Vernonia Schools Update from Dr. Ken Cox

Schools Update: Sustainable Building Design

The Vernonia Schools building has earned national recognition for its sustainable, green-building design and technology. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program rated the building LEED Platinum, their highest rating, and the first in the nation awarded to an integrated K-12 school building.

The Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes Certification also awarded the new building high marks, rating it 3 Green Globes, their second highest rating. Green Globes Certification is an emerging alternative to LEED that is favored by many of our timber and forestry partners, and has recently been approved by the U.S. General Services Administration for federal ratings. Our school is one of the few projects to attain dual certification.

Designing the new building to be energy efficient and environmentally friendly was a major goal of the district, and these certification levels are a reward for those design efforts.

Points were earned through these rating systems for utilizing renewable energy resources, re-using and recycling of building materials, improving the efficiency and performance of the building to reduce environmental impact, improving sustainable practices within the building after construction is complete and many other efforts. Read More

Schools Update: State Standards

Each year school districts are required to report to their communities on whether or not their academic programs are meeting state law. Division 22 standards are a part of Oregon Administrative Rules (Chapter 581, Division 22) that dictate areas of compliance with a wide variety of these state standards. A report on the Vernonia School District’s compliance with these standards was shared at its last Board Meeting on Thursday, January 8.

These standards include such areas as providing Career Education, assuring that all coaches have concussion training, having district curriculum that is aligned with Common Core State Standards, reporting on the size of our physical education facilities, and assuring that Equal Educational Opportunities are available for all students.

The Vernonia School District is currently meeting 54 of the 55 required Division 22 Standards. The one standard not being met is the requirement for providing 990 hours of Instructional Time for students in grades 9-12. Vernonia High School students are just shy of that amount at 976 hours of instruction. This deficiency will be reported to the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) in February, along with a plan to eliminate this deficiency. Three extra days of school were added to this year’s instructional calendar to increase instructional time at all schools, and 2-3 more instructional days will be added to next year’s calendar to ensure the district meets this standard. Read More

Schools Update: Happy Holidays!

Winter vacation is a time for students to be with family, take a break from school and just be kids. While it is a time to rejuvenate, parents can continue to keep their students thinking. Everyday life, and holiday travels, are full of opportunities for students of all ages to use and maintain their essential academic skills. Here are a few ideas to try with your kids.

Cook a meal together. Cooking involves technical reading skills, organization and the use of measurement and fractions.  It is also a great time for children to learn responsibility while spending quality time with their family. Real world activities such as these help tie together academic learning with practical use.

Take a trip. While driving to grandma’s house, or anywhere else, play a game that uses the words and numbers on cars and signs. Use mileage signs to work on math skills. How far have you traveled? What is the distance between towns? How long will it take to get there at your current rate of speed? Which direction are you headed? Go old school and use a map. Get there and have fun doing it.

Watch the weather. Will it snow? Will it affect our travel? What kind of clothes should we take based on the weather? What will be the best weather days for our vacation plans?

Read. Curl up with a good book. Read a favorite magazine. Go to the library. Read and write letters and thank you letters. Help your child develop an interest they want to learn about and find reading materials to support their curiosity. Read, read, read! Read More

Schools Update: Making Adjustments for Overcrowded Classrooms

Increased enrollment is a great thing for the vitality and diversity of our schools, as well as for the long-term, financial health of our community and school district. Enrollment is up this year, and we expect that trend to continue.

While this is very positive for our schools and community, it does come with some complications in terms of effectively meeting the needs of those extra students while still being funded based on lower enrollment numbers from the past. Fortunately, we have been able to work through these “growing pains” with some additional hiring since the beginning of this school year.

In addition to an increase in our primary grade enrollment, we have also seen larger class sizes in third, fourth and sixth grades. The following staffing increases have already been added to help alleviate larger class sizes:

•   One full-time Kindergarten-2nd Grade


•   One full-time K-12 Behavior Specialist

•  One extra period of math instruction

at the Middle School

•  Three middle school/high school

teachers increased their schedule by

one period per day, increasing their hours to full-time Read More

Schools Update: Making Progress


Classrooms and hallways are once again filled with the sweet sounds of working and learning. Preparations will soon be made for Homecoming Week (October 13-17). Preliminary enrollment numbers show an 8.9% increase in enrollment with 48 more students attending Vernonia Schools compared to June of last year. Overall it has been a great start for our new school year.

While students are busy making academic progress, the Vernonia School District and its partners are making progress toward long-term financial and facilities’ goals.

• The Vernonia City Council recently approved the waiver of all remaining System Development Charges for the school district. This generous decision will provide the schools with over $111,000 worth of debt relief over the next three years. Thank you very much to our partners at the City!

• Vernonia Champions,  State Representative Brad Witt and State Senator Betsy Johnson combined their legislative efforts to provide another $212,500 for the District to support our continuing fundraising efforts. A unanimous vote by the Legislative Emergency Board freed up this funding from the Oregon Office of Emergency Management’s Local Disaster Assistance Loan and Grant Program. Thank you Representative Witt and Senator Johnson for your continuing efforts on behalf of our schools and our entire community! Read More

Schools Update: Attendance

The topic of attendance in our schools has come up quite a bit recently. We are addressing the issue, and we’re beginning to see changes for the better.

Mr. Miller presented data at the board meeting last month that shows significant improvement in our Kindergarten attendance. We are continuing our research into our middle and high school attendance data, which we will be reporting on at our next board meeting on March 13.

Parents were notified earlier this year of our new attendance policy. We have made it a practice to have teachers, counselors, and, if necessary, the principal contact parents about their student’s attendance. We have made adjustments to that policy and will be placing it on the Attendance page on our district website.

In other news, we had a successful town hall meeting last Tuesday, February 25th. With over 60 in attendance a number of different topics were covered. The two main items of discussion were future opportunities for our career and technical education programs and the establishment of a task force to research the feasibility, advantages, and disadvantages of a four day school week. If you are interested in participating or have ideas about either of these topics, please contact the district office.

Schools Update ~ VES is a Focus School – But What Does That Mean?

As you may be aware, Oregon has been granted flexibility from the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) regarding several aspects of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB)through a flexibility waiver. The waiver changes Oregon’s response to certain ESEA requirements so that educators can put into practice bold education reforms for students that include:

Designing locally-tailored solutions to help students achieve to their potential in place of uniformly prescribed interventions for all schools, and

Emphasizing student growth and progress rather than measuring students against a fixed, inflexible standard.

Under the old system of assessing school effectiveness, Washington Grade School (WGS, now Vernonia Elementary School, VES) met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) every year. Meeting AYP was based solely on Student Achievement. Student Achievement is measured by the percentage of students meeting or exceeding benchmark scores on state tests. WGS state test scores were at, and VES’s continue to be, above the minimum levels set by the federal government for Student Achievement. Read More

Schools Update: Volunteer Needs

While our new school building is gorgeous and incredible, there were a number of projects that weren’t included in the original construction budget. We are looking for volunteer help in order to complete these projects.

The Vernonia School District is looking for volunteers to help with several projects this summer, including constructing a greenhouse, installing a set of playground swings, landscape maintenance and work at “The Old Mill Marsh” wetlands area. Those people interested in helping should leave a message for Aaron Miller at the school district, 503-429-1345 or 503-429-5891. Once a list of volunteers is developed, work parties will be planned to try and best fit into volunteers’ schedules.

A brief description of each volunteer project follows.

Funds from the Bureau of Land Management have provided the district with a 1400 square foot greenhouse that will be used to propagate native plant material for use by the District, the Upper Nehalem Watershed Council and other agencies that perform native plant restoration projects. The main support poles and trusses are in place, but continued work to piece together the metal frame, and install the double wall plastic siding still needs to be completed. Any willing volunteers with construction experience would be greatly appreciated. Read More

Schools Update: Making It Better, Together

I don’t do Facebook much, but once in a while I check out what is being said on the Vernonia Community Page and to see what others are saying in ‘cyberspace.’ On occasion I see a posting expressing concern over our lack of playground equipment, the condition of the fields, or similar issues. I was encouraged during the last week of school when I visited a meeting where a community member  took action about their concern about playground equipment. She actually came in and met with an administrator and a board member to discuss what could be done. It is refreshing to know that there are so many community members who are committed to finding ways to improve our new schools. Read More

Schools Update: More About Superintendent Retirement

I recently noticed on Facebook that my retirement has raised some questions in the community so I thought I would clarify what’s happening and some background.

In the last couple of years, as we neared the completion of the school, I have chosen to be optimistic about the new school and the number of students that would come to Vernonia as a result. Unfortunately, the numbers haven’t materialized yet and as our enrollment numbers have dropped so has our operating funding from the state, resulting in the need to make some rather drastic changes.

Our district, with only about 550 students enrolled, can no longer support a full-time superintendent. Because of this, and in order to help balance the budget, I have chosen to retire and only work half time. This will not only save the district half of my salary but the district will not have to pay anything to PERS on my salary as well.  Read More