Hood River County schools would not be where we are today without a longstanding tradition of community involvement and a shared passion for high-quality educational opportunities. In a story that comes full circle, the building where our entirely volunteer school board holds most of their meetings as of this year is named for our first ever board chair, Nathaniel Coe. Over 150 years ago, Coe, a farmer and fruit grower, helped establish a public school system that is today considered one of the best in the state. In years since, countless others have added their legacies to Hood River County School District’s rich and proud history.

While much of that history has remained in the DNA of our organization — in how we operate, the buildings we occupy, our exceptional agricultural education, unwavering community support, celebrations and more — our school system also has a history of embracing change, however hard it may be, when it means the best for all children and their educations. For instance, we have consolidated schools when it meant elevating the quality of school programming.

This year, we are faced with another possible change to deliver on a better education for our children. A number of our schools are overcrowded, so students experience larger class sizes or receive instruction in portables, while others have ample room for growth. Even if the Oregon Legislature follows through on their stated goal to fully fund public education, Hood River Middle, Westside and Mid Valley schools have no room to add electives or alleviate class sizes with additional teachers. Thankfully, new construction at May Street Elementary and Wy’east Middle School —  and enrollment capacity at other schools — should provide viable solutions.

We have tasked a committee of parents and school principals with a difficult challenge: Redraw the elementary and middle school attendance boundaries all while attempting to minimize disruption to students, keeping neighborhoods and communities together as much as possible, considering potential housing development and population growth, and upholding our community’s values. Based on a comprehensive community survey, the values parents and families care most about are access to high-quality instruction, and access to special programming like Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM).

Using mapping tools and land use, construction and birthdate data, the committee tested half a dozen of scenarios and their impact on school capacity, transportation and demographics, and then released an initial draft proposal. Now they want to know what Hood River County families think. Which changes are good and should be preserved? What should the committee take back to the drawing board?

Hood River County families can provide input on this first draft of the new attendance boundaries on our district website, hoodriver.k12.or.us.

This proposal is meant to alleviate overcrowded schools and balance enrollment from now and for the near future. The committee will consider community input and redraft their proposal for our next community open house scheduled for April 23.

After the community input process wraps up at the end of April, district administration and the school board will consider the logistics of implementing any changes, including possibilities of phasing in solutions. While changing boundaries is never a popular exercise, and it will be impossible to satisfy everyone, the result must ensure equitable access to all that our excellent public schools have to offer.

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