Grad rates and budget discussed

Three Rivers School District Superintendent Dave Valenzuela started his report at the March 13 TRSD Board of Directors’ meeting by explaining the reason this meeting was held the second Wednesday of the month rather than the third, as it normally is.
“My superintendent’s report tonight will be fairly concise but it’s kind of going to paint a picture of tonight and the next few months, talking about some very large district processes that are currently in the works,” said Valenzuela. “It starts with the annual renewal/non-renewal contract extension and non-extension of administrators and teachers, so that’s taking place in the consent agenda; that’s all of our licensed folks and the reason it’s significant is that ORS 342.513 requires that school districts perform this function by or before March 15 each school year so we have to let staff know their renewal status by that date. That’s a law and that’s where we’re at tonight.”
The contract extension passed later in the meeting along with the rest of the consent agenda.
Valenzuela continued his explanation of the contract renewal and how it plays a part in board functions later in the year, after relaying that around 250 licensed employees are affected by the extension: “It has significant weight and what that does is it sets us up for the next significant school district process that the board has purview over and that is the budget process… It allows us to understand what our employee costs will be for the next year, so for the 2025 school year, and to put it into perspective last year our employee costs were about 66% of the entire budget so fairly significant. Now we can begin to build a really accurate and balanced budget.”
Going on, the superintendent expressed that a school district’s budget should reflect its mission: “A mission essentially is the reason for our existence; why I get up and come to work in the morning. What we do, when you boil it down to its finest granular task or activity, is to ensure high levels of learning for all students. Now, there are things that get in the way of that and there are things that we have to do to support some kids. There are some things that we do to accelerate some kids, but when you think about it the reason we’re here as a school district is to ensure high levels of learning for all students and whatever that means for students of different learning abilities and things of that nature, so that is our mission; that is why we exist.”

Valenzuela concluded his report by assuring the community that the board was working toward achieving some items off of a list of priorities new board member Pat Kelly had introduced the previous month, including mandating that all students stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and salute the American Flag.

Board Chair Rich Halsted stated that he was not aware of any class in the district that does not begin their day with the Pledge of Allegiance, but supported a formal policy regardless.

Kelly was also adamant that all district students should be able to pass the naturalization test given to immigrants seeking American citizenship, and sought to bolster efforts to make sure this knowledge is being taught in social studies curricula.

“I just want to make sure that our students know as much as people who choose to be Americans,” Kelly saud. “It’s the naturalization test that the national government requires people to take.”

Other priorities Kelly listed included holding “positive celebrations” of both Veterans Day and Memorial Day in schools, and establishing better communication between teachers and the community regarding what activities are taking place at school.

Local activist Judy Ahrens ignited a discussion regarding the district’s performance and whether it is something to be proud of when she made the following comment during the meeting’s public forum segment: “We are ashamed of where we are academically… If we want to look at collectively, Oregon is close to the bottom academically. Now I heard a lot of good things tonight about where we’re headed and that’s good. Some of the academic excellence, but as a whole, the reading skills, the writing skills, the math skills. Get rid of the calculators. I think Pat Kelly is working on that one. But getting rid of the cell phones and the calculators; let’s get back to the basics where kids know multiplication.

“I don’t know about this district, but I know some districts right now are eliminating the pronouns. We don’t want to eliminate pronouns. We don’t want the transgender. This is not America. This is not our traditional family values and I think Mr. Valenzuela, you were talking about core values. I want to include family core values. I don’t know if you’re referring to the common core or whatever, but the common family values have to be resurrected in our community.”

Board Member Jennifer Johnstun took umbrage with Ahrens’ message, responding, “I heard Judy say we are ashamed of where we are academically and I had a little bit of a reaction to that because I just had the experience of being with a lot of high school seniors this year, wonderful kids, and I am really proud of where they are and I know there is opportunity for growth in our district. But I want to say clearly and publicly that I am proud of the achievement of our students and the effort they put in and what they have learned and what they demonstrate with that knowledge.”

Valenzuela seconded Johnstun’s sentiment, saying, “I do not agree with the statement that we are ashamed of where we are academically. I’m looking out at some teachers right now and I’m proud of you and I’m proud of the work you do and I’m proud of our students.”

Deputy Superintendent Casey Anderson weighed in as well: “As someone that works with, supports and cheers our teachers and students, I share your thought and belief that we are not ashamed of our students and staff. We celebrate them and the students that we have walk across that stage at the end of the year is a major accomplishment, and to be called anything less is inappropriate in my eyes.”

Kelly, on the other hand, offered a different perspective on Ahrens’ criticism: “When I hear comments like ‘ashamed,’ it doesn’t bother me. The reason it doesn’t bother me is that all it indicates to me is the teachers and the public need to communicate more, because I don’t think the public truly understands what teachers do here, the people they have to work with and how they try to make children successful.”

Kelly went on, “It doesn’t hurt to have somebody say something negative once in a while because I don’t think they’re really saying it to hurt your feelings. They’re saying it to spur you on. I have a secretary that talks to me mean every day and they ask me why I still hire her and I tell them because the only reason she criticizes me is because she’s trying to improve me, and it doesn’t bother me that she’s trying to improve me.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Anderson delivered a presentation on the district’s graduation rates for the previous school year. Illinois Valley High School was well above the state of Oregon’s 81.3% average. Of the 62 IVHS seniors in 2023, 59 graduated at a rate of 95.2%. Hidden Valley High School had an 84.3% and North Valley High School’s rate was 95.2%.

TRSD’s next board meeting will be held at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17 at Southern Oregon Success Academy, 345 Merlin Rd, Merlin, Ore.