District 47J News

Cox Accepts New Position in Idaho

CoxRetire-webThe Vernonia School District would like to announce that current Superintendent Dr. Ken Cox has accepted a position as Superintendent of the Minidoka County Joint School District #331, located in Rupert, Idaho. The Minidoka district serves 4000 students in four elementary schools, two middle schools, and a high school, as well as alternative middle and high schools.

“I am grateful for the time I have spent in Vernonia and feel that, though we have faced many challenges together, we have accomplished much, particularly in the past six years. Carol and I are proud to be able to say that we were part of Vernonia’s recovery following the flood of 2007,” said Dr. Cox.

Cox and his wife Carol, have three children and seven grandchildren. One advantage of this move is that it will put them much closer to their family.

School Board Report

At the March 13, 2014 Vernonia School Board Meeting:


Miller Named Interim Superintendent-Vernonia Grade School Principal Aaron Miller was named the Interim Half-Time Superintendent, replacing current Superintendent Dr. Ken Cox, whose contract expires June 30. Miller will be given a one year contract.


Snow Days-Superintendent Dr. Ken Cox informed the Board that the District will make up two snow days on April 18 and May 9.


Administrators Contracts Extended-After recessing to Executive Session under ORS 192.660(2)(i) “To review and evaluate the performance of the chief executive officer or any other public officer, employee or staff member…,” the Board returned to open session and voted unanimously to approve Resolution 1314-03, extending the contract of high school principal Nate Underwood and grade school principal Aaron Miller for three more years.


Lower Columbia College Partnership-Dr. Cox informed the Board that the District is close to reaching an agreement with Lower Columbia College (LCC), located in Longview, WA, to provide dual credit and college credit courses for high school students.  Cox reported that several schools  are already using LCC for this purpose; LCC will graduate sixty high school seniors with Associates Degrees this year.  Rainier High School already has a contract with LCC.  The program could offer distance learning and possibly local classes, along with college credit for current students as well as students who have already graduated.  Cox said LCC currently has eighty-seven classes available on-line.  When asked why the District is looking at partnering with LCC and not Portland Community College, Cox responded that LCC is actively working to expand their student base by making these classes available to high schools in Oregon.


Green Globes Certification-Dr. Cox asked the Board to approve an application for the new school building to become Green Globes Certified.  Dr. Cox told the Board it could cost  the District  a total of about $25,000 to submit the paperwork for the needed evaluation and become certified.  Cox told the board that a Green Globes certification would allow the District to approach members of the timber industry and ask for fundraising donations.  When asked, Cox told the Board he believes there is $37,000 in donations currently pending from the timber industry.  After a discussion in which Board member Ernie Smith expressed reservations, the Board voted unanimously to approve spending up to $25,000 for Green Globes certification.


Board Authorizes Project Management Contract-The Board voted to authorize the Superintendent to negotiate a contract for construction project management services, not to exceed $16,000, for the remainder of 2014.  Board member Ernie Smith voted against the motion.


Superintendent Report-Dr. Cox told the Board the Town Hall held on February 25 was a success with over sixty people in attendance.  Topics of discussion included: The CTE Revitalization Grant, plans for the new shop building, progress on new sports fields; establishing a four-day school week.

Cox told the Board the greenhouse is now fully enclosed thanks to the help of Dan Titus, a parent and local contractor.  Titus will also be working on the trenching for new electrical lines to the shop building.  Cox also thanked Earl Davis for helping the District by felling some dangerous trees at the District office.  The Forestry class will do clean up and sell the firewood as a fundraiser.

Dr. Cox told the Board the RFP for completing Spencer Park is available for review.  He told the Board he hopes to have the RFP approved by the City of Vernonia and Columbia County this week.


Principal Reports-In addition to a written report which gave details of Family to School Week and a Focus School update, Elementary School Principal Aaron Miller also provided the Board with an Attendance Report.  Miller noted that of 207 students at VES, 63 had missed 4 days of school and received a call from a teacher; 57 had missed 8 days and received a call from the Councilor and a letter was sent; 15 had missed 12 days and received a call from the principal and a second letter-an initial truancy report had been filed concerning those 15 students  and 2 had a mandatory meeting with the principal and the truancy officer.  At Mist Grade School, Miller reported of 24 students, 9  had missed 8 days.

The Board received a written report from High School Principal Nate Underwood which  explained the Synergy Parent VUE and Blackboard Connect systems which allow parents and students  to access midterm grades from a computer; gave updates on the VHS Red Cross Blood Drive and the VMS plant sale March 7-April 10; and announced All League recognition for winter athletes.  The Report also noted that the next Sustainability Day will be May 13;  that the first round of state testing has been completed; and both VMS and VHS held their mid-year dances.

Underwood also presented the Board with a proposal to reduce the elective graduation requirement by 1.0. Underwood explained that VHS requires 26.5 credits to graduate, with 7.0 credits considered electives.  The state requires 24 credits to graduate.  Because of reduced staff, VHS is unable to offer as many electives as in the past. Reducing the elective requirement would not take away from the required curriculum but would allow more flexibility in scheduling.


SHAW Clinic Report-Sherrie Ford from the Public Health Foundation of Columbia County reported that the Spencer Health and Wellness (SHAW) clinic has been closed due to personnel situations.  Ford informed the Board that a new staff member, Physicians Assistant Sandy Kosik would be starting the next day and that the clinic would be reopened on Fridays from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM to provide primary care services.  Ford said that a second employee, Nurse Practitioner Carol Opheikens, would be starting after Spring Break and the clinic would be open a second day on Wednesdays from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM.  Ford noted that during the closure 24 of the 43 students who had established care at SHAW had been seen at the local community clinic.  She also noted that an additional 72 school aged children had established care at the Vernonia clinic.


Volunteer Coordinator Report-Volunteer Coordinator Amanda Wolf presented a report to the Board and told them the District has 378 approved volunteers with approximately fifty active.  She noted that to date volunteers have logged 1,654 hours of time.  She told the Board that a “Volunteer of the Month” is being recognized in Vernonia’s Voice.  Wolf told the Board that new software used to track volunteer hours has been very helpful.   Wolf listed over sixteen school activities and events  she has supported and participated in as Volunteer Coordinator.   There will be a Volunteer Appreciation Dessert this spring; Wolf invited the Board to attend.


Community Indicator Presentation-Bill Langmaid and Scott Laird made a presentation to the Board on the Vital Vernonia Indicator Project (VVIP).  The VVIP is an effort to explore community vitality in Vernonia by setting forth a series of goals that can be used to monitor community progress.


School Schedule Task Force-Members of the Task Force, which will be investigating the possibility of switching to a four day school week,  were in attendance.  Dr. Cox presented a list of possible outcomes for the Task Force to consider.  Board members Jim Krahn, Carrie Levenseller and Tim Bamburg were assigned to work with the group.  An initial meeting was scheduled for Thursday March 20th at 7:00 PM at the District office.


Budget Committee Vacancies-Dr. Cox informed the Board that there are four empty spots on the Budget Committee.  Anyone interested in serving should contact the District Office.

Vernonia Schools Announce Interim Superintendent

Superintendent-AaronMiller-webThe Vernonia School Board has unanimously approved the appointment of Aaron Miller as the part-time interim superintendent for the Vernonia School District.  Mr. Miller will begin his one year appointment on July 1. The board made the approval during their March 13 meeting to help the schools transition smoothly from the leadership of departing superintendent Dr. Kenneth Cox.

“We’re excited to build upon what Dr. Cox and the community have created. Our school board sought an interim superintendent who could lead our efforts to address the achievement of all students and to analyze our gap issues,” said School Board Chair Bill Langmaid. “Mr. Miller showed professionalism and leadership in various educational experiences that we believe will serve Vernonia very well during the coming year. He impressed us during a conversation on the importance of sound leadership during this interim phase when he said, ‘The students are our most important concern. Every action we take must benefit them.’”

Mr. Miller received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Pacific University in Forest Grove, OR, and earned a master’s degree in teaching, specializing in elementary education, from Oregon State University in Corvallis. His coursework for the initial and continuing Administrator license was performed at Portland State University.

“I have spent the last 24 years dedicated to children in several different communities, and I’m honored to be chosen by the board,” Mr. Miller said. “I feel it is essential for an interim superintendent to engage in a collaborative fashion with the school board, community, administrators and the staff to ensure a productive and successful school year. I am very grateful for the opportunity to extend my role in the leadership team this year.”

Mr. Miller currently serves as the full time principal at Vernonia Elementary School. He began his teaching career at Lebanon Elementary, moving to Scio after two years. There, he taught second and third grades for 13 years. His move to Vernonia came in 2005, when he stepped into the role of principal. His appointment as part-time superintendent will not eliminate his position as building principal, and the district expects to see some shifts in administrative duties to accommodate his new position.

Mr. Miller will replace Dr. Kenneth Cox, who joined the District in 2006. Dr. Cox was tasked with serving as both project manager and superintendent during his tenure, as a major flood in 2007 necessitated relocating the entire campus out of the flood plain. After opening the new school in 2012, Dr. Cox has stayed on for two years to ensure a smooth transition into the new environment. Dr. Cox will be leaving the district at the end of his current contract on June 30.

District Recruits Task Force to Investigate Four-Day School Week

Approximately seventy people were in attendance at the Town Hall Meeting, convened by the Vernonia School District, when Superintendent Dr. Ken Cox introduced the idea of a four-day school week for Vernonia school students.

The Town Hall was held on Tuesday, February 25 at the Vernonia School Commons.  The four-day school week was the final item on the agenda, which included discussions about current District funding and debt, construction of New Spencer Park, how the District will use the $250,000 Career and Technical Education (CTE) Grant they received this year, and the Vernonia Education Foundation’s Sports Initiative.

The audience seemed most interested in discussing the idea of the four-day school week.  Dr. Cox made it very clear, from the moment he introduced the item on the agenda,  that the concept was exploratory.  ”I’m here to listen to anything you have to say,” said Cox.  ”We want to get your input on this, but the purpose of this topic being brought up tonight is so you can put your name on a list of people who are going to study a four-day school week.”

Cox suggested forming the Task Force which would be made up of teachers, parents, students, other school staff, administrators and community members who could investigate the idea and find answers to the numerous logistical questions for the District.  Cox began passing around a sign up list for audience members to be part of the Task Force.

Cox noted that there are 197 school districts in the state of Oregon, with approximately fifty of those currently operating under a four-day school week.

Cox mentioned several initially raised challenges and questions to the idea, including: deciding which day of the week would be dropped, impacts to the the length of the school day and school year, daily scheduling for both teachers and students, scheduling for teachers to ensure they are working a forty-hour work week, activities for students on days when there is no school and potential cost savings.

Cox was vague when addressing specific questions and concerns from the audience, repeating that it would be the job of the Task Force to explore how other school districts in Oregon operate with a four-day week.  ”We are not going to re-invent the wheel,” said Cox, “without going to a district that is already doing this, that has already answered the questions and already has the input and answered the questions from the Oregon Department of Education.”

Cox noted that there is evidence that suggests that districts who use a four-day school week have improved test scores.  He also noted that teacher performance has been shown to improve when they have preparation time, and the four-day week could allow for more teacher prep time.   “It is important that our teachers have the opportunity to improve  their abilities and their skills for teaching our kids,”  said Cox.  He pointed out improvement in the Vernonia School District this year at the Elementary level after implementation of additional teacher prep time.

Cox noted that he does not expect a four-day school week to be implemented next year, although he did say it could be possible if the Task Force began meeting immediately. “Is it possible for next year?  I would say it is,” said Cox. ” Is it probable?  Probably not.”

Cox stressed that the real purpose of exploring the four-day school week  concept is not about cost savings.  ”The purpose of this is not to save money, the purpose of this would be to help students learn better.  If we can’t prove that or if we don’t believe that, then we don’t want to mess with it.”

In addition to the four-day school week discussion, Cox explained how the funding from the CTE Grant would be spent.  He noted that funding would be used to build a new shop building, which he expected to be complete in time for next school year.  He noted that the District is attempting to increase the number of qualified CTE programs the school offers from two to four by adding Engineering and Natural Resources/Forestry.  The District already offers Construction and Digital Arts  programs.   Cox asked for input from the audience as to what new courses they would like to see added that could be housed in the new shop facility.  Ideas included: automotive, small engine repair, welding, metalwork, and robotics/computer programing.

Cox explained that the Vernonia Education Foundation has raised $60,000 in their Sports Initiative campaign and has approved spending $13,000 for surveying work and a design plan for new sports fields at the new school campus.  He also suggested that a softball field could be constructed in the near future.

Cox discussed the construction of replacement fields at New Spencer Park and stated that a Request for Proposals (RFP) is being prepared for this spring so final construction can be completed this summer/fall.  Cox noted that the fields would be usable until next spring.

The audience also heard an update on fundraising from John Donovan of Met Group.

Schools Update: Town Hall Meeting

The Vernonia School District will be holding a Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday February 25th. We will be meeting in the Commons of the new schools at 7:00 PM. The topics for the meeting are the district’s shop program, our future sports fields, Qualities and Qualifications of a new Superintendent and  the benefits of a four day school week.  A general question and answer session for public input will also be included. 

Hopefully you are aware that the district recently received nearly $250,000 in a Career and Technical Education (CTE) Revitalization grant. This grant will enable us to expand our career course options, add a shop building, and complete the greenhouse.

We will  discuss the status of our planning for future sports fields since the Vernonia Sports Initiative, a group working under the Vernonia Education Foundation, has raised a significant amount of money toward this goal.

We will discuss establishing a task force to examine the benefits of a four day school week and the feasibility of implementing it next year. Read More

Vernonia School Board Report

At the February 13, 2014 School Board Meeting:


Superintendent Cox Resigning-Board Chair Bill Langmaid told the Board that Superintendent Ken Cox’s current contract expires on June 30, 2014 and that Cox  has informed him that he is not interested in renewing the contract. The School Board voted to accepted Cox’s resignation.  The School Board approved opening an internal search for a replacement starting February 17th and ending February 24th.   The Board approved a Qualities and Qualifications Draft for the Replacement Superintendent.  As part of the replacement process the School Board is requesting community input on the qualities and qualifications they would like in a Superintendent.  Community members are asked to send their input by February 20th to Barb Carr at the District office at: bcarr@vernonia.k12.or.us.  Input will also be taken at a School Town Hall meeting scheduled for February 25th at 7:00 PM at the School Commons.  School Board Chair Bill Langmaid, on behalf of the Board,  thanked Cox for his service.


Board Discusses Attendance Reporting-A member of the audience asked about a response from the  District concerning the recent article in the Oregonian that was critical of the attendance at the Vernonia School District.  Dr. Ken Cox stated that data that was reported needs to be verified.  It was also noted that the District has changed its policy, which was just instituted this year,  so they now contact parents after a student has missed 4 days, 8 days and 12 days; the original policy called for contact at 5, 10 and 15 days.   Elementary School Principal Aaron Miller reported that the number of students at the Elementary level who have reached the 4-day contact this year is 51; 8-day contacts are 17 and 12-day contacts are 4.   Miller also provided a report he had compiled concerning attendance at the kindergarten and first grade levels.  From September through January  attendance was at 92%; last year at the same time it was at 84%.  Chronic absenteeism (missing 10% or more of school days) has dropped from 49% to 27%.  Miller said he will have  similar reports for grades 2-5 at the next monthly meeting.    “Even though we have made some revisions to our plans for  tracking and logistics of attendance, changes and revisions will be ongoing,” said Miller.  “We are continuing to look at how we are recording and reporting and tracking the data.”  Miller addressed the value of having staff contact parents of students who are absent.  “We do get in touch with parents who say ‘They had a doctors appointment-I have a note.’ And we tell them we understand, but we still take the opportunity to communicate the importance of students being in school and ask if there is a way we can help.”  Read More

Cox Leaving at End of School Year

KenCoxVernonia School District Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Cox has informed the School Board that he will be resigning his position at the end the current school year.

The School Board accepted Cox’s resignation at the regular School Board Meeting on February 13th.  Board Chair Bill Langmaid told the Board that Cox’s current contract expires on June 30, 2014 and that Cox  has informed him that he is not interested in renewing the contract.

Cox retired his full time position last May as a way to cut costs for the District.   He was immediately rehired by the School Board and has been working half time while he searched for a new position.

Cox came to the Vernonia School District as Superintendent in 2006.  He was in charge of the District when all three school building were damaged in 2007 Flood and has been instrumental in the demolition of the old school campus and construction of the new school facility which opened in September of  2012.

The School Board announced they will open an internal search for a replacement starting February 17th and ending February 24th.   As part of the replacement process the School Board is requesting community input on the qualities and qualifications they would like in a Superintendent.   Examples would be: Excellent communicator and listener; High degree of integrity/honesty; Good budgeting skills; Active in community.

Community members are asked to send their input by February 20th to Barb Carr at the District office at: bcarr@vernonia.k12.or.us.  Input will also be taken at a School Town Hall meeting scheduled for February 25th at 7:00 PM at the School Commons.

Schools Update: Snow Days – Bane of a Superintendent’s Many Duties

At a recent superintendents meeting the subject of snow days came up and from the comments and stories, it was obvious that the responsibility to make the decision about whether or not to hold school because of weather is among the least enjoyed duties of a superintendent. Stories were told of driving in the early hours of the morning and of the percentage of the district that is in the hills and mountains. And invariably, no matter what the decision, whether to delay, close, or stay with a regular schedule, someone is going to be unhappy.

I feel very lucky however to be in Vernonia and to have Curl’s School Bus Services taking care of this portion of our business. When there is potential for a closure I get a call from Rob Curl, who personally comes out from Hillsboro about 4 AM to begin driving our worst routes. Shelley Hennessy also is out early in the morning checking other routes so by the time I get a call at 5:30 AM, they have a fairly clear picture of what the roads in our district look like. Rob also uses a network of truck drivers working in the area to gather information where possible as well. There have been times when I have gone out myself to check things out, but I have learned to trust Rob and his crew to have the best information.

I will also check various weather sites to determine how quick it will warm up, or begin to freeze or when the rain will arrive. This provides me with additional information when Rob and I discuss the road conditions when he calls. Based on the information I have at the time and Rob’s recommendations we move forward and I notify the news media and make the call.

NOTE: If you would be interested in getting a text at the same time the news media does you can sign up with the FlashAlert service that the district uses. Information on how to sign up is located on our website. Just click on the ‘Parent Resources’ tab, and then click on ‘Transportation – Weather/Snow Routes’ menu item.

We will be working with Curl’s to determine some alternative Snow Routes. Once they have been determined we will be notifying parents and they will be posted on our website as mentioned above.

Finally, I want to point out that it is always your choice as parents whether you feel it is safe to send your children to school or not. Their safety and that of staff members is our primary concern when making these decisions. They are not made lightly and are never made just to meet some attendance criteria. Our number of student contact days are limited this year and we want to do everything we can to keep them where they are, but that does not enter into my making these decisions.

Finally, just to keep everyone in the loop, I made a recommendation to the School Board at our January 9th meeting about when we will make-up the days that we have missed due to snow.   The School Board approved adding back in February 14 and March 14 as make -up days.  As always – the public is always welcome at School Board meetings.


School District Receives State Grant for Career and Technical Education

The Oregon Department of Education and Bureau of Labor and Industries jointly announced this week that the Vernonia School District has been awarded a $250,000 grant for Career and Technical Education (CTE) Revitalization. Funds from this highly competitive grant will be used to enlarge and finalize the school’s current shop facilities, providing space for construction and metals classes, as well as expand the school’s current CTE course offerings.

“The district is both very pleased and highly honored to have been awarded this grant by the Department of Education,” said district superintendent Dr. Kenneth Cox. “It is our firm belief that our students have to graduate high school prepared for their next step in life, and this expansion of our program will better enable those wishing to embark on a wider array of career options.”

Funds from the Department of Education will also provide planning time for staff to expand existing CTE programs in both Construction and Digital Arts, and enable the district to add new programs in both Engineering and Forestry/Natural Resources. The grant will also enhance the current natural resource curriculum and provide at least six summer internships for Vernonia High School students, both on site and in association with local agency partnerships.  Read More

School Board Report

At the January 9, 2014 School Board Meeting:


Board Approves Calendar Adjustment for Snow Days-The Board voted to designate February 14, March 14, April 18 and May 9 as makeup days to be implemented sequentially to replace days lost during the 2013-14 school year.   The District has already lost two days which will be made up on the first two replacement days.


Cox Presents District Budget Update-Superintendent Ken Cox presented the Board with a budget update.  According to Cox, the District is projecting a $297,900 Ending Fund Balance which includes a loss of $210,000 because enrollment was at 540 students, down from the estimated 560 the District had projected.  Cox reported that the Capital Reserve Fund, used for construction began the year with an audited beginning fund balance of $711,276 and has revenues this year of $95 from WOEC Energy Credits, $99,321 form the Demolition Escrow Account and $496,139 for Spencer Park Construction from the Escrow account.  The District shows current construction Projects from this fund of $627,000 including: $120,000 for the Met Group contract for fundraising, $22,500 for construction of a Historical Marker at Spencer Park, $350,000 for Spencer Park Construction, $30,000 for  Greenhouse and Shop electrical, heating, plumbing and Greenhouse completion, $10,000 for Community Action Team County Oversight, and a $50,000 contingency.   Cox also presented a long term debt summary which includes Construction loans of: QSCB of $3.4 million with annual payments of $211,000 through 2027; ODOE #1 of $1 million with annual payments of $84,325 through 2027; ODOE #2 of 1.237 million with annual payments of $106,200 through 2029; and City SDC payments of $139,159 with annual payments of $36,000 through 2016 for a total of $437,525 in annual payments.  In addition there are two previous loans that are currently budgeted from the General Fund  including a QZAB Loan for $247,577 with annual payments of $25,600 through 2022 and a OSBA Flex Loan for $640,000 with annual payments of $76,000 through 2024 for a total annual payment of $101,600.  The District has total annual payments toward long term debt obligation of $539,125.


Board Receives Audit Report-Dawn Plewes presented the Board with the annual audit and report.  Plewes reported that the audit showed that the finances for the District are all in compliance and that the audit showed no significant deficiencies.    Read More