Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Chris Collins


Superintendent Walt Wegener will focus on leading the Baker School District through a new process for evaluating its teachers in the coming year as required by a state law that takes effect in July 2013.

After a nearly day-long planning session Tuesday, the Baker School Board agreed that Wegener should shift his priorities to ensure the district complies with Senate Bill 290, passed by the 2011 Legislature.

The law requires the state to adopt performance standards to help school districts make employment decisions "including continued employment, compensation and career advancement" for teachers and administrators based on student, school and district performance data.

In earlier goal-setting sessions, Wegener had been directed to focus on leading district administrators in realigning the curriculum to comply with state standards.

Students will be tested on the new math and English requirements of the Oregon Common Core standards beginning in the spring of 2015.

The U.S. Department of Education on July 18 granted Oregon a waiver from portions of the No Child Left Behind federal education law that would have required all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. The state joins 31 other states and the District of Columbia that have been granted waivers.

Tuesday's meeting, billed as a board retreat, was attended by Lynne Burroughs, board chair, and directors Andrew Bryan and Mark Henderson. Directors Kyle Knight and Jim Longwell did not attend.

Longwell was called to jury duty and Knight was unable to attend because of a work-related commitment, Wegener said.

Preparing for the new evaluation system, which directly ties evaluations to student performance, will be part of negotiations with teachers, Wegener told the board. A team of teacher representatives and administrators will begin discussing the issue in August.

The new requirements are the first step toward a statewide teacher merit-pay system, Wegener said. The superintendent said he hopes to see the state adopt an aggregate model, rather than a model that would reward individual teachers for superior performance. The aggregate system calls for awarding merit-based pay to groups of teachers - at the building level, for example.

"You don't want people undermining others for a pay raise," Wegener said.

He said he would like to see the evaluation process based on a "value-added" system that takes into account the progress each child makes over the school year.

The evaluation process will be aimed at "improving the way we teach to improve the way kids learn," Wegener said.

As an example of the value-added model, Wegener pointed to the district's preliminary test scores for 2012 that show some scores have remained above the statewide average even though the Department of Education has raised the qualifying scores.

"We've actually improved our teaching," he told the board. "The state made the test harder and everybody in the state went down. Relative to the rest of the state, we went up."

Brooklyn third-graders, for example, scored in the 90th percentile again this year on reading tests compared to the statewide average of 72 percent who met standards, Wegener reported.

Haines and Keating continued to lead the district with all of their third-, fourth- and fifth-graders meeting reading benchmarks and all of their fifth-graders meeting science benchmarks. Those students also topped the statewide averages in math.

Wegener next pointed to areas in which the district is not faring as well, beginning with eighth-grade reading scores, where 67 percent of Baker students met benchmarks compared with the 68-percent statewide average.

"I'm hoping it's an anomaly," Wegener said.

Just 51 percent of seventh-graders met the math standards, compared with 63 percent statewide. At the Eagle Cap innovative high school, 56 percent of 11th-graders met math standards compared with 63 percent statewide.

The school was opened in 2011-12 to serve students enrolled in a college-prep track or vocational training to prepare them to enter the workforce. It is housed at the North Baker Campus where the board met Tuesday.

Just 56 percent of South Baker sixth-graders met math standards compared with the 60 percent statewide average, with 68 percent of fifth-graders meeting science standards compared to 70 percent statewide.

The worst scores, however, were associated with the Baker Web Academy, where the preliminary data show students scored below state standards at most tested grade levels in math, reading and science.

"Here's the good news: We're going to get better. We can't get any worse," Wegener said of the charter school scores, noting that a new principal has been hired to lead the program at the North Baker Campus, where the board met Tuesday.

Benjamin Merrill, a 1997 Baker High School graduate, began working in the role July 1.

The Baker Web Academy, also housed at the North Baker Campus, serves about 300 students from throughout the state in a system of online and regular classroom instruction. About 50 students attend the district's other charter school, the Baker Early College program, which allows students to work toward earning an associate degree while also completing their high school educations.

The district also will continue to work to build its relationship with the community and among families in order to meet its goals, Wegener said.

Throughout the presentation, he emphasized the need for all staff members to engage families and to support students to ensure that they "make a memory each day, for each child, in each subject."

"It all comes back to great teaching and influencing families to believe that they need and can get a powerful education," Wegener said. "If the families disengage, the system will fail. Teachers and families will always be linked. We cannot lose the community."

And while college is not for all students, the district should work to prepare them for the possibility if that's the track they choose, Wegener added.

"If a kid is remedial in college, that door is shut," he said. "Our business is to see that no doors are shut. If a kids want to drive truck, let him drive truck - but don't force him to drive truck."

The Common Core standards will move students to a more rigorous educational program aimed at preparing them to compete at the global level, Wegener said.

In the next year or two, as part of that shift, the district's kindergarten program will move from its current site in a wing of Baker High School to the Brooklyn Primary building, which now houses Grades 1-3.

That would trigger more classroom shuffling, including moving third-graders to South Baker Intermediate, which now houses Grades 4-6, and shifting sixth-grade classrooms to the Baker Middle School. Eighth-graders would be eased into some BHS classes as they begin their high school careers.

Wegener said BHS students will continue to work to earn college credits by collaborating with Blue Mountain Community College.

In addition to the superintendent's goals, the district is guided by these cornerstones as they work to:

andbull; Promote literacy, numeracy and writing K-12.

andbull; Provide direction, support and resources to enable every student to meet or exceed benchmark levels.

andbull; Develop open, positive communication between the board, staff, families, students and community.

andbull; Commit to a status of financial transparency and responsible fiscal oversight.