Friday, June 29, 2012

It’s not your mother’s school district

An interview with Superintendent Bob Vian

By Alannah Allbrett

Bob Vian, former Timberline Schools Principal, has taken the reins as Superintendent of Joint School District 171. It’s not your mother’s school district anymore. In a recent interview Vian shared some of the plans being implemented right now to change the way the school district performs.

With state budget cuts, staff cuts, and low SAT scores, things have been grim. Vian explained that that is prevalent now, throughout the state, and that other school districts were hit even harder. Horseshoe Bend got a 20% budget decrease and had to lay off a good portion of their staff. But budgets don’t determine destination; people do.

Vian thanked the people of Orofino for passing the school bond levy, saying it was crucial for this district. He says the formula for funding schools in Idaho is upside down. “We ask for money, and then decide how we’re going to spend it instead of asking for what we need.”

Vian said we no longer have the assurance of timber money (Rural School & Community Trust) to count on as schools did in the past. He stated that if the district does get any monies from that source, they are set aside as a “rainy day fund” and not part of the regular budget.

“We lost 45 students this year,” he said, “which is the equivalent of about three teaching positions.” That means that families are leaving the community, which downsizes both the budget, and how many teachers can be kept on the payrolls.

Vian said they had a choice to hire people for two years, which is better than not hiring them. In all, the district lost almost five full teaching positions. The jobs were lost through attrition, so no one had to be terminated. “A couple of teachers lost period (teaching time)” he said.

“With only four kids in the music program, it was hard to justify continuing that, so it had to be cut. A total of 19 aids, some full time and some part time, and some summer grounds maintenance was cut,” said Vian. Administrators went through each position, name by name, to see what the particular needs were. For example, one child may have required a male or female aid, and that was the determining factor on which aid was kept or let go.

With former superintendent Dale Durkee’s departure, Vian was put in the position of meeting with union members for the first time. He said he got to sit down with teachers who have not had a raise in pay in the past five years, so basically they had no incentive to increase their education which is expensive and time consuming.

Moving forward Pay incentive

The district wants to have teachers teaching dual-credit classes so that students may participate in earning college credits while still in high school – saving the students’ time and parents’ money. To do that, teachers’ credentials have to be adequate to teach at a college level.

Using the money freed up from not rehiring teachers, the board decided to give present teachers a one percent bonus. That translates to about $317 for beginning teachers and $500 to experienced teachers. Vian said it will cost the district about $36,000 for the bonus increases which works out to about 25 cents an hour per teacher. Those teachers who improve their education will get step increases. “Nobody should have to live five years without a pay raise,” said Vian. However, the district is not locked into pay raises.


An amount of $75,000, from salary savings, was put towards building maintenance. A new furnace, needed at Cavendish, will cost $20,000. Vian said expenditures like that eat right through the maintenance budget.

Wiring upgrades

Orofino Junior and Senior High Schools presently have four computer labs. Old-time wiring could not meet the needs of that many computers, however, causing frequent circuit breaker problems. Vian said the emphasis will be to get the computers we have working, rather than increasing the number of computer labs; $10,000 will be put toward upgrading electrical circuits at that school.

Extra curricular fee increases

The board voted to raise the fees for extra curricular activities. Athletic programs need to raise more of their own money if scholastic cuts have had to be made. Some coaching positions have had to be cut as the district cannot afford both varsity and junior varsity coaches.

Temporary housing

The temporary school structures at Orofino Elementary School will not be present when school begins. The buildings, which have housed students outside the permanent structure for years, were costly to heat and will be salvaged, with the exception of one building being placed at the bus barn area as a maintenance building.

New staff

Timberline Schools will get a new principal. Dan Holst, who has been working at an Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana, has been hired to fill that position. Holst was a former coach at the University of Montana which won two Big Sky Championships during his coaching tenure there.

Shelly Brooks, who has six years experience in Priest River and Kellogg, has been hired as the new principal at Orofino Elementary School.

Dr. Kerrie Raines, from Glenns Ferry, was hired as a new Special Education instructor, as Orofino has an inordinately high special needs requirement at present.

Seventh graders to move

The seventh grade classes will be moving to OHS to join the eighth graders already there. The walls will be painted, designating a junior high hallway. While there will be some necessary movement between areas, junior high students are intended to be segregated from the high school population as much as possible.

Food service

Mr. Vian said while he was principal at Timberline Schools the breakfast program went from 60 percent to 97 percent participation. He plans to use the same techniques used there to achieve a more efficient food service program in Orofino.

Vian explained that two sources pay for running the kitchens: the federal government pays for children below poverty level, and children who buy lunches pay for the other part. The income does not cover running the kitchen. It is subsidized approximately $30,000 to $40,000 per year.

“The cost to run it doesn’t get any higher,” said Vian. “The more kids that eat there, the more we get from the federal government. All our kids are entitled to a free breakfast,” said Vian.

Studies show students work better in school if they eat breakfast. Students in seventh through ninth grades will have a breakfast in the classroom rather than a cafeteria during the first 10 minutes of class. Students in 10th through 12th grades will get a “nutrition break” at about 9 a.m.

Scholastic testing

In annual progress scores, OES failed in a number of categories. The high school is scholastically disadvantaged in both math and special education areas. Vian said the state does not test in social studies, so emphasis will be placed on math, where testing is done. The district is not going to replace social studies teachers.

“We are going to help the kids who need help,” said Vian, “with two math periods a day. They will be doing homework with a math teacher. Any kids who do not put forth the required effort will lose an elective until they are motivated to pass the next test.”

Vian explained that there is very little incentive for kids to pass scholastic achievement tests. They click through them randomly, sometimes out of rebellion. “They are killing us on state tests,” he said.

On-grounds study time

A study time, detention style, will be held during lunch time for kids who slack in their work. They will be provided a sack lunch and get the opportunity to do school work during their aid supervised lunch time.

“Teachers should not be working harder than students,” said Vian. Vian served in a school in Klamath Falls, OR that, out of a population of 480 students, had a quarter of the students fail a class. The school was turned around from a sub-standard school to a school of excellence. Vian said parents came to him saying, “My kid’s never had a report card without a fail on it before.”

Curbing dropouts

The program will begin in the 7th and 8th grades, where Vian said dropouts begin. “Our goal is to make sure kids are on course and on track by the time they become juniors and seniors. By that time, they usually help themselves. Some of it has to be done by the kids,” he said.

Flipping the classrooms

Flipping the classroom changes the emphasis in how work is done. Students will concentrate on following video lessons at home to introduce a lesson and its concepts. They will do their homework in class, assisted by a teacher.

Kahn Academy is a company that has provided thousands of educational video learning programs (of 7-10 minute duration) for students, ranging from math to how the banking crises happened. The student watches the video, does some problems, then goes over it in the classroom where questions may be asked.

New laptops

The state has a three year roll-out program of providing laptop computers for student use. High school students will be provided a laptop, for which they are financially responsible and, as an incentive for taking good care of it, allowed to load their own music and pictures on it. Parents will be allowed to use it at home to help their children. Vian said he wasn’t a big fan of the program initially, but now sees its merits.

In a classroom setting, students will be given a school log-on. The teacher can freeze all laptops to address the class and can also see when the last time a student moved on to another problem. If a student skips class, they will not be allowed to log-on to their computer and will be sent to the library for additional work.

These laptops are not high line equipment but basic $400 computers which the state will purchase at volume discounts. Replacements will be available for damaged computers, but students must settle up the bill before being allowed to “take the walk” during graduation. Each student will sign a contract for responsibility for the unit.

The way students learn

It’s a different age. Students are already very computer and video savvy. “This will change the way schools look,” Vian said, “and the way kids learn. Kids learn differently today than we did and, through technology, we will have to change to keep up with the times,” said Vian.

“Unfortunately, some people want to do it the way they’ve always done it. You wouldn’t go to an optometrist or dentist who has not upgraded the way he has done things over the years,” said Vian, “and it’s malpractice to do it the old way.”

Vian wanted to get across the message that, “This is not a place of employment. We are paying you [the teachers] to see that they [the students] get it. Figure out what works. There is no reason OES should not be at least average in the state of Idaho. We are at 80 percent poverty in Timberline, but successful there,” he said.

Four day school week

Addressing the four-day school week Vian said that if teachers teach from “bell to bell” (a 56 minute class), with no wasted time, they achieve the same teaching time as a five day week. A four day week also avoids interruptions and allows for doctor and other appointments to be scheduled on the off day.

In addition, students will not be released early for athletics. Vian plans to curtail that. A lot of school time was missed busing kids to far away games, forcing teachers to re-teach what the student missed, or do nothing.

Workshops and techniques

Wayne Callender, of Partners for Learning (, will be coming to Orofino for coaching two weeks before school starts. The district has also spent $20,000 of federal money for teachers to attend a Teaching for Excellence (, conference in Pasco, WA.

Ten teachers and two administrators will be attending for five days. They began with sixth grade teachers, and worked their way down to select teachers. Educators will be taught the nature of learning and focus on a coaching style of teaching.

“We are going to be the place people visit to ‘see how they do that,” said Vian.

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