There were no students in sight, but it was the first day of school Monday for the teachers and administrators of the Morrow County School District. Crowded into the auditorium at Riverside High School in Boardman, they heard an inspiring pep talk from Superintendent Mark Burrows and prepared for the upcoming school year.
Some of them have more to do than others; there are a lot of changes afoot in the district.
In Irrigon, the fourth grade is moving from A.C. Houghton Elementary School to Irrigon Elementary School. Principal Joel Chavez said the move would free up space at A.C. Houghton and give Irrigon Elementary a full staff of teachers and aides to share school duties.
"We realized that if we lost any more staff, it would be hard to maintain the school," Chavez said.
Another change this year is new power standards for reading and math. A "power standard" is an Oregon content standard that the district has designated most important.
The Oregon content standards tend to be like the Platte River, Mark Burrows said - "a mile wide and an inch deep." By narrowing the focus to those that are really important, teachers no longer have to guess at what standards to teach, or attempt to cram a number of standards into one lesson.
"We dove in and said, 'What standards do kids really need to be successful?' 'What are the building blocks?'" Burrows said.
Teachers and administrators have been at work on the reading and math power standards for the past year and a half. The district already uses a set of power standards for health, and will soon begin the process for science.
Heppner Elementary School has a bumper crop of kindergartners this year, necessitating two classes instead of the usual one. And at Heppner High School, Principal Daye Stone will implement his "credit for proficiency" program. Teachers worked throughout the summer to prepare skill sets and proficiency tests. The major difference between credit for proficiency and traditional instruction is that teachers teach the standards directly, rather than imbedding them in activities like essay papers.
"The standard is the driving force in proficiency - not the activity," Stone said.
Credit for proficiency is not a new idea. Schools in Europe have been teaching this way for years. Now that it is catching on in the United States, many educators think it is the wave of the future.
School administrators in Boardman are also looking to the future.?They are talking about a new model for grading students, at least in the elementary schools.
Jackie Johnson, the principal of Sam Boardman Elementary School, said she and other administrators are looking to create a report card that gives parents better information about how their children are doing in terms of standards, and their probability for success on benchmarks.
Johnson said the school is also looking forward to working with students from distant countries such as Tanzania, Nepal and Iraq - the children of refugees who have found a home in Boardman.
"We're just looking forward to embracing different cultures," she said. "It's a real chance to learn."