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Listen: One Superintendent’s Fight to Get Kids Back in the Classroom 🎧

Stefanie Garber is the superintendent of Culver School District: Twice she's asked the state for an exception to its restrictions on in-person classes, citing high poverty rates in her district


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For this week’s "Bend Don’t Break" podcast we talk with Stefanie Garber, the superintendent and elementary school principal for the Culver School District. Garber recently wrote a letter to Gov. Kate Brown arguing that local communities and school boards should decide when to open schools in their own districts. She asked that the state eliminate the “one size fits all” mandates for schools.

  • Stefanie Garber
Just last week, Garber appealed to the state again, this time asking for the restrictions on in-person learning to be calculated based on ZIP Code instead of county. Because of a number of coronavirus outbreaks on the tribal lands of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, overall numbers in Jefferson County have remained high throughout the last five months. While Garber’s request was denied by the state, because Culver is a smaller district, students who choose will be allowed on campus for two hours a day in groups of 10.

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This isn’t the first time Garber’s actions made the news: Five years ago, she established a partnership with Oregon State University- Cascades to move her district towards becoming a K-12 STEM district - Science Technology Engineering and Math. In 2016, she presented the program at TEDxBend and described how it introduced students to real-world learning opportunities and how educators (and society as a whole) need to save our kids from the century-old ways of “doing school.”

Garber has also been a mentor for a number of her students who don’t have stable families. She’s provided access to housing, medical care, food, and clean clothes, and even became a parent for one who is now a permanent part of her family.

During this conversation, we talked about the socio-economic makeup of families in Culver and why Garber believes many of these kids need in-person school resources to meet their basic needs and get an education in the process.

“We have about 650-700 students and about 65 of them are high poverty and then about 17% are English as a second language and 8% are homeless,” Garber said.

Garber went into more detail about her fight to try to get her students into in-person classes this year. She started by surveying the parents in her district and 89.7% wanted their kids on campus.

“I have never one day been in fear and so your comfort level regarding the virus or your susceptibility then guides your views of things. So, to me it is not a massive risk to bring kids back on campus,” Garber said. “My sister is a teacher over in the [Willamette] Valley and she has shared the views of a lot of her colleagues and they are scared they don’t want to be in the classroom. That’s why I feel so blessed to be in Culver. We’re pretty gritty and tough and we love the kids and everyone wants to be here.

“There are a couple that need accommodation so we’re willing to accommodate all the comfort levels and some folks might be teaching from home,” Garber said. “But I haven’t heard anyone that says ‘Ya, we just all need to stay home’ or anything like that.”

Bend Don't Break” is hosted by the Source Weekly’s publisher Aaron Switzer. Every week, Switzer invites on a someone from the community with a new perspective on living through the COVID-19 pandemic including mental health professionals, economists, educators, artists, business people, local leaders and historians. Subscribe on iTunes, Soundcloud or wherever you get your podcasts.

WATCH: Full interview with Stefanie Garber, superintendent of Culver School District.

About The Author

Laurel Brauns

Laurel has toured the national coffeehouse circuit as a singer-songwriter and spent years buried in psychology books to earn her (in-progress) PhD. She was rescued from both artistic and academic obscurity by The Source Weekly where she loves telling stories about the people who make this community a better place...


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