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Behind the numbers

To say there is room for improvement in Baker School District students’ scores on standardized tests is to state what’s not only obvious, but inevitable.

Such room will exist until every student meets or exceeds federal standards on every test.

This, of course, will never happen.

Yet we see considerable evidence that Baker 5J is making a concerted effort to better students’ performance.

And considering the challenges the district faces, we believe there is at least as much reason to applaud that effort as to criticize it.

The latest test results are hardly a cause for celebration, to be sure.

Students’ performance dropped in the 2012-13 year, compared to the previous year, in 13 of 18 categories.

Yet in seven of those 13, the decline was less than 4 percentage points.

Baker’s overall drop mirrored the statewide average, a trend school officials actually predicted due largely to students in many cases not being allowed to retake a test after failing to meet the federal benchmark.

But in several categories Baker students not only improved from the previous year, they surpassed the state average.

As for the challenges we mentioned, half of Baker’s students have family incomes that qualify them for free or reduced-price meals.

Students who live in poverty are more likely to struggle at school. Baker officials have tried to deal with that disadvantage in simple but effective ways, including offering breakfast at school.

The La Grande School District, as a comparison, has a smaller percentage of students qualifying for reduced-price mules — 46.3 percent. Yet Baker students outperformed their La Grande counterparts in half of the 18 categories.

The district has also increased the amount of training available to teachers. Critics might deride this as “teaching to the test,” but the actual purpose is to help them teach students how to better retain what they learn and, in some cases, will be tested on.

That sounds like good practice to us. Tests, however flawed they might be, still are a measurement of how much students have learned.

 

School starts, and two more milestones pass

I watched over the course of the Labor Day weekend as two of my children embarked on the great adventure of education, one nearing the journey’s end and the other quite close to its beginning.

This juxtaposition left me a trifle dazed, jerked from one side by old memories, and from the other by a fresh glimpse of the future.

Although it’s also possible that driving 800 miles in a couple days, half that distance amassed in a cumbersome moving truck which didn’t so much go around corners as ooze through the apexes, contributed to my dizziness.

I started the holiday weekend by driving that truck, bearing my older son Alexander’s belongings, to his new apartment in Albany.

Alexander, who’s almost 19, starts his sophomore year at Oregon State University later this month. He’s majoring in nuclear engineering, a subject which seems to me as foreign as Swahili.

I struggle to engineer something as simple as a birdhouse. I have no business tinkering with the nucleus of anything.

A couple days later I watched my younger daughter, Olivia, who’s 6, assemble her pencils and papers and paste sticks for her first day in first grade.

That morning my wife, Lisa, took a photo of Olivia striding across the field on the west side of Brooklyn School. She looked impossibly small, a lone figure in that grassy expanse, too small to be going off by herself.

Lisa’s photograph reminded me of another September morning, more than a decade earlier.

The setting was the same.

But on that day the dimunitive pupil walking toward the big brick school was Alexander. 

I remember that I drove around the block, to make one more pass down Washington, and I caught sight of him there on the asphalt of the playground. I sensed his timidity and my stomach clenched (or maybe it was my heart), in the way it does when you wonder whether your child is scared, or unhappy.

I endured the same twinge on Olivia’s first day, but my trepidation lasted only until she burst into the kitchen that afternoon, nearly hysterical with tales of the wonders of Mrs. Mays’ classroom.

Alexander, of course, is a different matter.

He is 350 miles away.

I worry about mundane matters such as whether he’s getting enough to eat; or at least I did until one evening when Olivia called his cellphone and, after a brief conversation, she told me he was cooking bacon.

So that’s all right, then, if he has bacon.

The disorientation of my tumultuous weekend has dissipated, replaced by the sort of dull ache that marks milestones, after which nothing can ever be quite the same.

This is a queer sensation, never terribly painful and sometimes even pleasant. I am gratified to watch the little boy who’s now a young man who’s got a couple inches on me, no longer taking hesitant steps past the swings and the monkey bars but exploring the mysteries of the atom.

I will no doubt feel the same happiness when Olivia goes off on her own quest, whatever and wherever that might be.

Yet when they go, these children who we set loose on the noble quest for knowledge, they take some part of themselves which we, their parents, can never retrieve.

We mourn these losses.

And we remember the distant days, when they also walked away, so tiny and so delicate, but they always, at the end of the day, walked back to us.

. . .

One nice thing about buying a used book — besides saving some bucks, usually — is that occasionally you find hidden between the old pages some curious artifact.

A while back I came across such a thing inside a volume of essays by the late E.B. White.

As a brief aside, White, to the extent that he is known today, is so largely due to his trio of novels, “Stuart Little,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Trumpet of the Swan.”

These are described, almost invariably, as “children’s novels” but although this is not an inapt term I think it an unfair one. The three books have been beloved by generations of young readers, to be sure, but it seems to me a pity that White’s reputation is afflicted with the asterisk of triviality which inevitably attaches to fiction read primarily by children.

I too became acquainted with White through “Stuart Little.” But for me his richest legacy derives from his nonfiction essays, the form of which he is, I believe, the undisputed master.

I have yet to read a writer who matches the rhythm which, more than any other trait, identifies White’s work. Rhythm, of course, is more typically associated with music, but the word applies to writing, too, in the sense that the words make sounds in our heads as we read them silently to ourselves. White was a prose man, by and large, but his essays have the pleasing quality of the finest poetry, or of a beautiful melody.

It is quite an accomplishment, I think, to render a single sentence or paragraph that conveys even a bit of White’s magic.

He wrote hundreds of thousands of them.

But back to this book.

As I flipped from one page to another toward the back, a receipt slipped out and fluttered to the floor. The slip of paper must have been used as a bookmark.

It bore the heading “Willamette U. Bookstore” and the date of Jan. 21, 1983.

The location suggests the book didn’t get out much — I bought the thing in a bookstore in downtown Salem, just a few blocks from the Willamette campus.

I immediately wondered how long this receipt had been lodged between pages, whether it had been stuck there like a forgotten secret for the whole three decades.

I wondered too whether the buyer was a student, and if so whether the purchase was a required one, for a class, or was acquired for recreational reading.

And, finally, I wondered what I was doing on that day. I was 12. That was a Friday so probably I was at school in Stayton, about 15 miles east of Salem.

I’ll never get answers to my questions, of course.

But about one thing I’m pretty sure: The anonymous 1983 buyer got a bargain.

Although the six items on the receipt aren’t identified, the prices range from 69 cents to $3.

The list price on the book is $5.95.

I paid $6. 

Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald. 

 

Letter to the Editor for Sept. 16, 2013


Residents need to be aware of Oregon’s open range law

By Curtis Martin

Several weeks ago six cattle were found shot in La Grande and the Oregon ranching community is pleased to hear that a suspect has been arrested for this violation. While still undoubtedly an injustice and crime, these occurrences (thankfully) are rare. 

The Union County Sheriff’s Office, along with the owners of the cattle and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association offered a $2,100 reward for information pertaining to this unwarranted shooting. Just last week the La Grande Observer quoted Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen in a vow to “… vigorously pursue the person or persons responsible.” We feel this was precisely on point and commend them for a job well done. Non-destructive, legal alternatives of removing stray cattle are lined out in Oregon statute and enlist the expertise of Oregon’s Animal Identification Program.

 

City had to return gift

 


It’s always difficult to reject a gift.

Especially one given posthumously.

But we agree with the Baker City Council’s decision last week to return to the family of the late Anthony Silvers the property he bequeathed the city upon his death in 2012.

 

 

Council made right choice on guns in parks


The Baker City Council was wise Tuesday to not tinker any more than was necessary with the city’s parks ordinance and its reference to visitors who carry guns.

The matter came to the Council at the behest of City Attorney Brent Smith. He noticed recently that the city’s current parks ordinance is in conflict with Oregon law.

The city ordinance prohibits people from having a gun in a city park. Yet state law allows some people, including those who have a concealed carry license for a handgun, to have a gun in most public places, including parks.

The Council simply removed the conflicting clause.

Councilors had also considered replacing that clause with one restricting certain people from carrying a loaded gun in a park, but Police Chief Wyn Lohner recommended against doing so.

Lohner’s concern is that someone might choose to test the city’s legal authority by openly carrying a gun, whether loaded or not, in a park.

Lohner, in a memo to councilors, emphasized that though he opposes adding a clause restricting openly carried guns, he doesn’t want to possibly entice people to openly carry guns in parks. We agree with the chief — There’s no reason for the city to create a potential problem where none exists now.

 

Letters to the Editor for Sept. 13, 2013


Thanks to Phyllis, and to Baker’s teachers

A pat on the back to Phyllis Badgley.

As I am sure many did, I read with extreme interest the article “Preparing to enter the first grade” in the Sept. 9 Baker City Herald. I started at Brooklyn, but the North Baker scenario was the same for South Baker and Churchill too.

How fortunate we are to have a historian like Phyllis and a local paper who so readily publishes such articles of like interest from other historians. Phyllis’ narratives are most descriptive and so utterly detailed that she takes her reader back in time and puts a smile on their face.

 

Football vs. academia is a contrived contest


Given that Oregon’s economy isn’t exactly blistering in its pace, you’d think a $68 million construction project in Eugene — all private money — would be a cause for celebration.

Unless you’re James Earl, emeritus professor from the University of Oregon.

To say that Earl dislikes the new football office at the U of O is akin to saying Rush Limbaugh has had a couple of minor disagreements with President Obama.

To Earl, the massive structure that Nike founder and Oregon alumnus Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, paid for is, among other distasteful things, “hugely depressing” and “absurd.”

You could almost believe the Knights built a gargantuan pit in which to burn books.

 

Letters to the Editor for Sept. 11, 2013


City needs to consider all options for its water supply

For over a century, Baker City has enjoyed some of the best-tasting water of any city in Oregon. Collected on the slopes of the Elkhorns from pristine mountain streams, our water has long been a source of civic pride. Well, those mountain streams aren’t always pristine; sometimes they contain nasty parasites that sicken people, as we recently learned the hard way. And so the recent discussion has been, “How do we keep this sort of thing from happening again?” We are told that we have two options: a UV treatment system, which would cost $2.3 million, or a filter system, which would cost $17.7 million.

 

Is UV light enough?


Baker City Manager Mike Kee said recently that the city’s water supply could be protected against cryptosporidium within 12 months with the installation of an ultraviolet light treatment plant.

That’s good.

Our question is whether it’s good enough.

Although crypto has been the focus of the city’s efforts for the past several weeks, and rightfully so, the parasite is hardly the only water-treatment threat the city faces.

And UV light, though effective against crypto, is no defense against some of those other threats.

 

Letter to the Editor for Sept. 9, 2013

Catholic apostasy doesn’t make tenets less valid

Gary Dielman is wrong about Galileo, but I’ll address a more current issue he broaches in his Aug. 28 letter. In response to my comment that following Catholic doctrine is what makes one Catholic, he said, “When it comes to artificial means of birth control — condoms and pills — most Catholic women pay no attention to the Church’s teachings. In a Gallup poll last year, 82 percent of Catholics... considered birth control ‘morally acceptable.’ And 98 percent of Catholic women admit to having used a non-natural method of contraception on at least one occasion during their reproductive years, contrary to Church dogma.”

 He is absolutely right. There is a mass apostasy in the Catholic Church today. Most of those who call themselves Catholic simply reject the faith. In politics we call this treason; in religion, we call it apostasy: the rejection of the tenets of your own faith. The majority of Catholics no longer believe in the precepts of the Church, which include the requirement to attend Mass every Sunday, and to go to confession at least once per year. And yes, the vast majority of those who call themselves Catholic do not believe artificial contraception is wrong; at least 50 percent of those who call themselves Catholic support “gay marriage”; and Catholics basically put Obama in the White House.

However, the fact that the vast majority of Catholics do not follow the tenets of their faith does not make those tenets any less valid; rather, it makes those “Catholics” wrong. The Church is right on those issues mentioned above, and there are good reasons underlying Church teaching. Anyone who wants a faithful Catholic’s perspective on those issues is welcome to email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or visit my blog at http://philotheaonphire.blogspot.com.

Jay Boyd

Baker City

 
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