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Superintendent seeks ways beyond classroom to help students develop skills


January 24, 2017

STUDENTS from Mindie Medina’s sixth-grade class at Oak Heights work with members of the Sweet Home Elks to sort food from a schoolwide drive to fill Christmas food baskets. School District officials are looking for activities like this, athletics and more to get students involved in activities beyond academics, encouraging them to develop talents and pursue their dreams, which also encourages academic achievement.

A big focus for Sweet Home School District is boosting academic achievement and test scores, but Supt. Tom Yahraes is also interested in improving areas that complement academic achievement and often lead to success outside of academic achievement.

In October, Yahraes told the School Board that Sweet Home students were performing poorly on state assessments in recent years compared to statewide averages, and he outlined a plan to do something about it focusing on four different priority areas: improving student achievement, developing thriving citizens, cultivating a culture of organizational wellness and effectiveness and continuous facility maintenance, repair and upgrades.

To begin pursuing these priorities, particularly academic achievement to overcome low performance on state assessments, he identified four specific steps. First was the formation of an academic leadership team. Second was the creation of school performance plans, which set goals and ways to measure progress on those goals, and third, pushing support to high-need areas.

The fourth is to identify other indicators of student success.

These, Yahres said, are activities that students are involved with that help them become successful.

“What we need to do is identify what are those co-curricular, extra-curricular and even non-curricular programs that we offer where students can thrive, those athletics and activities that explore students ‘talents and dreams,” he said.

Educators know that statistically students involved in athletics, for example, have higher attendance, Yahraes said. Their grades are better, and they need to be so they can stay eligible to compete.

“We also know that students in our athletics are exposed to teamwork, discipline, perseverance and dedication,” Yahraes said. “Those are translatable to work habits and success in life.”

The discipline and good habits help them do better academically, Yahraes said. “That’s just a part of games, part of training. Will they perform better with their grades or their academics? Yes.”

Michael Phelps, the record-setting Olympic swimmer, is dyslexic, Yahraes said. “If we measured Michael Phelps by a reading score, he would be considered below average. We know he was much more.”

It was from an extra-curricular activity that Phelps found a way to succeed, Yahraes said. He was able to swim, awakening his goals and dreams.

As a result, he is the world’s greatest swimmer and a millionaire, Yahraes said. That cannot be measured with a Smarter Balanced test score.

“Michael Phelps is an exceptional human being who should be recognized beyond reading and math,” Yahraes said.

Going forward, as the district, schools and educators identify other indicators of student success, Yahraes said, they will map them out and measure them. It can be done at a building level and at the classroom level.

He observed Holley Elementary putting this idea into practice recently.

Staff there were talking about making students into “self-managers,” a key to the concept of teaching “thriving citizens,” one of the superintendent’s priority areas. Staff members were asking what they can do, what the school can do, to promote self-management.

The school is now recognizing students who are self-managers, “kids that embody the ideals of a Holley student,” said Todd Barrett, principal. Holley has three areas where it is pursuing other forms of student success.

Holley is continuing its Hugs for Holley fund-raising effort, which raised $7,000 for tubular sclerosis in February 2016. Beginning in February, it will start a Pennies for Patients drive, and the school is developing a third community service project that remains to be announced.

Academic achievement is “one of those ancillary benefits,” Barrett said. “When kids are happy, healthy and vibrant, it raises the academics. It just makes you function at a higher level.

“It all helps. It makes kids want to be a part of school. It makes kids want to do right.”

Yahraes wants to identify activities like this and make it a mission “to get more kids involved,” he said. He would like to make it a goal and get students involved in something beyond academics, something outside of state test scores, whether it’s athletics, community service or something else.

Educators know who is proficient academically, he said, and they can do the same in extra-curricular activities.

“Let’s measure it as a student success indicator,” Yahraes said. “If you measure it, you pay attention to it.”

The district is already doing it in many ways, he said. In one example, the School Board itself hands out an award to two students from each school for exceptional behavior, helping others, sharing and other positive qualities. Schools already recognize good citizenship among their students in different ways.

Yahraes would like to see them expand on it, he said. “We can’t only measure state test scores. There’s other student success indicators we need to recognize.”

“Paying attention to what you want, you’re going to get more of it,” Yahraes said. “Isn’t it incumbent on us to give them the skills to attain their goals? We’ll supply the system for them to succeed, the language, the specific things they need.”


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