Tag Archives: Vernonia School District

Open House for Cox

The Vernonia School district will hold a  Farewell Open House for District Superintendent Dr. Ken Cox on Wednesday, June 4th from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.  The public is invited to stop by the District Office at 1201 Texas Avenue during this time to say farewell to Dr. Cox prior to his departure to Idaho. 


Vernonia School Board Report

At the May 8, 2014 School Board Meeting:


Budget Committee Meets- The School District Budget Committee held their first meeting.  Brett Costley was elected Chair and Don Shulte was elected Vice Chair.  The Committee discussed the budget goals and Superintendent Dr. Ken Cox presented the budget message.  The budget includes revenue of $6.22 million and provides for a 2.5% cost of living wage increase for employees.  The General Fund includes a 2% contingency of $126,486; this should be 5%.  According to Cox’s Budget Message, the budget does not address some critical needs.  Class sizes will be large.  The budget does not meet the needs of the students or staff but does fulfill the District’s fiscal responsibility to their patrons.

Read More

School Board Report

At the April 10, 2014 Vernonia School Board Meeting:

Instructional Calendar Approved-The Board approved a 175 day instructional calendar for next year, recommended by the Calendar Committee, with the stipulation that if more funds become available through the budget process, more days will be added.  According to the approved calendar, the first day of school will be September 2, graduation would be May 23, and the last day of school would be June 4.  The calendar includes four Snow Make-Up Days, 6 Teacher Work Days and has one full week off at Thanksgiving, 2 full weeks off for Winter Break and one full week for Spring Break.


Board Approves Superintendent Contract-The Board approved a contract with Aaron Miller to serve as part-time, interim Superintendent.  Details of the contract were not discussed.  Last month the Board also approved the extension of Miller’s contract as VES Principal for three more years.


Board Approves Travel Request-The Board approved a request for Out-of-State travel for Aaron Miller, Barb Carr and Ronda Lennon in August to attend a work conference in Vancouver, WA, as well as a request for Debbie Stalnecker and Gienah Cheney to attend a conference on Language Assessment this school year.


Athletic Program Receives Grant-Athletic Director Gordon Jarman told the Board that he has applied for and been awarded a $10,000 grant for field improvements at the new school campus.  The grant is a Participation Grant through the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA).  Jarman’s application, called “Fields of Dreams” would put top soil and goal posts on the proposed football field at the new school, improving the practice area and allowing 8th grade football games to be played there.  The grant calls for $8,200 in matching funds, which Jarman says still need to be raised. Read More

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.

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.

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

An Opinion: Oregonian Article Not Fair to Vernonia Schools

A recent five-part series of articles in The Oregonian, written by Betsy Hammond, featured the Vernonia School District in Part 3.  That particular article  has caused quite a stir around our town.  Hammond’s series, titled “Empty Desks”  looked at attendance issues through out the state of Oregon and was especially critical of the Vernonia School District  administration, staff and parents.

Although the article was somewhat of a black eye for the community, it was also somewhat inaccurate in its portrayal of the Vernonia School District (VSD) and their concern about the issue.  The article ignored key factors that have led to poor attendance and brushed aside current efforts being made by the VSD to address the issue.

The article featuring Vernonia was a main topic of discussion at the February 13 Vernonia School Board meeting, as audience member Amy Ceiloha, who, she says was unfairly quoted in the article, asked if the School District would have a response to the article.  Superintendent Ken Cox said there would not be any official response, but was happy to discuss the issue, as was Elementary School Principal Aaron Miller, School Board Chair Bill Langmaid and other School Board members, most notably, Ernie Smith.  High School Principal Nate Underwood was not in attendance.

It is obvious that the VSD is aware they have an attendance problem, even though early in the Oregonian article it was inferred that the District was oblivious to the issue.  Superintendent Cox did refer to a previous Oregonian article from two years ago which identified the VSD as the second worst district in the state, behind Banks, for absenteeism.

In response to an observed problem, the VSD has instituted a new attendance policy this year which requires staff to contact parents when students  have missed 4 days, 8 days and 12 days.  Students are considered chronically absent when they miss more than 10% of school days, and the new “call policy” seems to be having a significant impact.  Elementary Principal Miller reported that attendance in kindergarten and first grade has increased from 84% last year to 92% in the first half of this year.  Chronic absenteeism has dropped from 49% to 27%.

School Board member Smith pointed out that analyzing statistics is a tricky business and that you can manipulate them in numerous ways to reach almost any conclusion you wish. Cox noted that the exact figures the Oregonian referenced were actually not available to the School District from the state, but were  in fact numbers the Oregonian created themselves based on data they collected and collated.  As Smith and Miller pointed out, with such a small base of students, (approximately 540) one student who is not attending but on the attendance roll,  can skew the data; several can skew it significantly.

The fact that two years ago The Oregonian  pointed out Vernonia’s poor absenteeism record does make a reader wonder why the Administration and School Board didn’t do something then about the issue.  But, as the Oregonian article  fails to acknowledge,  two years ago  the Vernonia School District was deep in the process of finishing construction of the new schools campus and preparing to move from their old campus to the new one.  And they were also dealing with some big fundraising, as well as yearly operation budget  shortfalls.  In other words, they had some fairly big issues already on their agenda.

One could also easily believe that, as the Oregonian article does acknowledge, attending classes in modular classrooms did have an impact on absenteeism rates.  The flip side is that school administrators probably believed that opening a brand new campus would automatically help increase attendance.

The VSD has tried to address the needs of students and boost engagement through creative programing.  The new Sustainability curriculum is innovative and progressive and the Forestry program offers training in a regionally significant employment field.  A recent grant the District received for $250,000 will help address the lack of a shop facility and expand technical training.  These are all factors that help keep students interested in attending class.

A lifestyle factor the Oregonian article mentioned as impacting attendance, hunting, should be taken with a grain of salt.  Oregon is an extremely rural state and hunting is part of the culture everywhere except Portland.  Kids take time off from school to hunt with their families all over this state.  This should  not be used as a reason that Vernonia is behind other school districts.

In reading the comments concerning the Oregonian article at their website, I was impressed with the thoughtful commentary that readers brought forward.  One concern was bullying; kids won’t go to school if they don’t feel comfortable and safe.  This is also an issue the VSD has attempted to address in a serious manner.  Students at Vernonia Schools have received numerous professional trainings and awareness programs over the last several years, thanks in part to the great work of, and funding from, the Vernonia Prevention Coalition.  Certainly we can’t say that bullying has been eliminated from our schools, but the issue is definitely on the radar and being addressed.

Another point raised in the comments is the role of parental responsibility. In the opinion of some readers, our society has embraced the passing off of raising our children, and some parents no longer take responsibility for student achievement.

This may be the biggest factor in school attendance.  As was noted at the recent Vernonia School Board meeting, school staff can only work with and teach students if they show up.  Parents need to see the value in, and encourage their children to be in class everyday, and make sure they arrive at school ready to learn.  It needs to be a priority for both the parents and the students.  How the School District can impact a parent’s values is somewhat limited.

Following the flood in 2007 and then the economic downturn, Vernonia saw a large increase in students who were, in fact, “homeless,” with parents who had moved away to find work.  Numerous students lived with friends and “couch surfed” without a strong parental influence in their life.  This factor also had an influence on attendance figures.

The Oregonian  gives the impression throughout most of the article that the VSD is unaware  they have a problem and concludes that they aren’t really all that interested in addressing it. They only briefly touch on the progress and improvements that has been made this year, and  ignore several important factors unique to Vernonia.

While the Vernonia School District needs to continue to improve their efforts in confronting absenteeism, they were attempting to address the issue, even before The Oregonian so harshly, and somewhat unfairly,  pointed it out.  Let’s hope it remains a priority and we continue to see additional improvements.

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