Education advisor brings Governor's vision to the Valley

December 10, 2011

Frontline innovation in education; model programs; engaged teacher-leaders and continued community investment in education.


Those were the district-wide qualities recognized by Ben Cannon, education policy advisor to Gov. John Kitzhaber on his Dec. 8 visit to Hood River schools.

Cannon was selected by Kitzhaber Aug. 16 to lead the governor's reinvigorated educational vision for Oregon. Until his appointment, Cannon served as state representative for House District 46 in Portland and taught humanities to middle school students at the Arbor School of Arts and Science.

While the governor was learning from governmental and economic leaders in the Valley on Dec. 8, Cannon toured the school system.

Part of Cannon's reason in visiting Valley schools and meeting with teachers and administrators was to bring news of Kitzhaber's education ideas to those on the front lines and to hear their concerns.

He also came to Hood River to learn.

Cannon briefed educators on components of Kitzhaber's education plans while also visiting multiple classrooms and teachers. He met with HRVSD Supt. Charlie Beck; Terri Vann, director of instruction; Bob Dais, director of human resources; HRVHS Principal Karen Neitzel; and May Street teacher (and Hood River Education Association president) Kelvin Caulkins and discussed some of the "Common Core" program elements now being implemented.

In 2011, the Oregon legislature passed Senate Bill 909, Gov. Kitzhaber's priority bill to develop an efficient and accountable "zero-to-20" education system that integrates early childhood services, K-12 and post-secondary education and training programs.

"This is largely about empowering teachers to do what they are trained to do and want to do," said Cannon about the governor's model. But a "top-down approach is not at all what we're describing."

HRVSD provided Cannon with many examples of empowered teachers and integrated education.

Meeting first with HRVHS science teachers Ted Kramer, Amy Foley, Leisa Runyan, David Clarkson and Joe Kelley, Cannon learned about "proficiency-based" teaching (PBT) models now in action in the high school's science, math and world languages programs.

Brought forth first by HRVHS world language teachers, and now embraced by those in science and math, PBT methods focus on helping students reach demonstrable skill or learning targets and provide student-specific actions which move each child toward those targets.

According to Clarkson, students in PBT classes are working harder than ever.

"We are changing what we value in the learning process," he said. "In the past, we've focused more on passing quizzes and completing the lab work as a goal. We are now assessing specific proficiencies and rewarding mature learning over the course of the term."

"It's a change for parents, too, when they see (PBT) report cards," noted Vann about the other K-8 PBT programs now under way. "Some children who used to have an A in a subject are now coming home with report cards that list specific skills and gaps in skills. That is different for parents and we are trying to educate them about this change."

Cannon also sought information on HRVSD's unique integration of early childhood intervention programs into the entire educational sequence, along with the increasing connections between the high school and CGCC.

Supt. Beck then presented a summary of the district's newly initiated "Virtual Academy" credit recovery and original credit program now in development for high school students.

Cannon completed his tour at HRVHS and proceeded to Hood River Middle School, visiting the nationally recognized FACS science program and greenhouse project. (A planned tour of the Pine Grove early childhood education program had to be rescheduled for a future visit.)

Following his appointment, Kitzhaber said of Cannon, "He'll bring the same dedication he has shown his constituents to implementing an education improvement agenda to ensure better results for Oregon students, more resources for teachers, and a more prosperous future."

Cannon displayed both a willingness to listen and a breadth of knowledge on educational issues during his visit. As a fellow teacher, he shared his firsthand understanding of how governmental policies can affect those on the front line.

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