Things are looking up for Eugene’s Schools
By Sheldon Berman
For The Register-Guard
As I approach the end of my four years as superintendent of Eugene School District, I want to express my appreciation for the tremendous confidence and support given to public education and educators. It is a conspicuous strength of this community.
That confidence and support has stayed strong through some very challenging years. The Eugene district and others in Oregon have faced continuing budget shortfalls that resulted in shorter school years, larger class sizes and weakened support systems. Changing academic standards, new state mandates and other challenges have added to the high demands on educators’ time, attention and morale.
The district’s talented teachers and staff have remained focused on providing the best education possible, and district leaders have worked to find a path through these challenges while laying the foundation for improved student performance and greater educational equity.
It has not been easy. The Eugene School Board and the district’s leadership have had to make difficult choices among imperfect options, and the decisions have not always been popular. Yet they have kept our eyes on the prize — a better education for our students — and the results reveal progress.
Students spend more time in class, focused on learning. The district has resumed a nearly full school year after many years of lost school days. More of our high school students now have full class schedules — three-quarters, compared with fewer than one-third in 2011. Kindergarten will be a full-day program starting this fall.
The result: Students and teachers have more time for core academics, social and emotional learning, creative exploration and discovery.
Instructional quality and student achievement are making gains. The district has maintained a laser focus on sustaining and improving the quality of teaching and learning.
We’ve implemented more rigorous standards and updated curriculum in several areas. We’ve re-envisioned programs to support students at risk. We’ve invested in professional development that is making a difference in the classroom.
The result: Graduation rates have started to rise, dropout rates to fall, and some achievement gaps to close.
The district’s finances are on a more stable footing. We have emerged from the darkest days of recession-level austerity. State finances are stabilizing. The district has implemented efficiency measures. Voters have approved local funding for schools by large margins.
The result: The budget is balanced with a longer school year, more stable staffing, and less reliance on one-time resources and reserves.
Building and property improvements are taking shape. Voters overwhelmingly approved a school bond measure to replace four of the district’s oldest schools and fund other upgrades, benefiting students in every school.
After nearly 80 years of stewardship and many years of community conversation, the school district has sold the Civic Stadium property to the city of Eugene. Nearby, the district is partnering with the Eugene Family YMCA for another recreation venue where the soon-to-be-replaced Roosevelt Middle School now stands.
The result: Between school construction projects — plus a unified high school program in the North Eugene region and innovative science, technology, engineering and math initiatives in the Churchill region — we are moving toward our vision of diverse but equally attractive educational opportunities in all regions of the district.
I’m proud of the work we have done and the milestones we have reached during my time in Eugene. It has been among the most challenging work in my 22 years as superintendent, but it has been as meaningful as it has been demanding.
I’ve learned a great deal. In particular, I have come to value deeply Eugene’s commitment to transparent public decision-making that includes all viewpoints, ensures that all voices are heard, and takes the time for thoughtful deliberation even if the task seems urgent.
There are still trials ahead. Oregon continues to struggle with underfunded education, lagging achievement, changing demographics, and more. Yet I believe the district is well-positioned to continue the progress we have made.
The Eugene School District has the good fortune of having a thoughtful and committed school board — seven elected volunteers who are dedicated to doing what’s best for all students. The district also has tremendously talented and dedicated teachers, staff and administrators.
Finally, Eugene schools benefit from thoughtful students, engaged families and a supportive community that truly cares about education. That support sustains educators through tough times.
I have been honored to serve in such a remarkable district and community. I am thankful for your constant support of education and for all I have learned from you.
Next year will bring a new superintendent, as well as a new class of students to educate and inspire. Although I will no longer be in Eugene, my thoughts will be with you, wishing the district and the community all the best.