Education leaders in Cowlitz County agree with each other that the state of education here is good in many ways, but they all have ideas for making it better.
Toward that end, Lower Columbia College and the Longview and Kelso school districts are working together to find out why some students aren't succeeding, and then finding a solution to the problem.
Kelso Superintendent Rob MacGregor. Longview Superintendent Suzanne Cusick, Lower Columbia College President Chris Bailey and state teachers union president Mary Linquist addressed about 40 people about the state of education in today's economy at Thursday's Kelso-Longview Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
MacGregor is following the progress of a state pilot project for teacher/principal evaluations, though no local schools are involved now. If done right, these evaluations could help all students succeed in school, he said. A good evaluation system should ensure that teachers are giving quality instruction while offering them opportunities to grow in their craft, he said.
"Teachers need time to grapple together, to work with principals and other teacher leaders, on their craft and get better," he said.
Cusick wants to "turn the tide on generational poverty" and help children from low-income families rise above their background. Despite a 57 percent poverty rate in Longview schools, students are scoring high in academic and arts competitions such as Knowledge Bowl, art, drama, music, science and engineering, she said.
"It's pretty incredible what our kids can do," she said.
Building strong schools is essential to enhancing "quality of place," or the way outsiders view the community, she said. "This will entice new businesses to come. Economic vitality and strong schools go hand in hand."
Although both Longview and Kelso districts show declining enrollment, Lower Columbia College's enrollment figures are 24 percent over state targets, even though its down slightly from two years ago, said Bailey, the college president.
His goals for the college include creating "a new master plan for LCC" that measures success not by enrollment figures, but by the number of students who successfully complete their degree programs, either at LCC or beyond. Toward that end, the college is working with the local high schools to make sure graduates are ready for college.
Other goals: adding an international student program and bringing a four-year regional university to the LCC campus. Now, the LCC only offers a guaranteed transfer admission to Washington State University Vancouver for students who complete their LCC program.
Bailey and the other education leaders are monitoring the current session in the Legislature, hoping that the final budget won't cut deeply into funding for K-12 and higher education. For Bailey, the budget will directly affect construction of the college's state-of-the-art health and science building.
Last week he got a shock when language in the proposed Senate version of budget bill omitted funding for the building, he said. The wording is back in the budget now, he said, but the budget still is under debate. The 6,900-square-foot building is slated to replace the 1960s-era building the department uses now.
The final speaker, Linquist, noted that the budget must include funding for basic education, as mandated by the state constitution. In January the state Supreme Court upheld McCleary vs. State, which said the state had not met its duty to fund education.
"For the last three years we have seen $2.6 billion cut from public schools," said Lindquist, who is president of the Washington Education Association.
"Money isn't everything," she added, "but reforms aren't going to work if we don't have funding."