Pioneering charter schools go mainstream
Oregon education is regulated by Division 22, a set of state rules mandating standards such as number of school days, hiring practices and textbook adoption schedules. These requirements can mean a financial strain for some small, rural schools, says Paul Young, superintendent of the Rogue River School District.
Young has spent 30 years working in small public schools and currently serves as the representative for the Oregon Small Schools Association for Jackson, Josephine, Coos, Curry and Douglas counties.
opening district borders
Young says the less-restrictive charter-school model was created in the 1990s as a way to escape the confines of Division 22, as well as a way to open district borders to allow students outside the boundaries to enroll in the charter schools. To stay open, those charter schools had to prove students could perform the subject matter.
“A charter school that fails to perform gets closed,” Young says. “So there has to be a focus on performance, and there has to be a focus on having something that will bring students into your school system.”
Charters gained more traction nationwide with federal funding that offered new charter schools grants to make improvements to the school and support its charter mission.
Many of the smallest, one-building Oregon districts have been designated as “charter-only” districts. Young made the move this summer from such a school at Camas Valley, which had fewer than 150 students in the K-12 building.
Though his new post at Rogue River has around 950 students, both districts are included in the 393 state schools designated by Oregon as “small.”
“Performance has never been an issue for the small schools, so it’s a marriage made in heaven,” Young says. “They go charter, get grant money and it allows the district to be more competitive.”