Make the McKenzie Connection!

Board approves charter school

McKenzie logoEditor's note: On 9/21/16 The McKenzie School board voted unanimously to approve creation of a charter school. This report covers a community meeting prior to that vote:

FINN ROCK: “We are McKenzie so we study the McKenzie as a textbook, as a source of knowledge.” That sentiment from Science teacher Nate Day was part the rationale supporters of a proposed charter school presented at a meeting last Wednesday. He went on to note that charter schools have a “place based” emphasis that is, “Not all about sitting down in a classroom. With all the natural resources we have - from waterfalls, Clear Lake, mountains and the amazing river - every single classroom can have a direct connection to the world.”

For Corey Culp, the charter school concept wasn’t appealing when he first heard about it. “As a teacher I had to think about how would I start implement it and how would I have to start changing my classroom to make it fit,” he wondered.

For Culp, that thought process led him to consider moving away from mimicking fictional companies in his Business classes. Instead he said he began to flesh out ideas for students to actually create and develop a real product. “Then in the Spring we could figure out how we were going to market, package and price it,” he said. The end result would be a public presentation in the gym with the community invited to review different display booths and decide if they wanted to actually buy something.

“I don’t think I ever would have come up with this idea until I started researching,” Culp said. “Whether or not this proposal happens I think the impacts are happening right now. The cool thing is it challenges me as a teacher to think.”

Culp said he hoped to get a project going this year, possibly getting the “greenhouse program going again.”

Cliff Richardson, a member of the charter school’s steering committee said the school district already had a foundation based on, “A good staff and a good community,” adding that the charter school concept had already been proven in other parts of Oregon.

“We’ve just heard from staff members who are excited,” Richardson said while also predicting McKenzie could make a smooth transition to a charter school.

As part of “service based learning,” Richardson noted that, “We want to bring our classrooms out to you in a safe manner and learn from the expertise of some of you folks out there.” Part of that approach, he said, could involve apprenticeships that would aid students who transition from a school environment to the working world. “We think we could do this by requiring kids to get hands-on skills,” Richardson said, using the East Lane Veterinary Hospital as an example that’s worked in the past.

“What do students need to know?” was both posed and answered by school superintendent Jim Thomas. “In terms of robotics, a lot is changing,” he said. “So is the technology for cars, like self-driving. We cannot continue to teach children the way we were taught. Most every kid now has an iPad, an iPhone or a computer. We need to take advantage of that to teach the skills you need to know.”

Aside from high tech, Thomas said he’s also looking at the basics. “When I talk to business owners, they say our students don’t have the soft skills,” he added. Those “soft skills,” he felt, included, “Personality - things like coming to work on time, having a positive attitude and dressing appropriately.”

Seeking more students is not the core of pursing a charter school, according to school board chair Melissa Norlund. “Our elementary school is wonderful,” she said. “Our kids are getting every bit of education they need.”

The problem, she felt, began with the transition to middle school. “All we have to offer them is math, science, history and business,” Norlund said. “We don’t have enough things to keep their brains going.”

“We’re looking to enhance what we offer and keep their butts here,” she said. “and not moving out of the district.”

A decision on whether or not to move forward on creating a charter school at McKenzie will be on the school board’s next agenda. That meeting was set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 21st.


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