Tag Archives: Aaron Miller

Superintendent Explains K-2 Blended Classes to Concerned Parents

Over twenty people attended the August 14, 2014 Vernonia School Board meeting, most of them there to express concerns about the District’s plan to group all kindergarten through second grade students together for instruction this coming school year.

After hearing the concerns of one parent, School Board Chair Bill Langmaid asked Superintendent Aaron Miller to explain the rationale for the decision to place students in five K-2 blended classrooms this school year.

Other parents raised questions and expressed their own personal concerns throughout the rest of the discussion, which lasted for over an hour.  The parents were mostly focused on how individual student’s needs would be addressed in a blended classroom setting.

Miller told the audience that the initial impetus for the move was the breakdown of numbers of registered students in each of the three grade levels.  “As we were looking at those numbers and trying to figure out  how to put them into equitable class sizes between the four teachers, there were no good options,” explained Miller.  Miller said that even by adding a fifth teacher there were still big disparities in class sizes and went on to explain that the solution to blend all three grades came from the teachers themselves along with Miller.  Miller noted that by adding a fifth teacher class sizes have been reduced from thirty-one students to twenty-three students.  “That is a significant difference and played heavily into our decision making,” said Miller.  Read More

Superintendent Explains K-2 Blended Classes to Concerned Parents

Over twenty people attended the August 14, 2014 Vernonia School Board meeting, most of them there to express concerns about the District’s plan to group all kindergarten through second grade students together for instruction this coming school year.

After hearing the concerns of one parent, School Board Chair Bill Langmaid asked Superintendent Aaron Miller to explain the rational for the decision to place students in five K-2 blended classrooms this school year.

Other parents raised questions and expressed their own personal concerns throughout the rest of the discussion, which lasted for over an hour.  The parents were mostly focused on how individual student’s needs would be addressed in a blended classroom setting.

Miller told the audience that the initial impetus for the move was the breakdown of numbers of registered students in each of the three grade levels.  “As we were looking at those numbers and trying to figure out  how to put them into equitable class sizes between the four teachers, there were no good options,” explained Miller.  Miller said that even by adding a fifth teacher there were still big disparities in class sizes and went on to explain that the solution to blend all three grades came from the teachers themselves along with Miller.  Miller noted that by adding a fifth teacher class sizes have been reduced from thirty-one students to twenty-three students.  “That is a significant difference and played heavily into our decision making,” said Miller.  Read More

Schools Update: New Campus Softball Field

The Vernonia School District (VSD) continues to move forward with facilities development on the new schools’ campus and one of the next projects to be undertaken is the development of our sports fields. The Vernonia Education Foundation (VEF) is charged with raising funds to help with the overall debt retirement of our new facilities, but also with generating funds to help complete these facilities.  A  new, on-campus, varsity softball field is the initial focus of the VEF Sports Initiative.

The VEF Sports Initiative Committee has worked diligently to raise funds for our sports facilities and their plan is to begin work this summer on the softball field at the new site. If all goes well the softball field will be completed in time for next year’s season. While the majority of funding is in place for this project, it will take a concerted effort by VSD staff, the VEF and local volunteers to make this lofty goal a reality.  Read More

Vernonia Elementary Progresses Through ‘Focus Schools’ Program

Vernonia Elementary School has made significant progress over the last year in student academics, according to a new assessment program instituted by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE).

Two years ago ODE switched to a new system called ‘Next Generation of Accountability.’  Under this new growth model, Vernonia Elementary School (VES) was identified as a ‘Focus School.”  Being classified as a Focus School put VES on a watch list for ODE, but also brought additional dollars and resources to help the school address identified shortcomings.

FocusSchools-web“This can help us address the areas where we’re not performing that well, and help our staff learn how to address those issues with our students,” explained VES Principal Aaron Miller during a recent interview.

VES has used those resources well and seen improved test scores overall as a school, and by individual students.  Miller says some of that success can be attributed to the hard work and extra dedication shown by the teachers at VES.

“Our teachers are  really looking at individual students and trying to determine how to best meet their needs and then putting  those things in place in the classroom,” says Miller about his staff.  “I know it’s been a lot of work for them and it’s been an extremely difficult and time consuming process.  But they’ve seen the benefits and they’ve done an outstanding job of being dedicated to their students and moving forward.”

Under the new state-wide evaluation, ‘Priority’ and ‘Focus’ schools are schools that receive Title I funding who have been identified by the ODE as needing  additional support.  Priority schools ranked in the bottom 5% of Oregon Title I schools; Focus schools ranked in the bottom 15%.  Model schools are Title I schools which are ranked in the top 5% and are showcased as achieving demonstrated student growth through actions they have taken.

Title I is a federally funded program that provides extra money to schools or districts that have higher poverty levels.  The program specifically provides extra funding for students who are identified as disadvantaged as well as students who are not performing well.

Miller says the old evaluation system did not provide a fair assessment.  The new assessment formula is much more nuanced and is based on a combination of factors including student achievement, growth, and subgroup growth.  It focuses more on individual student growth as well as growth among students in historically underserved subgroups, which includes economically disadvantaged students, students in special education programs, and students who don’t speak English as a first language.   “This helps level the playing field and looks at individual student’s growth, which makes sense,” says Miller.

Under the new assessment process VES students in the subgroups have not shown adequate progress.  “In those subgroups our math and reading scores were lower,” explains Miller.  “So we had to figure out a way to address their needs better, as well as address the overall needs of all our students.”

The Focus School identification for Vernonia lasts for four years. This school year, the second   in the program, Vernonia received $34,000 through the program.  Miller says VES is using the funding for professional and skill development for teachers, and for materials to implement new programs.  VES was also eligible to receive an additional $40,000 this year and next year to implement an expanded reading program.  “This was a mandate in which they actually gave us the funding to put it in place,” said Miller.

VES teachers are using these expanded tools and resources to look at how VES assesses their students, how they analyze data, and then provide instruction so students meet their achievement goals.  According to Miller, teachers have used Focus School specific workshops, as well as early dismissal Fridays to come together and share ideas and strategies, receive additional training and develop tasks to create desired progress.

Specifically VES instructors have developed a standards-based report card for students and  developed a master schedule which provides daily time for reading and math interventions.  Teachers have also worked on how to prepare students specifically to perform well on state assessment tests as well as analyzing data about each specific student, including test scores, and attendance and behavior  records, to identify students in need of additional services.  According to Miller these focused steps have helped create a more consistent and cohesive program.

In addition, VES has developed an extensive Parent Volunteer Program, which puts parents in the classroom or working individually outside the classroom with students in need of extra help.  This program supplements the Title I teacher and assistants who are already working to decrease gaps in learning.  The expanding reading program also offers  “Power Hour,” an after school program with six assistants who work with groups of students.  Miller says over sixty students had already signed up for this program.

“One of the  things we’ve found, as we focus in on specific skills is that we also need to provide time for kids to practice and use those skills, by reading to adults and  not just have direct instruction,” says Miller.  “We need to create a chance to work with an adult to provide those developmental assets that are so important for our kids.”

For VES, the results of this additional funding and work by instructors, teaching assistants, volunteers,  and staff  has been significant.  The ODE uses a somewhat complicated matrix to produce a report card for each school, scoring schools in three categories: Academic Achievement, Academic Growth and Subgroup Growth.  In 2011-12 VES scored 30% on this report card, earning them an overall score of Level 2, (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being lowest and 5 highest).  Along with this Level 2 ranking came the Focus School designation.  In 2012-13, after just one year of additional funding, VES showed improvement in all three areas and had raised their score to 65% and an overall score of Level 3.   A closer look at the report card shows that in Academic Achievement VES raised their score from 60% to 70%, in Academic Growth they raised their score from 20% to 70%, and in Subgroup Growth had raised their score from 20% to 50%.

“It very good data and shows that what we’re doing has worked and we’ve made a difference,” says Miller.  “But it’s only one year.  We have to be able to sustain it and maintain that growth.”

Another telling statistic: when compared to all seventy-five Priority and Focus schools in Oregon, VES ranked 5th highest in scoring.

Miller explained that, under the old evaluation process, VES was classified as a ‘Targeted Assisted Program’ which meant the school assessed every single student and then identified and targeted those students with the greatest needs.  Those targeted students were the only ones who could receive assistance from Title I professionals working in the school.

“We went through a process about four years ago to become a school-wide Title I school which allows us to serve all students.  It was a very elaborate process, but now we are able to utilize our Title I dollars to help every single student.”

Miller says that before Oregon switched to the new, growth model evaluation, Vernonia was judged, just like all other schools who receive Title I funding,  by Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP),  under the ‘No Child Left Behind’ program.  According to Miller, under No Child Left Behind, there were targeted percentages of students who had to meet or exceed state test standards. “Every single year we met or exceeded AYP,” says Miller.  “There was never any indication that we weren’t doing that well.”

According to Miller ODE decided this really was not a fair way to assess students and spent several years to develop the new rating formula.  “When they changed the system to look more at growth of individual students,  that was where they saw deficiencies in our test scores and identified us as a Focus School,” said Miller.   “Until they came out with this new system, every single piece of data showed that we were doing what we were supposed to.”

Although access to extra resources has played a big role in the improvements VES has experienced since becoming a Focus School, Miller also gives a lot of credit to the resolve of his teaching staff and their willingness to go the extra mile.  Miller cited an example:  This upcoming summer from June 23-27 every single VES teacher has volunteered to attend a weeklong teacher’s conference in Portland.  “The conference costs are paid for through our Focus School funding, but they are volunteering a week of their time,” says Miller.

The conference will focus on overall general instruction and helping students grow, as well as a focus on reading instruction and using all the elements of teaching to be more effective.

“I really feel like our teachers have put in an incredible amount of work,” says Miller.  “The buy-in from staff has been a critical piece. They’ve really taken this to heart. ”

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.

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

Jacob Levenseller Memorial Swingset Installed

The Jacob Levenseller Memorial Swingset was installed at Vernonia Elementary School on Saturday, October 12. Casey Hunter from JE Dunn Construction and Susan Ely from the VCPTA headed up the volunteer list, and kids are now swinging again at recess.

Funds were raised to pay for the swings through donations to the Vernonia Education Foundation (VEF) in memory of Jacob Levenseller, Vernonia High School Class of 2012, and through the Vernonia Community Parent/Teacher Association (VCPTA). Jacob was an avid swinger at lunch and recess, and this addition to campus will be a lasting tribute to his memory and enthusiasm. 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: Rural Sustainability Program

Vernonia students work at the wetlands during a rent "Sustainability Day."

Vernonia students work at the wetlands during a rent “Sustainability Day.”

The Vernonia Rural Sustainability Program has been very active this school year, with each and every kindergarten through 12th grade student participating in some way. The program, supported by local timber companies, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), and the Upper Nehalem Watershed Council (UNWC) has completed native landscaping projects, wetland and riparian zone restoration, salmon restoration activities and trail building preparation throughout the 2012-13 school year.

Vernonia School District teachers spent two days prior to the start of the school year planning and developing these projects based on natural resources, sustainability and science curriculum. This work was supported by a grant from the Gray Family Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, and has translated into three separate, district-wide “Sustainability Days” where students are putting their classroom learning into action. Read More