New group draws on fresh ideas to enhance K-12 schoolsArrgh, matey!

Jeff Mabry, parent and Astoria High School biology teacher, has come up with a new way to ensure adequate, regular funding for local schools.

"Stable funding would be a fleet of pirate ships," he said. "We're a coastal state and we have a big river."

Mabry's suggestion to plunder local freighters was one of the more lighthearted ideas that came out of a discussion Tuesday at Astoria Middle School. About 24 retirees, homemakers, teachers and school administrators huddled with Chalkboard Project representatives to talk about issues in education. The meeting was the second in a series of 20 gatherings the organization is holding throughout the state.

MORE INFO.For more information about The Chalkboard Project or to become involved call (877) YOUR-K12, visit

(www.chalkboardproject.org) or write to The Chalkboard Project, 425 N.W. 10th Avenue, No. 400, Portland, OR 97209.Chalkboard Project is a collaborative effort led by five Oregon charitable foundations. As a group, the foundations hope to gather information on the state of K-12 public schools and use that information to lead a discussion about how to improve children's educations.

Tuesday's meeting was an invitation-only gathering. Chalkboard Project contacted local groups like the Rotary, Oregon School Boards Association, chambers of commerce, Court Appointed Special Advocates and the League of Women Voters. Then some of their members, and their members' contacts, volunteered to spend three hours working through a feedback and discussion booklet on education issues.

Chalkboard Project was hoping for a representative demographic, but ended up with an education-heavy crowd.

"The hard part is getting to people who aren't engaged already, " said Amy VanCamp, project leader for civic engagement.

Still, the feedback was valuable, VanCamp said.

The topic of funding stability generated a rigorous discussion, she said. VanCamp said people in the forum were not very supportive of moving to a local funding option because some districts have a more difficult time passing levees. VanCamp also noticed that during other discussion topics participants tended to see the question through the funding lens. For example, if they were asked how important it was to expand and fund after-school tutoring and community programs, they wondered how a district could ever afford that. Compared with Chalkboard Project's conversation in Albany on Monday, VanCamp said people here focused more on funding.

Parent involvement was a big issue, as was creating an environment where everyone associated with the school could communicate, she said.

The information gathered at this meeting will be analyzed by Davis, Hibbitts and Midghall, and initial findings will be presented to the Legislature in March.

"I think it potentially has some positive impact," said Don Atwood, who attended the meeting. "...I hope it can have some good input from the citizens and find out what everyone is thinking."

VanCamp stressed that this won't mark the end of Chalkboard Project. Oregonians of all ages and backgrounds are invited to provide feedback to The Chalkboard Project online, to send for written materials or to participate in a local discussion group. Information will continue to be added to the Chalkboard Project database.

VanCamp said Chalkboard is interested in how and why parents prioritize education issues.

She said she is particularly interested in special needs programs, where her son, Sam, is placed, but that everyone has their own concerns for public education.

"For me, it's my child, for others, it's a well-educated workforce," she said.

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