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Guest Column : Reg Mcshane

About the Oregon high school diploma redesign

By REG McSHANE

Before sharing some of my thoughts, concerns, and opinions regarding the proposed Oregon High School Diploma Redesign, I want to wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year.

I feel so very fortunate to have a job that provides me the opportunity to work with and advocate for our most valuable resource -- young people. I take my responsibility seriously, and for this reason I feel a strong need to weigh in on the Oregon Department of Education's (ODE) proposed changes in graduation requirements.

In November, Amity School Board Vice Chairman Craig Hudson facilitated a community forum to gather input on the State Board of Education's proposed changes to high school diploma requirements. The ODE provided all of the materials for the meeting, which was attended by more than 40 people.

I am proud to say that our community carefully examined the proposed changes and looked at the possible positive and negative impacts on all of our students -- those planning on going to college, a trade school, or entering the work force.

It was obvious from feedback from both our community forum and discussion in our staff meetings that Amity School District wants to raise the standards for our graduating students. This commitment is reinforced when you look at Amity's graduation requirements, which currently exceed the state minimum.

Our District has also implemented an Honors Diploma and has worked very hard to provide students with opportunities to take advanced level courses (i.e., calculus, chemistry, physics, oceanography, and college writing). This has been accomplished even during a time of very limited resources.

It might appear that Amity School District is eager and willing to approve the proposed Oregon High School Diploma Redesign. However, let me share with you some of the concerns and questions raised in our community:

1. Can't you raise academic standards without increasing graduation requirements? Shouldn't any additional revenue be used to reduce class size or regain specialists lost to budget cuts in, art, music, business, and computers?

2. How can we best meet the computer education needs of our students? Isn't this a very expensive, and necessary component of today's comprehensive education?

3. How will we meet the needs of special education and at-risk students?

4. How can we balance rigor and relevance? When you increase core requirements, doesn't this reduce the elective (hands-on) opportunities for students? How important are band, agriculture science (FFA), wood shop, and leadership in preparing our young people to be successful, life-long learners?

5. What about all-day kindergarten? Is the state superintendent still strongly supporting this? (Amity currently offers more than the half-time program required by the state)

6. Do all graduates need three credits of mathematics in algebra I and above? Do they all need three credits of inquiry-based science? How can Amity recruit and retain Highly Qualified Teachers (based on the Federal No Child Left Behind standards) when we don't have full time positions available?

7. In order to adequately prepare students to successfully meet the new proposed requirements, won't changes need to be made in K-12? Will the necessary tools, curriculum, and professional development be provided to implement these changes?

8. How will the new proposed requirements positively impact students who will attend a trade school, or enter directly into the workforce?

As you can see, the questions and concerns raised in our community are right on. The common focus centers around what is best for all of our students and how can we best utilize our resources to meet their needs.

These questions need to be answered before we move forward -- not as we travel down the road.

What disheartens me most is the timing of the proposed High School Diploma Redesign. In my seven years as a school superintendent, I have implemented severe budget reductions that have resulted in reduced staffing, reduced course offerings, increased class size and a reduction in many of the student enrichment activities that supplement education. I recognize this needed to happen because of an economy in decline, Federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, and increased accountability.

Our schools have been asked to do more with less and I believe we have responded.

In November voters rejected two state ballot measures that could have negatively impacted funding. Oregon's economy appears to be more robust, which indicates a possibility of re-establishing funding to restore some of what our kids have lost. But now we have to look at utilizing part of this funding to cover the implementation of new graduation requirements.

I will continue to advocate for each of our young people to have access to a quality public education. I believe it is vital to the success of our nation.

--

Reg McShane is superintendent of the Amity School District.

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