|Grotting faces tight budget with fresh outlook
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
We need to work to close the achievement gap, and to improve student accomplishment and opportunities for students here, Grotting said.
In a time when school districts are fighting to stay afloat, Grotting aims for David Douglas to improve, despite cuts in budget, staff and programs.
We know that our families are going through a tough time too, he said. So many people are calling budget cuts reductions, but what we're really doing is taking away investments from our kids.
At 78.3 percent, the David Douglas School District has the largest number of students receiving free and reduced lunch in Multnomah County.
We're hearing from our counselors that many families are moving in with each other to make ends meet, he said.
Grotting shared that the district is receiving more requests for meals, special education services and school supplies.
Our English Language Learner population is about 25 percent and that takes additional resources we don't always have, Grotting said. We get a lot of requests from students to come to David Douglas from different areas.
Cuts and compromise
In the last three years the district hired quite a few people - a lot of districts did, including David Douglas, Grotting said. Everyone kept their spending the same expecting revenues to improve, and they didn't.
Grotting said David Douglas must cut $12 million from the proposed 2011-2012 budget. He rolled out the plan for budget adjustments at the end of January. Eight-five percent of the budget cuts will target staff - reducing hours and cutting positions. Approximately 80 certified positions will be cut before next school year, some administrative and some classified, Grotting said.
Trying to provide the same quality education with less people will truly be a challenge, Grotting said.
The district will also continue to rely on specialists for extra support at all levels. Currently there are 30 specialists at the high school level, 15 at middle schools and nine at district elementary schools.
Class size will go up some, but not drastically, Grotting said.
Grotting said currently, the average class size in David Douglas elementary schools is between 25 to 27 students, after the increase, class size balloons to between 33 to 35 students on the high end. No solid figures of student outlook for 2011-2012 will be available until June.
Reductions in athletic programs are one of the things on the chopping block; however, Grotting confirmed that David Douglas will maintain music and physical education programs.
To supplement the impending loss of school sponsored athletics Grotting said he hopes students will take part in community pay-to-play programs, many of which require remarkably low fees.
One positive for the district is that enrollment rates are predicted to stay flat.
Still, Grotting acknowledges, funding is an enormous challenge, especially with an enrollment of 10,330 students between 15 schools in a 12 square mile district.
More effort will be put into increasing efficiencies internally and with whom we contract out with, he said. Some of the things that get cut the most are maintenance and transportation, infrastructure. How do we maintain the environment?
Grotting said he has to consider many things when attempting to conserve district funds: machinery, lighting and heating services, even how long to let school bus engines warm up.
Working closely on community and county programs such as Cradle to Career and the Gateway Project is also important to Grotting.
He has been working to collaborate with Dan Ryan, the CEO of the Portland Schools Foundation, an organization that aims to provide leadership, support and resources to all Portland schools.
One project Grotting is particularly enthusiastic about is the Early Learning Demonstration Initiative.
He has been teaming up with the Children's Institute and other educational leaders to develop a model to connect early learning facilities with elementary education facilities.
Swati Adarker, executive director of the Children's Institute, said Grotting had provided tremendous leadership for this project, thus far.
Research shows the best way to help kids reach early childhood success is to target them before kindergarten, she said. We want to track the children over time and do a 10-year evaluation.
We're looking at a facility being built at Earl Boyles Elementary School, Adarker said.
The committee behind this project has been studying models of this nature around the country for the past few years. Adarker said they have been looking at strategies research has shown work best, as each community has different needs.
We're trying to show what happens when you do this at a level where all the kids in the neighborhood can participate, no one is left out, she said. It's not just for kids who are low-income or have special needs.
Grotting said the demonstration site could have state and national implications.
We plan to contact families in the neighborhood with children, identify them from birth to 5-years-old and prepare them to enter the K-12 system.
Adarker said engaging parents at this early learning stage is also essential to the initiative. She said this is an exciting project, and she is glad to have Grotting's help.
Don is really committed to closing the achievement gap, Adarker said. It's easy to say things are being cut and such, but he's committed.
Speaking from experience
Grotting spent the past 10 years as Superintendent of the Nyssa School District, a tiny town bordering Idaho in Malheur County, Oregon.
The Nyssa district has high numbers of students involved in English as a Second Language programs, special education and free and reduced lunch programs, and yet a high majority these of low-income students met state standards in reading and math.
In 2005, Nyssa, under Grotting's leadership, became the first school district in the state to receive a Closing the Achievement Gap Award from the Oregon Department of Education.
Grotting's decided passion for providing achievement opportunities to all students regardless of socioeconomic class sprang from his own childhood.
I came from a really poor family, he said. We didn't have indoor plumbing until I was in high school.
After three years in the Army stationed in Germany, Grotting returned to his home town of Coquille, Ore. and worked for the Georgia-Pacific Corporation. When the plant closed, he took the opportunity to start a new career and become a teacher.
I knew I like teaching and coaching, Grotting said. My [career change] made me aware of how valuable an education is for students who need to diversify and adapt.
He earned a bachelor's degree from Linfield College and a master's from Portland State University. He also holds a superintendent's license from Lewis and Clark College.
Grotting and his wife have four children, the youngest of which is a seventh grader at Floyd Light Middle School, which puts him in the same position as any other parent in his district.
I hear everything from a student's perspective, he said.
Up for the challenge
As Grotting sees it, the top three challenges for the David Douglas School District are meeting the educational needs of changing demographics, finding sustainable funding and maintaining an adequate infrastructure.
He said a large goal for the district is to engage families and business partners with the district, as well as outside programs. By developing close working relationships with these people and organizations, students will have more resources to help them bridge the gap from higher education, technical training, or certification programs.
I think literacy is the key and that there is a direct correlation with attendance to achievement. Grotting said.
The biggest changes for Grotting coming from rural Southeastern Oregon to Portland have been small things, like traffic patterns and learning many names. Staff, parents, community members and neighboring superintendents have been accommodating, he said.
Kids are kids, Grotting said. I've learned that students and families face the same issues in a metro area as in a rural area.
However, budget cuts and larger classrooms will not keep Grotting from pushing to close the student achievement gap.
David Douglas took a chance on me, Grotting said. He doesn't intend to disappoint.
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