very helpful when it comes to filling a budget hole that currently stands at 1 to 2 million dollars.   We are also seeking to save around $200,000 in next year’s supply budgets (which will have an impact on funds available to schools and departments).   The amount we need to save is a moving target because it is influenced by our Ending Funding Balance (how much money we carry into next year) and enrollment (which is in constant flux).   These numbers solidify as we approach June.  The number and need for furlough days next year will depend upon several additional factors including:  retirements, contracts, the ability to move current jobs into grants, budget committee & board input, and our constant hunt for efficiency through restructuring.

As you are probably already aware, we are trying to build a budget for the 2012-2013 school year with funding levels that have been flat since 2006-2007.    The Great Recession of 2008 and slow recovery has placed a great deal of pressure on government services across the country.    When costs we can’t control (PERS and Insurance, for instance) continue to rise while funding remains flat, the end result is higher class sizes, less services, less staff, and shorter school years—which frustrates all of us year after year.

 The budget committee will be having its first meeting on Thursday, April 12th at 7pm at the district office.  We will be covering all of these topics and many more at this meeting.  I welcome your engagement and participation in the process, and I am so thankful be associated with the fine employees of Lebanon Community Schools during this trying budget time.

Starting with Curriculum...

posted Feb 1, 2012, 10:00 AM by Rob Hess   [ updated Feb 1, 2012, 10:01 AM ]

Curriculum.  Instruction.  Assessment.  They are the big three of teaching and learning.  Obviously, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about them all, how they interact, and how they support each other.  I believe that effective teaching starts with curriculum.  Since I came on board in July 2009, we have been talking about The Work we provide to students. 

The Work is the curriculum, and there are a few things we know about The Work.  It should be rigorous.  It doesn’t come from in a box.  It is built from standards, expressed in learning targets, and measured by formative assessments.  One of my favorite quotes is by John Lounsbury who said, “Curriculum is a three letter word:  YOU.”

The curriculum you design should be challenging and make students think in order to engage them in a deep way.  It should also be relevant (meaningful) to them.  It should matter.  Helping students see the relevancy in the work we provide (starting with why) is what learning targets are all about, and they help students to move toward intrinsic motivation—which we know is the key to anyone reaching their full potential as a learner.  

Bloom’s Revised taxonomy (2001) is probably our best expression of what it means to create work that is at a higher level.  In Bloom’s 2001 Revision, the activities at the top of the taxonomy (analyzing, evaluating, and creating) are not linear.  They are the branches at the top.  The activities that make up the trunk, (remembering, understanding, applying) are more linear.  They are the stair steps that students must climb in order to be able to analyze, evaluate, and create.   All of them are important.  All of them have their time and place.

It is my ongoing belief that authentic writing is one of our most valuable tools for analyzing, evaluating, and creating—that is why writing across the curriculum is such an emphasis for us.  Whether a student is analyzing data in their science lab journal, evaluating the actions of a historical figure, or explaining how they created a new way of solving a complex math problem, writing is one of the chief vehicles that we can use to “Teach to the Top” of the taxonomy, or increase the level of task our students experience.

In my efforts to support learning in our schools and our collective goal of designing and delivering high quality tasks, I have set a goal for myself to spend one day a week in schools for the rest of the year.  This means you will see me a little more frequently than usual and I will most likely walk through your classroom at some point.  In my visits I will spend at least 100 minutes at a school just walking through, watching, listening, learning, and providing feedback on what I observe.  One of the tools I will be using to provide feedback is “Teacher Talk,” a way of capturing how time is spent in the classroom, and another tool I will be using is looking at level of task as defined by Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.  I am hopeful these simple tools will be supportive in your effort as educators to pursue excellence in curriculum design.

I hope through these non-evaluative visits, I can be even more supportive of your heroic efforts with students.  I know in these days of limited resources and greater needs being able to support each other in a variety of no cost ways is more and more important all the time.

See you in school!

Hope for 2012

posted Dec 27, 2011, 11:06 PM by Rob Hess   [ updated Feb 1, 2012, 9:58 AM ]

“An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo.”   Seth Godin

The world needs more artists. 

 As I reflect upon the rush of the past 4 months, I can say without hesitation it has been exhilarating, exhausting, and exciting all at the same time.   There are so many changes occurring in the landscape of public education.  Over three dozen education bills got passed last spring in some form or another, but unfortunately, the biggest need of all—fixing our broken funding structure—was not addressed.  Despite a whole lot of talk, two obvious things that everyone knows and agrees must happen--PERS and kicker reform--didn’t happen.   It is time to challenge the status quo.  For real.

This spring in Lebanon we will be trying to build a budget based upon the same funding level of six years ago—in spite of increased enrollment and costs.  In the early 1990s, public education was a priority in our state.   We were a top ten state in terms of funding and results.  Flash forward twenty years, and in 2012 we are bottom 10 state in terms of funding and below average in results.  Funding matters.  Poverty is gripping Oregon in startling ways with more and more people struggling just to survive.  Despite the fact we know public education is a revenue generator (producing jobs and preparing students for careers in every community) the education portion of state funding has slipped from nearly 60% to 51% during the past ten years.   Our de-investment in public education doesn’t make any sense on any level—especially in light of a host new accountability measures that come our way every year.  During the past few legislative sessions, those of us in schools could count on two things every time they got together:  more laws and less funding. 

We are right in the middle of gearing up for the first senior class in the history of Oregon required to pass a state reading test to receive their high school diploma, and while staff is rapidly changing how they teach, and the classes we offer to meet these new rigorous standards, we are struggling with students entering our schools and classrooms with greater needs and seemingly less prepared than ever before.   Next year all students will need to pass a writing assessment, the year after that will be math, and the year after that will be the Common Core (more hard stuff).  The message has been clear from the state:  make better bricks, make more bricks, and get your own straw.

In spite of these challenges, it is exciting to see some of the ground we are taking here in Lebanon.  Our full day kindergarten program is giving students the head start they deserve to begin their education career on the right track, and the graduating class of 2011 earned on average over 15 college credits per graduate through a variety of opportunities we provided.  Our Senior Project is second-to-none helping our students to own their own learning and demonstrate they have the knowledge and skills to be successful at the next level. The dropout rate at LHS is the lowest it has ever been---1.38%.  We are making a difference in the classroom.  We are doing more with less.  Imagine what would be possible with adequate funding.

There are a lot of words on paper from Salem about how things will be different in the future.  An Oregon Education Investment Board has been created.  Outcome based funding and achievement compacts are being discussed.  But for those of us in the trenches doing more with less year after year, we really don’t care what people talk about.  We are going to need more than words, rules, and slogans to help our state recover and every student reach their full potential.   We are going to need real dollars and a seismic shift in how we fund and support schools.  For the sake of our children, our economy, and our future, I hope we can get it right. 

One thing for sure, 2012 won’t be boring.

What is our ONE THING?

posted Dec 14, 2011, 5:52 AM by Rob Hess   [ updated Dec 14, 2011, 5:54 AM ]

It is already the 14th of December…

As I reflect upon the rush of the past 4 months, I can say without hesitation it has been exhilarating, exhausting, and exciting all at the same time.   There are so many changes occurring in the landscape of public education.  It is hard to keep up with them all, and I find myself constantly bombarded by the “NEXT BIG THING” that will really make a difference.  

No sooner then we gear up for the first senior class in the history of Oregon required to pass a state reading test to receive their diploma, we struggle with students entering our schools and classrooms with greater needs and seemingly less prepared than ever before.  Oh yeah, and throw in 6 years of flat funding and national angst about public education.   It is no wonder we are so tired!

I must say I have been impressed by your willingness to do hard things—to hang in there when support and resources are lacking.  Your ability to continue to do heroic work with children day after day after day is amazing.  I love the fact that in the midst of chaos, confusion, and constant change our district is relentlessly focusing one thing in the classroom---designing and delivering high quality lessons to students that make them think, problem-solve, write, share, and create.  This is THE WORK.  Everything else is secondary, and it is making a difference.

I spent yesterday interviewing seniors from several high schools around the valley at LBCC.  The “mock interviews” are a graduation requirement for seniors.  I can say without equivocation that our seniors are better prepared than the students I met from other schools.  Our Senior Project and all of the high level activities associated with it is doing wonders to help our students be prepared for college and career.

Once again, I want to publicly commend your efforts during this trying time of year.  A well-deserved break is right around the corner, and I wish you a wonderful, warm, and restful holiday.   Take care of yourself and take care of family and friends.

Relax.  You are the best.

Achievement Compacts of the Future

posted Nov 11, 2011, 3:01 PM by Rob Hess

One of the education reform strategies the state is strongly considering for the 11-12 school year is the creation of Achievement Compacts in order for school districts to receive their funding.  I think this could be a good idea if done right. An Achievement Compact is an agreement—a handshake—between districts and the state.  Each district will have the opportunity yearly set measurable achievement and growth goals based upon their data and the funding they receive.  The goal of each compact is continuous growth toward high performance on a few of the most important indicators that we know will make the biggest difference for our students while at the same time given districts freedom to innovate on how they achieve those outcomes.

 

To measure our progress, we have currently identified indicators at four crucial points in each child’s K-12 education:

1)    Ready for school (Kg entry)

2)    Learning to read  (K-2)

3)    Thinking critically (grades 3-8)

4)    College readiness (grades 9-13). 

 

We are currently measuring progress in these areas through Easy CBM and OAKS assessments in reading, math, and writing.  Though these measures aren’t perfect, they are common, connected to state standards, and required for graduation from our K-12 system.

 

And though these assessments are what our students and schools are measured by locally and globally, we also know that helping students to think critically is job number one, and as we do that job well, we believe our students will be better prepared to do well on these assessments.  Currently our best measurement for critically thinking are opportunities our students have to complete work samples in reading, writing, math, science, and speaking.  For this reason, we are also tracking work sample opportunities recorded in Mastery in Motion. 

 

If you click on this link, you can see how our students and we performed last year on these measures. 

 

Thank you so much for your commitment to help our students be successful today and into the future.

State Report Cards...Flawed

posted Oct 20, 2011, 6:35 PM by Rob Hess   [ updated Oct 20, 2011, 6:50 PM ]

This past week ODE recently released their flawed annual report card ratings.  They have been releasing these ratings for over a dozen years now, and the constantly moving targets they present have caused more than a few of us in education to scratch our heads.  Over the years, we have seen the standards move multiple times and the test change.  The formula at one time gave bonus points for improvement and included writing along with reading and math.  Now students that exceed get more credit in the formula, but students who are within one point of meeting the standard are worth the same as students who are 20 points beneath it.  Zero.  

Lebanon High School again was rated “In Need of Improvement,” the lowest rating a school can receive.   This rating was given in spite of the fact the school posted an 18% gain in reading and an 11% gain in math.  However, because the formula is biased against schools like ours that allow students to pursue their learning at the community college level by providing a 5th and 6th year of education, it is impossible for LHS to get anything other than the lowest rating they offer—even if every one of our students at LHS aced the test.

This is the third year of the current version of the formula.  Not only do high schools get punished in the formula for providing a more advanced expanded diploma, the formula also places schools with populations of at-risk students at a severe disadvantage.   The current formula is based on what is called the Achievement Index.  The A.I. is calculated by averaging all of the reading and math test scores.  However, all scores are not treated the same.  Students who are labeled economically disadvantaged, SPED, ELL, or come from certain minority groups have their scores counted multiple times in the formula.  The end result of such treatment?  Schools with more challenging populations are placed at an unfair advantage when compared to more affluent school populations.  I think you can understand why these ratings aren’t worth our time or energy anymore.  We are hoping the current discussion in the state of pursuing a Waiver to NCLB will be an opportunity to fix the formula.

So if ODE’s report card is not a fair or accurate measure of school success or progress, what can we use?  What if we could measure something that really mattered?  Something that was worth holding our breath for?  In Lebanon, we think Level of Task---the quality of work students are doing---is the most important thing we can work on.  We are in the process of training staff on how to provide high quality work that promotes high levels of thinking, reading, writing, and speaking in all of our classrooms.  We have over 70 teachers this year involved in a Portfolio Project where they will collect and reflect on artifacts of their teaching and have this digital collection reviewed by their peers.  This is work that matters and will have a big impact on the success of our students.

It also matters that at each level our students are prepared to be successful at the next level.   In our lower grades, this means we strive to help all of our students reach academic skill benchmarks in reading, math, writing, science, and speaking through a variety of formative and summative assessments.  All of those benchmarks are defined, and we report progress to parents on them regularly. 

In the upper grades, this means students are pursuing more challenging courses that culminate in the opportunity to earn an honors diploma or receive college credits through College Now, Advanced Placement, or Beyond LHS.  Last year Lebanon students earned over 5,000 college credits through these programs—more than any other school in the state to my knowledge.  If that means “In Need of Improvement,” so be it.  We are always looking to improve. 

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