What I am Hearing from the Community by Randy Trani

A Recap of the First Month of School

We are drawing close to finishing our first month of school and I wanted to pause, look back at all of the great things that have happened on campus so far, and reflect upon conversations I am hearing from the community.  The start of each year is always exciting; the energy that students and teachers bring to the campus is infectious and palpable.  Sometimes that initial energy turns out to be a short-lived “honeymoon”, but that is not the case at Corbett!

Red Delivering Hugs @ the Community Back to School Celebration

As I walk through the buildings, I can feel the infectious electricity and energy that kids and teachers are bringing to campus each day.  I hear from the community that we live in and in our broader school community that others can also sense this energy. Reviews of some of the artifacts of this year’s great start include:

Community Back to School Celebration:

One of the largest, if not the largest, gathering of teachers, students, parents, and community members  I have seen in my eight years at Corbett set the tone for the start to a great year.  Volunteers, community groups, and staff all pitched in to put together a fantastic night where we honored student scholars, honored student athletes, recognized staff, and came together as a community, all while enjoying hamburgers and hotdogs on a perfect warm summer night.

It was wonderful to see the community turn out in mass to support students and staff in both their achievement in athletics and academics.  The night is emblematic of the continued stream of positive communication I have been hearing from all corners of the community.

Fall Athletics Are Off to a Great Start: 

Soccer, Football and Volleyball at the Middle School and High School are all off to great starts!  High School varsity volleyball is a powerhouse this year, high school soccer is enjoying a continued increase in participation (I remember years ago when we had to combine girls and boys to field just one team), and high school football is once again a growing program!   The best part about our athletic program is the opportunity it affords students to grow emotionally in a team environment.  But the most impressive part about our athletic program is that the Corbett Booster Club is doing yeoman’s work to keep opportunities open for students!

Jeff Lucas Veterans Memorial Stadium

Without Corbett Booster Club, athletics and the opportunities it affords students would not be possible!  The Booster Club’s commitment to supporting athletics is astounding, but they cannot do it without your continued help!   Please join me and other members of our school community as a Booster Club member and help provide opportunities for students.  To become a Booster Club member Click Here!

New Website Helps Redefine Communication:

 Staff and volunteers have re-tooled our district web site to provide more avenues for interested parties to receive communication and to communicate with the district.  Since the launch of the new web site, it has logged over 3,000 visitors totaling over 21,000 page views!

Some key features of the new website include:

  • The ability to register to receive information by email, text, tweets, etc. by clicking here
  • The ability to view teacher notes by clicking here
  • The ability to view Frequently Asked Question, as well as Post Questions by clicking here

The web site, coupled with the district’s new information sharing approach, as well as our concerted effort to receive feedback from the community, all exemplify our commitment to redefining communication.  I am hearing from members of the community that this new approach is greatly appreciated.

Field Trips:

Canoeing Field Trip

Whether it is a field trip to Madras, an ECO project in the rain behind the baseball fields, trips in canoes or to a long house, staff, students, parents and members of the community at large have been out and about in support of students’ education!  Community members have called my office from the field trips where they were volunteering to express their great support for the job our school staff does on behalf of kids.  Without the combination of incredible staff commitment and unswerving support from our community in the form of volunteerism these trips would not be possible.

Student Leadership:

Another great example of the spirit of the Corbett Community was visible at the Corbett Student Leadership Movie Night.  The high school commons was filled with lawn chairs and blankets and members of the community all present to watch a family movie offered by the student leadership team.  Their presence alone provides evidence of the supportive spirit the Corbett Community has for Corbett School District.  But, that supportive spirit was even more evident when the movie broke, and rather than being upset that their expectations were not going to be met, the audience applauded the efforts of the students and staff and asked them to give it another shot on another night!  I am hearing from the community that this type of outreach by staff and students is the reason so many people appreciate the school district.  I know that this type of response by the audience is why I appreciate the community in which I live!

The Corbett School District is Prepared to Offer a Full Complement of Days and Staff This Year:

Corbett Middle School

This title sounds a bit odd but it is something we should take a moment to consider.  Each month I spend a day meeting with the other superintendents from Multnomah County.  We compare notes on how our year is going and how we are responding in each of our districts to various challenges schools are facing.  The conversation last week focused on length of year and class size around the county.

One might expect the lowest funded district in Multnomah County, Corbett, to have the largest class sizes and be preparing to cut the most days.  This is not the case.  Corbett is budgeted to deliver a full year of instruction without cutting any days, while other districts in the area are planning on cutting, 5, 10 or as much as 21 days of instruction this year.  Further, we have been able to retain all staff keeping class size down compared to many other schools across the county.

How Can Corbett Offer a Full Year of School when Other Districts Can’t?

Given that all of the other districts in the county receive more dollars per student than Corbett it is reasonable to wonder how we are able to offer a full year of instruction without cutting more staff!

I believe the answer is twofold.  First, other districts are just now embracing some of the best practice/economically sound strategies Corbett has utilized for years.  Multi-age instruction, seven period days at the high school level, a “self-insurance” program for employee health care, reducing non-instructional personnel and focusing their mission on core academics are cost cutting strategies that Corbett has been using for ages while others are just beginning to utilize these techniques.  Essentially, we were forced to learn to do more with less long ago because of our particular funding deficits. This is a lesson other districts are just now experiencing.

The second part of the answer is that we have brought more revenue to the district in the form of an expanded student body.  I have written about this topic several times.  Most recently I put together a piece on Corbett’s identity as a destination district which you can re-visit by clicking here .

How Would We Fair Without the Expanded Student Body?

At the first super-chat I also provided an analysis of what this year’s financial picture would be like without the extra students we have enrolled in the district via the Corbett Charter School (CCS).  Without the CCS our revenue would total about $5,160,000. Also, without the CCS our expenses would total about $5,700,000. A quick math problem reveals a $540,000 yearly deficit in this arrangement.  How would we handle this recurring yearly deficit?

First, we would look for best practice/economically sound strategies to reduce our costs….things like multi-age instruction, seven period days at the high school level, a “self-insurance” program for employee health care, reducing non-instructional personnel, focusing our mission on core academics……well, we would keep looking for these types of strategies, but…. the reality is we have long ago picked this low hanging fruit.

Majestic Mount Hood

We could ask our staff to do more with less….unfortunately we are using this strategy to the hilt as it is!  This strategy would involve cutting about eight more teachers from our staff. This would raise class size campus wide into the mid 40’s and push some classes into the low 50’s.  Further, this would require all remaining staff to do more with less, and most importantly it would hurt kids educationally.

Another strategy could be to attack the yearly $540,000 deficit by cutting days.  Roughly 30 days would need to be cut each year or seven and a half weeks.  Strictly speaking this is illegal.  We are required to deliver a full year’s worth of instruction to students and although you might be able to do this for one or two years it is not a long term solution. Further, this strategy translates into an 18% pay cut for staff which carries an enormous human cost for employees and repositions Corbett School District as a holding tank district for staff waiting to jump to another more financially strong district rather than a destination district for great teachers.  Most importantly, cutting days hurts kids educationally.

Both of these strategies seem untenable to me.  They smack of the stepping stones to district disintegration.  The lowest funded district in Multnomah County cannot afford to make significant reductions in staff or dramatically reduce days, not unless it wants to be swallowed up by a neighboring district. I consistently hear from the community that this is the last thing that anyone wants to happen!

Final Thoughts

So, although we are bigger this year, our parking lots are full, and the traffic around campus is hectic for a half an hour, twice a day, four times per week we do have a full complement of staff and we are budgeted to offer a full school year.  I consistently hear from community members that we owe it to our community to provide a quality educational program in Corbett for our students.  The decisions that we have made around multi-age instruction, expansion of the student body, our focus on core academics, a seven period day and many others make this possible.  Most importantly, because of those decisions we start this year with our viability as a school district intact; we are Corbett School District, a district of which I am very proud to be a part.

Yours in Education,
Randy Trani