Tag Archives: Aaron Miller

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

VSD to Explore Charter School Application

Vernonia School District Superintendent Aaron Miller has announced the District will explore a proposal to consider making an application to become a charter school.

“We are considering moving forward with applying for charter school status for a significant portion of the students in our district,” said Miller.

Miller and the School Board discussed the opportunity at a board workshop on January 29, 2015.  The Board unanimously gave Miller the green light to move forward and begin studying the possibility of having a portion of the school district create a charter proposal.

“There are a lot of things to consider through the application process and what it means as far as the programs and curriculum we provide for our students,”  said Miller, “but there some very real resource opportunities and benefits  to us becoming a charter school.”

Miller says a steering committee made up of teachers, classified staff, district administration, parents and other community members will be formed immediately to begin considering a charter school option.

“If we do choose this option we want to make sure we have a product that is going to work for everybody—students first, but the teachers, parents and community as well,” says Miller.

According to the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) a charter school in Oregon is a public school operated by a group of parents, teachers and/or community members as a semi-autonomous school of choice within a school district. It is given the authority to operate under a contract or “charter” between the members of the charter school community and the local board of education (sponsor). Under Oregon law, a charter school is a separate legal entity operating under a binding agreement with a sponsor.  A public charter school is subject to certain laws pertaining to school district public schools, is released from others, and must operate consistent with the charter agreement. 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

School Enrollment and Funding

Deconstructing the myths and understanding 

the realities of state funding for Vernonia Schools

When Vernonia School Superintendent Aaron Miller recently announced that enrollment at District 47J was up at the start of the 2014-15 school year, it sounded like good news.  And, for the most part, it is. 

“This is very good news,” stated Vernonia School District Superintendent Aaron Miller, when asked about the recent, and apparently unexpected surge, in registered students in Kindergarten through grade 12 at the new Vernonia Schools. “This is a huge step in the right direction.  It’s very exciting for our district to see new students come through the front door.”

The reason this is such good news is because School Districts in Oregon receive funding from the state, through the State School Fund (SSF) grant program, based on enrollment.

Enrollment in Vernonia at the start of this school year was counted at 560 students, up from 532 at the end of the 2013-14 school year.  The actual number is 589, but kindergarten students only count as a half student each, as far as the state is concerned.  So, for funding purposes, that’s an increase of twenty-eight students, which equates to a more than 5% increase.

That may not sound like much.  But in a school district which has experienced declining enrollment since the flood of 2007, including the last two years following the opening of the newly constructed schools campus, this is extremely encouraging.

“This is the first time we’ve moved forward since the flood,” says Miller, who took over as Superintendent this summer.  “In my mind that’s a very positive thing for the district and it’s a very positive thing for the community.”   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: Partnerships

Partnerships are incredibly important in any business, but they are essential in the business of education. The Vernonia School District has a variety of partners who have helped with building and funding our new campus, developing curriculum, providing our students with work experience opportunities, and many other valuable tasks. Even with all this support, the most important partnerships we have are with our parents and community.

Our parents in the Vernonia Community Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and the NW Bicycle Safety Council (NWBSC) will be helping kids by putting on a Bike-a-thon and Free Bike Helmet fitting on Saturday, September 20 at Vernonia Lake from 10:00 AM-1:00 PM. Children can get a fitted helmet free from the NWBSC and then participate in a fundraising bike-a-thon, sponsored by the PTA. We hope you can join us!

Parents are pivotal in developing a student’s readiness to attend school, and once students walk through those doors in Kindergarten parents are still an integral part of their child’s academic development. Besides volunteering at school there are many opportunities for parents to be a part of their child’s school experience. Just as with their students, the more involved parents are at school, the more they will get out of the experience, and in turn the more their children will gain from their schooling. Read More

Schools Update: Volunteers

The beginning of the school year has arrived, and the results of the preparations made by several groups of people in our community are being seen. Teachers have collaborated and planned lessons for their students. Students have put together their school supplies and now know who will be their teacher. Parents have put the finishing touches on summer, and are preparing for a quieter household during the day. We are all ready for the start of school.

Another group of people anticipating the start of the school year are Volunteers. Here in Vernonia we are blessed with a strong group of volunteers who are always looking for ways they can help students and teachers to be more successful. Volunteers in Vernonia Schools dedicate hundreds of hours each year, working and reading with students in the classroom, helping teachers prepare for lessons, helping with facility maintenance, or coaching any number of our sports programs. Their time is greatly appreciated, and an invaluable resource for our staff, students and schools.

If you are interested in being a volunteer, we would love to have you join our team! Amanda Wolf will once again be our District’s Volunteer Coordinator. She will be working with staff to determine their needs for help, and then coordinating those needs with the skills and preferred task requests from those people generously donating their time to our students.

Some of those volunteer opportunities include helping students in the classroom, preparing materials for teachers, weeding and mowing on campus and at the wetlands, helping with picture day and other school events, or chaperoning a field trip or school activity. The possibilities are endless, and if you have ideas of your own how you can help, please let us know. A quick application and clear background check are all that is needed to start helping soon.

The time spent working with and for children can be very rewarding, for both volunteers and students. If you are interested, please contact Amanda Wolf at the Vernonia Schools building at 503-429-1333. Together we can truly make a difference.


Schools Update: Blended Classes

Vernonia School District students will see some new and returning faces in the classroom this fall, as summer hiring welcomes three teachers into the district. Laura Blacker, a recent school volunteer and student teacher, will teach fourth grade, filling in for Robyn Richmond who is taking a year’s leave of absence. Margie Fry, a fifth year teacher returning to Oregon from North Dakota, will be joining the kindergarten through second grade teaching team and Steve Whiteman will rejoin the high school staff teaching physics and an upper level math course.

The addition of Mr. Whiteman will add a much needed section of math for high school students, while the hiring of Ms. Fry will enable our primary students in grades K-2 to have much smaller class sizes with five teachers rather than four. Class sizes in K-2 classrooms are presently projected at 23 or 24 students, whereas they would have been 29-30 without this new position.

The decision to move to a K-2 blended model was made after much deliberation by the entire teaching team, who has already spent several days of their summer developing plans to address the unique needs of this blend.

While smaller class sizes for these critical primary years were a very strong consideration, they were by no means the sole reason for this decision. Please find bulleted below several other reasons and considerations that went into this choice.

• Other grade configurations (with either 4 or 5 teachers) left large disparities in class sizes, and/or had unacceptable class sizes.

• These blends allow for more effective differentiation of instruction to meet individual student learning needs. Read More