Schools: ‘An opportunity to put students in charge’

Salem-Keizer Public Schools

The Salem-Keizer School Board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 25 featured members of Salem-Keizer Public School (SKPS) cabinet discussing school reentry planning and curriculum updates, as well as other topics.

While the majority of the students in the district will be participating in comprehensive distance learning due to COVID-19, SKPS Superintendent Christy Perry estimated that more than 6,000 students will be active in the district’s EDGE program — a comprehensive all-online learning academy.

When in-person classes were canceled in March, many students left their personal belongings at school that they weren’t able to retrieve. Students additionally weren’t able to return borrowed items, such as library books and band equipment. Although she didn’t have specific dates, Perry did state that over the next three weeks, schools would need to figure out how to get personal items back to students.

The Oregon Schools Activities Association (OSAA) made the decision earlier this month to postpone all sports until January. From Aug. 31 to Dec. 27, the permission of sports and activities will not be designated by the OSAA, but instead be determined by local school districts — meaning that schools could potentially hold practices and workouts during that time.

SKPS, however, is electing to stay on the conservative side as Perry told the board that September will serve as a moratorium month for all Salem-Keizer high school athletic programs.

“We need kids and coaches to get back in school and connected into comprehensive distance learning,” Perry said. “We want to wait and see what the metrics say as far as when it’s it safe to return. It’s really hard to return to practice and not have kids return to school.”

Iton Udosenata, the assistant superintendent for secondary education, gave a pair of curriculum updates regarding social studies and embedded honors classes.

Starting this school year, SKPS is striving to shift the social studies vision from studying dates and events to critical thinking, analysis and discourse. The district will also put more of a focus on units specific to Pacific Islanders/Native Hawaiians and Native Americans.

“Our staff has been hard at work to try to develop curriculum that will be rigorous for students but also challenge students to be critical thinkers,” Udosenata said.

Embedded honors, on the other hand, allows high school students to choose to take honors classes until the third week of the semester before deciding if they want to continue.

The district believes that this method removes barriers and encourages more students to engage in more rigorous coursework.

“We see this as an opportunity to put students in control of their educational pathways,”

Udosenata said. “We really hope that this will be a structure that gives kids self-efficacy.”

The district hopes that this new strategy will get more students into honors and advanced placement courses.

“Our goal is to open up opportunities early that don’t hold any oppressive structures that will hold kids back, so that all kids will have access to advanced placement,” Perry said.

Kraig Sproles, assistant superintendent for elementary education, shared about how the district is still a ways from going to a blended learning model — which would involve students coming back to school on a part-time basis.

To get back to some sort of in-person school, Marion County would have to see a positive COVID-19 testing rate at below 5% for three consecutive weeks — the rate is currently at 11.2%. They also need to have under 10 cases per 100,000 people to run blended learning — Marion County currently has 88 cases per 100,000 as of Tuesday. 

“It’s a sobering look at our data,” Sproles said.