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Parents who gathered for Tuesday's "listening session" at Clover Ridge Elementary School wanted assurances that Albany schools are working with all of a child's needs: emotional and behavioral as well as academic.

The session was the third of four organized by the district to gather public input, both on Oregon's public education system in general and Albany schools specifically.

The forums are a part of a statewide initiative, Oregon Rising, organized by the Oregon School Boards Association, the Oregon Education Association and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators. The fourth session is 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 25, at South Albany High School.

About 50 people, including close to a dozen district representatives, gathered Tuesday at Clover Ridge to fill out the Oregon Rising survey and give their thoughts on Albany's educational system.

The survey offered at each forum also is open to the public online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/oregonrising1.

Several said they'd like to see the district provide students with hands-on, real-life learning opportunities, the kind that might spark interests but don't necessarily fit neatly into testing boxes or state benchmarks. 

For instance, kindergarten teacher Margaret Phillips said, her students were so excited about a butterfly hatching project they couldn't wait to write about it. No one had to be coaxed to put words on paper.

Some parents said they're concerned about special needs students, particularly in crowded classrooms and especially in light of changes the district is considering.

Superintendent Jim Golden has said he's interested in shortening the summer break and instead scattering breaks throughout the school year. But one parent said she's concerned about lessening family time and said she'd actually make summer longer if she could, while Phillips said she doesn't see students being able to concentrate well when temperatures top 90.

Albany has recommendations from a district facilities committee and from a group of efficiency consultants to build new, larger elementary schools and close down some of the smaller ones. But if that happens, adequate space needs to be provided to avoid overpopulation in each class, parents warned.

One parent said he thought a social skills class, taught once per week, would benefit all students. Another asked for additional crisis intervention and counseling, with mental health and suicide prevention programs to intervene when students are feeling stressed or battling problems at home.

"To me, this is not dreaming big," the parent said. "This is essential."

Golden said he agreed and noted that Albany is working both with Samaritan Health and with the Trillium Family Service Center to form more counseling partnerships. 

State funding is a continual challenge, whether it's for buildings, staff or teaching resources, Golden said. While not currently connected to any political effort, the Oregon Rising survey is meant to gather information to present to Oregon lawmakers about the priorities Oregonians have for their children's education.

Locally, Golden said, residents are encouraged to contact Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, and Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, with their desires for stronger educational programs.

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