Reflections from Education Innovation Officer, Colt Gill on his Statewide Engagement

Two Days in Hood River and Wasco Counties…

In coordination with the Statewide Regional Collaboration Summit at the Columbia Gorge Community College this week, I was able to convene with many more students, families, community members, board members, and educators from three districts over the course of three days: North Wasco County School District, Hood River County School District, and Dufur School District.

My biggest take away from these visits was the incredible amount of community involvement in these school systems. There were so many community organizations represented at the meetings and many more that interact daily with the students and the schools. These organizations cover a wide range of supports, from Juntos, which engages with Latino families and helps focus on high school graduation and paths to higher education, to the Dufur Garden Clubs that work with students in the FFA greenhouse, and everything in between.

Community support also came from a variety of public agencies and nonprofits including the Columbia Gorge ESD, the Department of Human Services, the education foundation, private donors, Helping Hands Against Violence, The Next Door, and several more. This is a community that comes together to ensure their students are supported.

Solutions for Oregon’s Low Graduation Rate?

Natalie Pate, Statesman Journal       July 27, 2016

In December, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced the creation of a new position, the Education Innovation Officer.

Meant to advise Brown on the best practices and programs for schools statewide, the job leaves much to the imagination.

What does it mean to “engage with communities”? How will the results of such engagements help? What are the main goals of the position? And why was this position created when the state already has a Chief Education Officer and Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction?

To get to the root of these questions, the Statesman Journal spoke with Kristin Gimbel, public affairs director for the Chief Education Office; and Colt Gill, the state’s first Education Innovation Officer.

What is an Education Innovation Officer?

The Education Innovation Officer has one main goal — improve the state’s graduation rate — which, to be accomplished, comes with many other goals.

Oregon has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country, with only 74 percent of students graduating from high school on time. In the graduating class of 2015, about 11,800 kids did not graduate, Gill said.

The Legislature has approved a statewide goal of a 100 percent graduation rate by 2025. However, if the state were to “go about business as usual,” Gill predicted,150,000 children would be at risk of not graduating on time.

“We are in near-crisis mode,” he said.

It isn’t just a matter of graduating. The state also wants to know students are graduating prepared for their next steps in the workplace or college, which takes additional work.

While the Education Innovation Officer works closely with the Chief of Education and the Deputy Superintendent, his main job is focused on working to improve graduation rates and outcomes.

He is responsible for working with local communities, school districts, researchers, students and other stakeholders to identify existing successful practices, unravel challenges districts are facing, and delve into data and research on the subject — from Oregon and other states.

After gathering feedback and data, the officer will make recommendations to the governor, state agencies, and the Legislature regarding policies, budget priorities and supports needed.

Meet Colt Gill

Gill was appointed by Brown as Oregon’s first Education Innovation Officer in April. He was the longtime superintendent of the Bethel School District, which serves about 5,700 students in northwest Eugene.

He has been an Oregon educator for more than 25 years, serving as an adjunct professor at the University of Oregon and on a number of boards and commissions for the state and for various education and children’s health and wellness institutions.

As a native Oregonian, he said, and with a deep-rooted past in the state’s education system, this issue hits home with him.

Meeting with the community

Gill has been in the position for only a matter of weeks, so he said a routine hasn’t quite been established.

“Every day is a little different,” he said.

So far, Gill has been working with Gimbel to set up his community engagement events. Through the end of the summer, Gill will visit 18 counties to meet with focus groups. By talking with parents, students, educators and administrators, he said, he will get a better idea of what is working and what isn’t.

Gimbel said Gill’s meetings in Marion and Polk counties will come later in the season. When those dates, times and locations are set, the information will be released to the public so they know where and how to participate in the conversation.

Neighbor counties are welcome to join at these events as well as the state wants to get as broad coverage as possible, he said.

Initial findings

In addition to engaging with the community through these focus groups, Gill helped develop an inter-agency team — including the Early Learning Division, Department of Education and Chief of Education Office — that is charged with collecting and analyzing existing data to find themes of best practices.

While still in his position’s infancy, Gill said he is already learning a lot.

For instance, while Oregon students perform at or above average on national tests, that isn’t translating to an average or slightly above average graduation rate, as it tends to correlate in other states.

Oregon also has higher rates of absenteeism. Gill said this leads to the question, “How do we look at absenteeism differently than we have?”

Research shows the importance of student engagement, he said, meaning each student needs to feel engaged with the material. It needs to be relevant to students to be worth their coming back.

While saying “You need to graduate” may work for some, it won’t work for everyone, he said.

There are “great data on career technical education outcomes,” Gill said. “Even after one career technical education course, the student is 15.5 percent more likely to graduate.”

Gill said this translates across all demographics, whereas absenteeism and lower graduation rates disproportionately affect males and low-income students, as well as students of color.

Some districts in the country have adopted “early indicator and innovation systems” that detect issues in a child’s progress early on by tracking attendance, student behavior and grades, among other factors.

Chicago Public Schools has a similar structure to Oregon and have seen a great response to the indicator and innovations systems, Gill said, including a 4 percent increase in graduation rates every year for the past four years.

This is one of many models Gill and his team are analyzing and taking into consideration.


Gill said he will have short- and long-term goals based on his findings, all working toward the state’s 2025 goal.

Until then, he said, he is looking for steady progress.

“There is no instant fix,” he said. Gill wants to make sure the changes they make can be sustained over time as well.

“A big nut to crack is recognizing the implementation (of Gill’s suggestions) will have to look different for each community across the state,” Gimbel said. Gill is “being incredibly thoughtful … knowing not just one size fits all.”

Gill said it is important to “recognize the current system of education (in Oregon) is not working for all our students.”

With the policies, budget priorities and more that he and his team suggests, maybe one day it will.

For more information, go to or call 503-373-1283.

Oregon’s 2016 Reach Higher Summit

Landing Page Reach Higher

Oregon students share reflections on challenges and opportunities related to planning for their future at the Reach Higher Oregon Summit. Thanks to the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative and to Americas Promise and their Grad Nation campaign for their partnership in putting on the Summit.


Building a Web of Support; Study shows ways to keep students in school and headed for graduation

Seven threats

Gerry Obrian: Seven Threats

The Klamath Promise has been striving to improve student achievement in Klamath County with the goal of 100 percent high school graduation. Key in the Klamath Promise’s mission is the phrase, “we all play a part.”

The part everyone plays can make the difference between a graduate’s success or failure. According to a report released last year from America’s Promise and Grad Nation, the more support a young person has, the more likely he or she is to succeed and graduate from high school.

“Don’t Quit on Me” was published in September 2015. It builds on the 2014 report, “Don’t Call Them Dropouts.” While the previous report focused on why students didn’t complete high school, the 2015 report examines what fellow students, families and communities can do to help students succeed.

“The more sources of support a young person has, the more likely he or she is to stay in school,” is one of the simplest statements of the Don’t Quit on Me’s conclusion. Even one person’s influence can bring a dropout back to the classroom. “This anchoring relationship allows the young person to access available community assets – and to leverage internal strengths. This trusted, stabilizing adult … provides a foundation that allows a young person to consider new possibilities for the future and engage a Web of Support.”

That “Web of Support” is what the study calls friends, adults, school and friends who, together, help students achieve.

“To put it simply,” the report reads, “some young people may be standing in a room that contains all the support they need, but they need someone else to turn on the lights so they can see what’s there and reach for it.”

Adverse Life Experiences

Don’t Quit on Me identifies the “hurdles” to graduation by a more technical term, “adverse life experiences.” These are detrimental things that can happen in a young person’s life, especially between the ages of 14 to 18, that keep him or her from graduating and likely from succeeding later in life.

Common adverse life experiences are: suspension or expulsion; becoming a teen parent; experiencing a major health issue, homelessness or moving many times, often called mobility.

The study listed these findings

n Students who stop going to high school have had twice as many adverse life experiences as students who don’t drop out.

n More than half of students who stop going to high school had five or more adverse life experiences, compared to 20 percent of those who graduated

n For each additional adverse life experience, the chances of not graduating from high school rises by 19 percent.

n Being suspended or expelled more than doubles the odds of dropping out.

Building the web

How to combat these adverse life experiences and detrimental statistics? Relationships, the study says.

This is where the Web of Support comes in.

One Don’t Quit on Me’s key findings states: Social supports from multiple sources buffer the effects of adverse life experiences for most young people. However, those who are facing the greatest adversity need more intensive support than family, school and friends can provide.

It may sound obvious, but the more support from more places better combats those bad experiences earlier in life. The ones that made a difference were people who “cared about me, treated me fairly, showed me how to do things, helped me solve problems, made sure I had what I needed for school,” students told Don’t Quit on Me.

“The young people we interviewed and surveyed showed us that the strength, number and nature of relationships in their lives are important factors that influence their engagement with school,” the report reads. “What we learned, in part, is that small interventions can make a big difference for most youth. You don’t need to be everyone to be someone for a young person.”

Oregon Dives Into Solving a Statewide Problem


Source: ECOnorthwest Analysis/ODE Data

Percentage of Students Chronically Absent by Grade Level

Oregon has one of the highest rates of chronic absenteeism in the country, with one in five students routinely missing 10 percent of the school days. In a 180-day school year, that means missing 18 days, or nearly three weeks of school.

With these stark numbers in mind, the Oregon Chief Education Office dove into this topic, producing the 88-page “Chronic Absenteeism Report.”

The report outlined the problem of chronic absenteeism, especially in in Oregon. Then researchers talked with students, families, educators and community organizations to dig to the root of the problem.

“What is unique about this report is that it is a purposeful examination of our system through the eyes and experiences of students most likely to be chronically absent,” it reads. “The voices of these students, and their families, collectively give policy makers and educators a lens to view all of our current assumptions and understandings in a new light.”

A copy of the report is available with this story

The study

Researchers conducted work with 44 focus groups in four categories: parents, students, educators and staff, and members of community organizations. They worked in Bend, Prineville, Madras, Curry County, Hillsboro, Beaverton, Medford, Multnomah County, Salem and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Researchers also focused on 12 additional focus groups of minorities, and held 14 meetings and interviews with experts.

“The quotes from the students … are particularly poignant and sometimes difficult to read,” the report states. “Their statements, along with those of the parents, present a picture of school that must be understood.”

The report does not specifically attribute quotes, but lists them in bold for greater impact:

“Teachers don’t care about us or our children. They don’t see us as capable. They feel as if our kids won’t make it and the kids know it.”

“My child just needs someone to connect to her everyday (sic). Not much – just a ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ and ‘looking forward to seeing you tomorrow’ is enough.”

While most educators automatically see school as a good thing, for some families and students, school is not a positive place.

“The fact is that some students and families may be making an informed choice to miss some school based on previous negative/traumatic experiences,” the report reads.

Those include students who experience racism or are most likely to be disciplined. People of color – including Hispanic, black and Native American – don’t see themselves reflected in their teachers, school staff, or the lessons they learn. Or the students might be working to support their families and care for siblings. All these problems do not equate to meaning the students or families don’t care about school.

“A narrative often emerges in the school that students and families do not value education,” the report says. “This narrative is destructive and has a compounding negative effect on student attendance by creating a less welcoming and more judgmental climate.”

Changing the climate

“Parents are consistent in saying they want a better life for their children and see high school graduation as a key to that better, life,” the report states. “This finding challenges the common perception that when children miss school, it’s a sign that their parents don’t care.”

Based on the interviews with students and families, the report outlines themes, including the importance of relationships and relating lessons to students on a cultural level; and barriers to attendance, such as affordable childcare, living wages and transportation.

From those themes, the report outlined six recommendations.

1. Build culturally responsive practices and school communities

Students and families want personal relationships with their teachers. Teachers need more training on how to interact with students of color, students with disabilities and students in poverty. Families need to feel school is a welcoming place, which will translate to students feeling more comfortable coming to class. When families know teachers really care about their children, that personal one-on-one relationship will foster more reasons for students to continue coming to school.

2. Increase meaningful partnerships between schools and community-based organizations

Chronic absenteeism is not just about one student, one family, or one school. It’s a broader socio-cultural issue extending beyond the campus. Partners can provide wrap-around services to help the whole community know school attendance is important.

“Examples exist across the state where public and private organizations, including social service agencies, community organizations, churches or other community center work together collectively to impact school attendance,” the report states.

3. Increase diversity in the educator workforce

Minority students want to see themselves in the people who are teaching them. Diverse teachers bring an understanding of minority students’ cultural backgrounds and experiences.

“Compared to their white counterparts,” the study states, “minority teachers are more likely to understand many aspects of the lives of minority students.”

4. Conduct deeper studies of attendance initiatives

While this report addresses the issue at the state level, every school, district and community is different. Any “best practices” need to be adjusted to fit the specific culture of each area.

5. Offer engaging content and courses

To make lessons more relevant, teachers should make sure to incorporate perspectives of various cultures. (For example, addressing American history from both the white and Native American perspectives.)

For high school students, classes with a career focus are why some students keep coming to school. “They key idea is that students vote with their feet,” the study states. If the lessons being taught don’t matter, students don’t attend.

6. Eliminate discipline disparities

When students are suspended or expelled, it makes it far more likely they won’t return to school.

“Excluding students from school is a harsh consequence,” the report says. “It results in non-attendance immediately and is a contributing factor in continued absenteeism and/or drop out.” Finding more inclusive ways to discipline students may lessen their departure from school.

US DOE Report: Increases in Spending on Corrections Far Outpaces Education

Press Release: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Communications & Outreach, Press Office

State and local spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of funding for public education for preschool through grade (P-12) education in the last three decades, a new analysis by the U.S. Department of Education found.

Released today, the report, Trends in State and Local Expenditures on Corrections and Education, notes that even when population changes are factored in, 23 states increased per capita spending on corrections at more than double the rate of increases in per-pupil P-12 spending. Seven states—Idaho, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia—increased their corrections budgets more than five times as fast as they did their allocations for P-12 public education. The report also paints a particularly stark picture of higher education spending across the country at a time when postsecondary education matters more than ever. Since 1990, state and local spending on higher education has been largely flat while spending on corrections has increased 89 percent.

“Budgets reflect our values, and the trends revealed in this analysis are a reflection of our nation’s priorities that should be revisited,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “For far too long, systems in this country have continued to perpetuate inequity. We must choose to make more investments in our children’s future. We need to invest more in prevention than in punishment, to invest more in schools, not prisons.”

The report sheds light on the connection between educational attainment and incarceration. The United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population yet more than 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, two-thirds of state prison inmates have not completed high school. One study also shows young black men between the ages of 20 and 24 who do not have a high school diploma or an equivalent credential have a greater chance of being incarcerated than employed. Researchers have estimated that a 10 percent increase in high school graduation rates results in a 9 percent decline in criminal arrest rates.

The report comes after former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last September called on states and communities to invest in teachers rather than prisons by finding alternative paths for non-violent offenders outside of incarceration. The $15 billion that could be saved by finding alternate paths to incarceration for just half of non-violent offenders is enough to give a 50 percent raise to every teacher and principal working in the highest-need schools and communities across the country.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Over the past three decades, from 1979-80 to 2012-13, state and local expenditures for P-12 education doubled (from $258 to $534 billion), while total state and local corrections expenditures quadrupled (from $17 to $71 billion).
  • All states had lower expenditure growth rates for P-12 education than for corrections, and in the majority of the states, the rate of increase for corrections spending was more than 100 percentage points higher than the growth rate for education spending.
  • Even when adjusted for population changes, growth in corrections expenditures outpaced P-12 expenditures in all but two states (New Hampshire and Massachusetts).
  • Over the roughly two decades from 1989-90 to 2012-13, state and local appropriations for public colleges and universities remained flat, while funding for corrections increased by nearly 90 percent.
  • On average, state and local higher education funding per full-time equivalent (FTE) student fell by 28 percent, while per capita spending on corrections increased by 44 percent.

To read the full report released today, click here.

Free Summer Learning Book for Parents and Teachers

Celebrate the start of summer!

Download “Summers Matter: 10 Things Every Parent, Teacher, & Principal Should Know About June, July, & August”

Written by National Summer Learning Association founder Matthew Boulay, the book is available for FREE on Kindle for two days only: June 21 & 22nd.

Please share with friends and colleagues! .

Summer Matters


White House Recognizes Oregon STEM Leader as a “Champion of Change for Making”

Last week, the White House recognized ten individuals from across the country as “White House Champions of Change for Making.”

According to the White House, individuals were selected for their personal passion and tireless efforts to make advances in technology and platforms, educational opportunities, or spaces that empower even more Americans to become tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs.

Oregon’s John Niebergall was recognized for his more than 32 years dedication to training the next generation as an educator in the Sherwood School District in Sherwood, Oregon. He has worked tirelessly to provide his students with hands-on, contextualized learning experiences and has directly raised more than $825,000 through grants and in-kind contributions to establish a classroom and mobile Fab Lab. As a result of access to both top-level instruction and industry-standard software with state-of-the-art prototyping equipment, numerous students in Mr. Niebergall’s class have launched student-run, school-based enterprises. Of particular note is his successful efforts to create a culture of inclusion in his classroom with a notably high participation of female students. His instructional approach allows students direct experiences with the real-world challenges of designing, developing, manufacturing, and marketing. John has mentored other career and technical education (CTE) programs and educators.

This celebration comes on the anniversary of the first-ever White House Maker Faire in June 2014 where President Obama launched the Nation of Makers initiative, an all-hands-on-deck call to make sure more students, entrepreneurs, and Americans of all backgrounds have access to a new class of technologies—such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and desktop machine tools—that are enabling more Americans to design, build, and manufacture just about anything.  Last year, the President expanded the work and asked “all Americans to help unlock the potential of our Nation and ensure these opportunities reach all our young people, regardless of who they are or where they come from.”

High school graduation more than a big deal: It’s absolutely vital

For the past couple of weeks high school students have been going through graduation exercises, sitting in folding chairs in cap and gown, waiting for their name to be called and then striding across the stage to pick up their diplomas that mark an important stepping stone in their lives.

Our congratulations to them and their families and to the teachers who helped them in high school, and, we hope, encouraged them to move on to advanced education in some form, whether at the university level, or technical training.

We also greatly appreciate the efforts being made to recognize the value of the high school education, which in today’s economy — and by itself — has to be considered as an essential means to something more, rather than as an end goal.

High school can be difficult — not just for the students, but their parents who have to make sure the kids get to school each day. Good attendance is one of the basics of a good education — a key one.

Klamath County has been working on improving the rate of high school graduation. It takes effort and it involves the community.

Most of the effort has been in providing help for those who need in various forms, such as mentors and tutors. But we also like the idea of community recognition shown in the “Graduation Sensation” parade down Main Street in Klamath Falls Thursday with students in cap and gown.

It was sponsored by Klamath Promise organization, which, along with its partners, is trying to increase the local graduation rate. That’s a years-long process and is important to the community. We need educated young people. (More about the organization, and how to help, can be found at

High school graduation is a big deal. That comment is for those who think it isn’t. Some of them, may come from earlier generations when a job “in the mill” was always available and the wages were good. Most of those jobs have left and even the ones that still exist dependend on modern technology, which require more education. It’s a new economy.

Klamath County residents should be thankful there are people working hard to improve the graduation rate and stressing the importance of education beyond that.

Salute the new graduates, especially the ones who struggled, but stuck with it.

Salute their moms and dads, or those filled the gap when one or both were missing and someone else stepped in.

And continue to let the graduates and the ones coming up behind them know that high school graduation is not only a big deal, but vital.

Report: Missing school for a reason

Natalie Pate, Statesman Journal 4:09 p.m. PDT June 5, 2016

Oregon’s Chief Education Office released a report on chronic absenteeism last week examining barriers to regular school attendance, for the first time, from the perspective of students and families.

Based on the responses they collected from strategic focus groups, the report gave six suggestions to address absenteeism in the state:

  • Increasing educator professional development and support with respect to building culturally responsive practices and school communities;
  • Increasing the number of meaningful partnerships between schools/district and community based organizations, especially culturally specific organizations;
  • Increasing diversity in the educator workforce;
  • Conducting deeper studies of attendance initiatives;
  • Offering more engaging content and course offerings;
  • Revising policies and procedures to eliminate discipline disparities.

The report gathered data from 44 focus groups in seven communities across Oregon — intentionally oversampling populations who are most likely to be disengaged from school including tribal students, students with disabilities, communities of color, and students who speak English as a second language. The report concluded some students and families may be making an “informed choice to miss some school based on previous negative/traumatic experiences,” such as racism.

Although the specific percentage of absences that qualifies as “chronic” varies from state to state, 10 percent of school days missed annually was the definition of “chronically absent” used for the study.

Oregon has one of the highest levels of chronic absenteeism in the country.

“Oregon’s rate of chronic absenteeism is … the highest among the states where data is available,” according to the report. “Nationally, one in 10 kindergartners are chronically absent. Notably … nearly a third of the chronically absent students in the primary grades were accounted for in only 20 percent of Oregon elementary schools.

“For eighth graders, Oregon is among one of the six states with 25 percent or more of students reporting missing three or more days of school.”

The Salem-Keizer School District has an absenteeism rate of about 7 percent, according to the district’s report card and the district’s average attendance rates.