Right now, the search is underway for the next superintendent for Bend-La Pine Schools. With roughly 18,700 students in three towns in a region that continues to see astronomical population growth, there's no doubt that the next head of our local public schools system should be a dynamic leader, ready to tackle growth, building schools, campus safety, bullying, rigorous instruction and so much more.
- Darris Hurst
With the recent release of graduation rates, which showed that BLPS had its second-highest on-time graduation rate ever, it's clear the district is on the right track in many respects. The BLPS class of 2019 had an on-time graduation rate of 80.6% (down slightly more than 1% from the previous graduating class). At Bend High, the graduation rate was its highest in history, at 91.1%—with a 5% increase in on-time rates "among students of underserved races and ethnicities," according to a Jan. 23 release from BLPS.
These are positive signs. But as many already know, graduation rates are just part of the picture. As the Source Weekly reported last month in "Historically Underfunded," a report on the Student Success Act, the results of the district's recent Excellence & Equity Review revealed that some Spanish-speaking families felt unwelcome at local schools. Some families were also concerned about the administration's alleged unwillingness to address racism and bullying. In recent years, when pressed on issues of racism and bullying, district officials have leaned on privacy laws, saying they're unable to comment on specific incidents for the protection of students. That might seem reasonable—but looking at the recent response to a racial incident in San Rafael, California demonstrates that there's a better pro-active approach.
When a racially charged sign, reading "Got English?" appeared at an East San Rafael elementary school in December, the superintendent there didn't sweep the issue under the rug. Instead, he publicly spoke out about the incident and advocated for inclusion and diversity in the district's newsletter, and ended the message with the words, "Habla Español?" Going further, the superintendent outlined some of the work the district is doing around the equity, inclusion and desegregation of district's schools, and even planned an open house for community members to attend, reported the Marin Independent Journal.
This is the kind of leadership we hope to see in a future superintendent of Bend-La Pine Schools. As our district continues to grow and further diversify, we need a strong communicator who will speak out in defense of students who may feel marginalized. Graduation rates are just one marker of a successful school district. Fostering a culture of inclusion starts from the top—and it requires ample communication. We know BLPS is making efforts to foster a culture of inclusion and understanding, but that message needs to get out more frequently. Many will never bear witness to the day-to-day workings of a school district and how its administrators and staff work every day to ensure students feel included—so sharing that message publicly and often is important. Our new superintendent should take that to heart.
BLPS officials expect to hold a series of forums with the finalists for the superintendent position in late March, and people have through Jan. 31 to take a survey on what they're looking for in a new superintendent.
The survey is available at: bend.k12.or.us/district/organization/superintendent-search