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Philomath School Board artwork

The Philomath School Board's directive to its district superintendent in December to investigate student performance involving gaps in high school curriculum shifted into a more defined direction Thursday evening during a meeting that lasted less than an hour.

In a nutshell, the changes revolved around timing and scope.

Superintendent of Schools Melissa Goff said she met with a small group at the high school that has been organized to weigh in on the issue at hand. Out of those discussions, Goff made a recommendation to re-position the focus away from a scheduling discussion and more toward a study of the quality and quantity of data that can be used to identify barriers.

"I think we first need to look at our data and see where we are having a difficult time for our kids and based on that data, decide what steps we need to take to address those issues," Goff told the board.

Goff said the conversation with the small high school committee "was very positive" with a "general agreement" on how to proceed. She added that the smaller group brought the issue back to the larger high school staff, which was supportive of the approach.

Goff said what she thinks "the nut of the issue is and has been, is that we haven't had an identified cycle of improvement" that the high school staff can measure on a regular basis.

"I think it makes more sense because I personally don't think that we can just say that a change in schedule or whatever it is, or not having a gap in core classes, would fix the problem," board member Shelley Niemann said. "I mean, this is a better way of looking at it, in my opinion ...."

As far as the timing piece, Goff asked the board to extend the timeline on a final recommendation to April.

The conversation steered for a time into the topic of graduation rates. The most recent data released by the Oregon Department of Education showed Philomath with a graduation rate of just under 87 percent for 2016-17. That percentage is slightly above the county average and well above state average.

"As I've said since I was hired, we have the best problem in Philomath, it's a great problem. We have a super high graduation rate, and so our problem really is out of a hundred kids, 10 to 12 students who we are not succeeding with yet in getting them over the graduation finish line," Goff said. "That's a solvable problem and that's what they're looking at is with those kids, what do we need to do differently to serve those students?"

PHS Principal Mike Bussard echoed those statements.

"It's that growth mindset. Even with the high graduation rate, the first thing we talk to our staff about is, 'OK, we can do better,' and we can," Bussard said. "And if you're only talking about three or four students, well then let's get those three or four students."

The board passed a resolution on a 5-0 vote with a generalized request for Goff to come back in April "with a set of recommendations for increasing student achievement at the high school."

Goff said she's taking the task that the school board has given to her "very seriously."

"My intent is to have representatives from the committee be able to speak to the board regarding what their recommendations are," Goff said. "My recommendations may be slightly different than the committee's depending on different interpretations of the data or if there are opportunities that I may see that we may want to do differently.

"I would expect that my recommendations will align greatly with what the committee recommends," she added. "And I expect you as a board will be well informed enough to make whatever decisions that you think are appropriate to make based on that."

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