The parents gathered in the cafeteria at South Shore Elementary School spoke different languages but wanted one answer: How is Greater Albany Public Schools going to spend the extra $4.5 million from the state legislature over the next five years?
Funds from the Student Success Act, which will see $2 billion flow into classrooms around the state, will be available for the 2020-2021 school year. To obtain the funds, districts must submit a comprehensive plan for the money to the state.
GAPS is asking the community for the answer.
The district is hosting community forums, focus groups and online surveys to ask parents and families six questions ranging from what they think the district does well and what areas need improvement.
On Tuesday, Superintendent Melissa Goff walked around South Shore’s cafeteria with headphones — not to block out the conversation, but to tune into it.
The forum was held in Spanish and translated into English.
Goff and other non-Spanish speakers listened in on the conversation via headsets and chimed in throughout the forum in English.
The effort, according to the school district, was about meeting people where they are.
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And on Tuesday, the district not only met people where they were, they made that space conducive to a two-hour long conversation by providing pizza and free child care. The result: participation and engagement.
Whitney Dondero attended Tuesday’s event with her three children, the oldest already enrolled at South Shore.
“I’m here because within the next five years I’ll have three kids in GAPS,” she said, noting that she wasn’t bilingual but knew the forum on Tuesday would be in Spanish. “I want to see what’s going to happen in the next five years.”
The two dozen residents who turned out to the forum had suggestions about how the district might spend the money. Those suggestions ranged from fixing restroom doors to raising test scores to providing healthier lunches and providing a better definition of English-Language Learning classes.
Goff offered no answers on Tuesday, instead concerns were written out on large sheets of paper and collected. Answers from all of the district’s outreach events will be compiled and used to create the report to the state.
The district said it purposefully focused on different groups in an effort to reach a broad portion of the community and a variety of concerns. Aside from three additional community forums, GAPS will hold invitation-only events for foster parents, minors from Jackson Street Youth, a local homeless shelter, and other groups who many not always be part of the conversation.
The effort is expected to produce different answers to the same six questions. And two focus groups in, the angle is working.
Before the event at South Shore Elementary, Goff and GAPS Business Director Russ Allen visited the Albany City Council during its Monday work session.
Faced with the same questions, councilors focused on career technical education, decrying the push over the last decade toward four-year degrees over the trades. Other concerns from the council included keeping students in Albany once they graduated, implementing home economic classes and auto shop classes and scheduling that allowed students to be out of school for large portions of the day.
The district will hold three additional forums on Wednesday, Oct. 30: 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. at the Boys & Girls Club of Albany, 1215 Hill St., SE; and at 6 p.m. at Mid-Willamette Family YMCA, 3201 Pacific Blvd. SW, Albany. Register online at bit.ly/GAPSForumRSVP.