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May 2021 Education Update

Oregon Achieves... Together!

A Message from the Director of the Oregon Department of Education, Colt Gill

ODE Director Colt Gill 

Every May, we take a week to celebrate teachers and this year, Teacher Appreciation Week was even more special as more than 400,000 students got to celebrate in-person with their teachers. That’s something we took for granted before the COVID-19 pandemic ended in-person learning last spring. The move back to in-person learning has reminded us all of the incredible moments of learning and joy students have when they are with teachers in a classroom. Teachers play an incredibly critical role in the lives of their students and they deserve our thanks for their resilience over the last year as we have all navigated the uncharted waters of operating schools during a pandemic.

Later this month, we will be honoring more than a dozen teachers around the state as Regional Teachers of the Year. These educators were nominated by members of their communities and assessed on leadership, instructional expertise, commitment to equity, community involvement, understanding of educational issues, professional development and vision by a diverse panel of regional representatives. One of them will later be chosen as the 2022 Oregon Teacher of the Year, but they all are examples of the best Oregon has to offer in its classrooms.

As a former teacher, principal, and superintendent – and, maybe most notably, as the grandson of a school custodian and bus driver and the son in-law of a school bus driver – I know that educating children is a team effort and what happens in the classroom is supported by many others at a school, some of whom the students rarely see.

To honor these heroes, we created the Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year program and just announced the first ever winner last week: Paula Steinweg, a beloved bus driver, education assistant and librarian at Jewell School. Paula is an excellent representative of ESPs around the state who make sure the schools operate properly so that teachers can best do their jobs and students can learn. A big thank you to the Oregon Lottery for funding the ESP of the Year program, just like they do with the Teacher of the Year awards.

May is the perfect time to celebrate teachers and everyone else that make our public education system great. It’s an opportunity to look back over the school year and see how teachers have impacted our lives and the lives of the more than half million students in Oregon’s public schools. Thank you to everyone playing their important role. We appreciate the work you do and will never take it for granted.

Centering Black History and Black Futures in Oregon

ODE is a state education agency and one of our central responsibilities, rooting back to civil rights laws based in the 1960’s and disability laws passed in the 70’s and 80’s is to ensure that students and families who experience poverty, disability, or belong to different racial, ethnic and religious groups get access to a meaningful education. That began with a focus on access to literacy and math. And now includes a much larger focus on ensuring that every student gets access to educational opportunity.

At the center of Oregon’s work on equity is attention to what it means to belong and to create conditions in school engagement that support student belonging. The pursuit of equity in education is trying to realize foundational commitments to belonging, the idea of "liberty and justice for all," and making sure the "we" in "We the People" is big and truly does include each and every student and family in the community. The experiences of Black students and families can and must be centered in our state, including the fullness of Black histories and Black futures.

ODE sponsored a discussion with Nikole Hannah-Jones as a critically acclaimed lead writer of "The 1619 Project" in service of meeting these needs. The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from the New York Times that reframes the Black experience in American history and is a valuable resource.

Oregon’s State Board of Education says it well, "We will ensure in words and actions that every student has access to the resources and supports they need to thrive in school. We will explicitly work toward an education system that is culturally responsive, sustaining, eliminates barriers and is relevant to Oregon’s diverse communities."

ODE knows that every student and the community benefit when we center educational equity. For too long how much money a person makes, the color of their skin, or gender (as a few examples) have served as reliable predictors of student outcomes. ODE is committed to breaking those patterns and building better ways to teach, learn and lead.

Resources for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, Learning for Justice created a webinar unpacking the origins, meaning and contemporary impact of the term "Asian American Pacific Islander." Join Professional Development Trainer Sarah-SoonLing Blackburn and Teaching and Learning Specialist Jon Tobin in this on-demand webinar that also breaks down the Model Minority Myth and provide educators with resources to effectively teach AAPI history.

Here are some relevant articles from the Oregon Encyclopedia:

Child Nutrition Grant Opportunity

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) Equipment Assistance Grant is a competitive grant award for local educational agencies and schools to purchase equipment with a value greater than $1,000 but less than $50,000. The purpose is to provide equipment:

  • needed to serve healthier meals,
  • improve food safety, and
  • to help support the establishment, maintenance, or expansion of the School Breakfast Programs.

To be considered, School Food Authorities must follow the criteria as stated in the Request for Application (RFA), and submit a complete application according to the details in the RFA.

COVID-19 Clarification: Any school food authority (SFA) with a previously approved State agency agreement on file to operate the National School Lunch Program (per 7 CFR 210.9(b)), and that would otherwise be operating NSLP in SY 2020-2021, may continue to access NSLP Equipment Assistance Grants while utilizing the flexibilities granted under the current SFSP/SSO Nationwide Waiver.

Timeline: Application due Thursday, May 20, by 1:00 p.m.

Send application packets

If you have any questions about the grant, be sure to check the Frequently Asked Questions document available on the website.

Complete applications and additional documentation must be submitted no later than Thursday, May 20, by 1:00 p.m. to

ODE In the News

  • The La Grande Observer and the East Oregonian reported on grants from ODE and the Educator Advancement Council aimed at getting more local teachers in rural areas and more diverse educators all over the state.
  • The St. Helens Chronicle wrote about a national grant that Oregon is participating in to increase access to accessible digital educational materials and technologies.

Oregon Honors First Education Support Professional of the Year, Paula Steinweg!

Building on the Oregon Teacher of the Year program, ODE and Oregon State Lottery are partnering to recognize the incredible efforts and impact of Education Support Professionals in Oregon. On May 6, ODE Director Colt Gill and Senator Betsy Johnson virtually joined Jewell superintendent Steve Phillips and principal Jon Wood in honoring Paula Steinweg as Oregon’s very first Education Support Professional of the Year!

“Paula’s outstanding work and dedication to her students is truly remarkable,” said Governor Brown. “I’ve heard about how she works day in and day out to support students, families, and the whole Jewell community — even working with high school students who needed extra help to stay on the path to graduation. Congratulations, Paula, on this great achievement. Jewell School District is so lucky to have you.”

For over 20 years, Paula has served in a variety of roles at Jewell School District and currently works as a bus driver, education assistant and school librarian. Paula initiated and coordinates a bi-annual Washington D.C. trip for middle school students, providing the opportunity for out of state travel and to experience culture and history beyond the Jewell community. Paula facilitates every detail from curriculum to travel plans to fundraising, ensuring that all students can participate. During Jewell’s COVID-19 response last spring, Paula stepped in to deliver food and school work packets to students. At each stop, she checked in with the family and every student, asking about their emotional, academic and logistical needs. Families came to depend on her reassuring and friendly visits.

“Paula is not afraid to try, fail, and try again, especially when the success of a student is on the line,” said Jewell School principal Jon Wood. “Because she knows our community well she is an incredibly valuable asset to our school. Her drive is unparalleled and dedication is second to none!”

Thanks to the Oregon Department of Education’s partnership with the Oregon Lottery, Paula received a monetary gift of $5,000 and an award plaque. A matching plaque and banner were awarded to the school to mark Paula’s achievements and her impact on the Jewell community.

Oregon’s Education Support Professional of the Year Program is a result of House Bill 2964, passed by the Oregon Legislature in May of 2019. This bill directs the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon State Lottery to design and implement a program to honor an Oregon education support professional serving students in any grade from prekindergarten through grade 12. ESP’s work together with teachers and administrators in Oregon public schools to perform a variety of jobs promoting quality education, fostering positive learning environments, offering nutritious meals, providing reliable transportation, maintaining safe and clean schools for all students and much more.

Educators nominated for Education Support Professional of the Year are employed by an Oregon public K-12 school or school district and meet the definition of an ESP in Oregon. Eligible nominees for the 2021 award were evaluated through a Blue Ribbon Panel facilitated by ODE.

Nominations for 2022 are open on the Education Support Professional website. Be sure to nominate the life-changing ESP’s in your school!

Safe Summer Learning for Oregon Families

The Early Learning Division values and supports access to safe, affordable summer learning activities for Oregon’s children, youth, and families. Through a partnership with the Oregon Alliance of YMCAs, the state will distribute $10 million in funds to 165 grantees who provide youth overnight and day camp during the COVID-19 crisis.

These funds will be critical to helping camp providers in nearly every county implement COVID-19 safety and health practices. Oregon’s investment also addresses barriers many children and families face to accessing and participating in camp programs. Organizations who care for underserved groups* were prioritized in the distribution of funds. In 2019, these grantees provided nearly $3.7 million in financial assistance through full or partial scholarships for low-income youth and their families. This funding will allow camps to continue and expand financial assistance opportunities.

Awards are currently being announced. Children and families throughout the state will soon experience the academic, social, and community-based benefits of 2021 summer camp programs.

*Underserved youth (including youth in poverty), BIPOC youth, migrant youth, refugee and/or immigrant youth, English language learners, youth experiencing homelessness, youth in foster care, LGBTQ youth, youth involved in the criminal justice system, and youth with disabilities (including physical, developmental, and/or intellectual disabilities; or special health care needs).

Student Spotlight

  • The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin featured an Athena-Weston student who is growing out his hair to connect with his heritage as a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
  • OSBA highlighted a video made by students at Salem North High School that focuses on achievements made this year.
  • The Hillsboro News Times talked with students on the Hillsboro youth Advisory Council who raised funds for a homeless youth shelter.