By HERB SWETT
Of the Keizertimes

The dropout problem, especially involving African-American students, took up much of Salem-Keizer School Board meeting Tuesday, Feb. 14.

While it was not an action item, the board heard several comments from the audience, largely calling for the Community School Outreach Coordinator to expand from its focus on English Language learners to become involved with the problems of black students.

“We need to institutionalize support for African-American students,” was one of the comments from Phil Decker of Salem, principal of Four Corners Elementary School.

Benny Williams of Salem, president of the Salem-Keizer branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the district was making progress “but at a snail’s pace.” He observed that dropouts occur because students feel disengaged.

Will Collins of Salem, a classified employee and former student of the district, who has a minority background, said the disengagement led to his absentees and suspension.

On a related matter, several representatives of the Salem-Keizer Education Association spoke of the SKEA’s affirmation that it is an inclusive union whose objective is to protect all students’ rights. One of them noted that Oregon leads the United States in per capita hate incidents.

In other business, the board approved several grants, the largest of which was $2,408,849 from the Oregon Department of Education to ensure that students in schools with high percentages of poverty meet the challenging state academic standards.

Other grants from ODE are $21,218 for trainings and activities involving students who have disabilities, $20,700 for other student disability matters, and $1,000 for career and technical student organizations involving McNary High School and Grant Community School. The remaining grants are $15,000 from the Northwest Health Foundation Fund for physical activity programs before, during, and after school, for Keizer Elementary School and seven other schools; and $1,785 to provide supplies for the 2017 Eagle Feather Graduation Celebration.

Board members praised the work of Mary Paulson, who is resigning as chief of staff of the district to become deputy executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association. Her successor is Linda Myers of Keizer, whose title will be director of strategic initiatives.

Myers comes from the Silver Falls School District, where she was director of curriculum and instruction for 10 years. In the preceding 10 years, she taught in the Salem-Keizer district.

Personnel actions approved at the meeting involved three people in the McNary attendance area. Hired as temporary part-time teachers were Sherrin Landis at Claggett Creek Middle School and Tracy Loumena at Whiteaker Middle School. Also at Claggett Creek, Melissa Koenig was hired as a first-year probation full-time teacher.