SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / February 2009 / Oregon Needs Education Service Districts
Oregon Needs Education Service Districts
Steve Boyarsky, Superintendent
The 2009-11 legislative session has begun. In the past, legislators have questioned Education Service Districts' collective and individual worth. In reviewing our role, I have stepped back to think deeply about what "value added" an ESD provides students and schools. I have identified six primary areas that I would like to expand upon:
• Regional Perspective
• Cost Efficiencies
• Customized Capacity for Schools
• Specialized Staffing
• Communication and Coordination
• Development and Implementation
Education Service Districts have regional responsibilities as part of the “job description.” School districts, by design, are focused on serving their own schools. Although districts cooperate with one another, their primary responsibility is to their own schools and students. ESDs are required to consider the concerns of all districts in their region irrespective of size or proximity.
ESDs are ideally situated to be instrumental in regional partnerships. SOESD has partnered with dozens of organizations, such as Southern Oregon University, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon Institute of Technology, local television stations, Siskiyou Field Institute, Hunter Communications, private foundations and ScienceWorks. These partnerships secure grants, develop dual credit classes, sponsor academic competitions, enhance communications systems, provide professional development, develop community resources for students and families and expose students to nature's wonders.
One of the goals of ESDs is to add to regional efficiencies. By regionalizing special education staff, professional development, media library service, and technology infrastructure, ESDs can provide these services to districts at much less expense than if each district had to pay for these services individually. The SOESD educational media library is but one example: SOESD can provide more variety in videos than an individual district could furnish its teachers. Our electronic repair department employs technicians who repair computers, design electrical systems, and install surveillance systems much less expensively than each district purchasing the work commercially.
It is important to remember that for every dollar of state and local resources received by SOESD, it generates a dollar from other sources, mainly grants and contracts. Fifty percent of SOESD’s service dollars are generated from services, federal grants and state contracts.
Customized Capacity for Schools
SOESD can assist districts with specialized services. It would be difficult for each district in our region to provide expertise on computer security, but a regional expert can train district staff to keep computer systems free of viruses and hackers. Educators trained to work with deaf and hard of hearing students can assist teachers and students in mainstreamed classes. ESDs can utilize experts from one district to provide training for integrating technology, writing or math problem solving to increase expertise in every district. SOESD can serve to provide regional expertise on issues that individual districts may not be able to provide.
The hiring of specialists, such as autism consultants, speech therapists, and teachers of the deaf and blind, makes sense regionally. If districts had to hire these specialists in an on-again off-again pattern, based on the yearly variation of student populations, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Oregon to serve low-incidence student populations. SOESD hires regionally and is able to relocate trained specialists between districts to serve students’ needs.
SOESD also hires and trains many special education teachers and aides to work with severely disabled students. ESD staff is trained to work with students who have specialized medical needs, tube feeding, physical therapy, or speech therapy.
Communication and Coordination
Southern Oregon ESD provides a communication link between statewide agencies, such as the Oregon Department of Education, and schools in our region. Several ESDs serve as technology hubs for Internet bandwidth and connections. SOESD has been a state leader in videoconferencing for meetings, professional development, and classes.
Many job-alike groups such as Superintendent's Association, Special Education Directors, Curriculum Council, English Language Learners work group, and Business Managers meet monthly to share information, discuss issues, and coordinate regional activities. Increasingly, the Oregon Department of Education relies on ESDs to provide technical assistance in implementing new state requirements.
A new statewide group, the Education Enterprise Steering Committee, is composed of decision-makers from Oregon Department of Education, ESDs and school districts who meet to coordinate school improvement, special education, technology and administrative activities throughout Oregon. ESDs are an integral part of the state infrastructure to improve schools.
Development and Implementation
A logical role for ESDs is as implementer of new programs and projects. Oregon Online School was developed as a joint project with SOESD and local districts, which began with online classes in our region and has grown into a statewide provider. SOESD worked with districts to develop programs for English Language Learners and training staffs of districts, as their ELL needs increased.
SOESD has been very successful in receiving federal, state, and local grants. This past year SOESD received over $4,000,000 in grants, which translate into teacher training, student programs, and innovative projects for educators throughout Southern Oregon. Southern Oregon ESD continues to be at the cutting edge of projects that benefit schools and students in Southern Oregon.
In conclusion, ESDs are part of a statewide system of education that assures access and opportunity for all students irrespective of disabilities or the size or location of their districts. Southern Oregon ESD’s goal is to provide "value added" for districts and students in Southern Oregon.