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6/13/2012 8:00:00 AM
Superintendent's Update #359
Superintendent's Update

As I prepare to transition from my role as State Schools Superintendent to my new position with Project Lead The Way, I am filled with a wide range of emotions—excitement for what lies ahead, sadness for all that I am leaving…but mostly I am filled with gratitude. Gratitude for having had the extreme honor of serving as your Superintendent for the past ten years. Gratitude for the amazing team of talented and dedicated people I have worked with at the Department of Education. And gratitude for all those who have believed in, fought for, and supported the critical work of education in our state. To our outstanding teachers, administrators, and school staff who come to work each day committed to improving the opportunities and outcomes for all of our kids—thank you! To our parents, business partners, and communities who understand that our schools cannot do this vital work alone—thank you! And to our students, whose intelligence, creativity, and unlimited potential inspire all that we do—thank you!

I am passionate about this work—about improving education in our state and providing our students with the best possible chance at success—and the decision to submit my resignation last week was not arrived at lightly. However, I am excited to continue to support our children through my work with Project Lead The Way. I will be working to advance science, technology, engineering, and math education in the United States, including helping to advance that work here in Oregon. This new opportunity allows me to continue the work of advocating for high expectations and a wide range of opportunities for our kids. I know our students can and will do better in the vital STEM areas if they are given the chance and supports to do so. I leave strongly supporting the Governor’s leadership and the direction our state is going, and I know that all of the amazing partners engaged in these efforts will continue to move this work forward.

I entered office in 2003 with a number of key priorities. I wanted to ensure that more of our students were ready for school when they entered first grade. Working together, we have secured expanded access to early childhood programs to ensure that all children get a strong start to school. Since 2003, we have more than tripled the number of students in full-day kindergarten classes, and in 2011, we saw passage of the landmark full-day kindergarten bill which provides the promise of access to full-day kindergarten to all of our kids.

CTAG'In many districts, full-day kindergarten has proven key to one of my other long-standing priorities—closing the achievement gap. Eight years ago, I started the Celebrating Student Success Awards to recognize schools for progress in closing the achievement gap that far too often separates our low-income and minority students from their peers. Achievement gaps have been a persistent issue, not just here in Oregon, but around the nation. And yet, some schools—facing the same challenges, budget constraints, and diverse populations—have seen real gains. This program shined the light on their good work and held them up as models for others to follow. These schools believe deeply in equity, opportunity, and a no excuses attitude, and they have seen amazing results. The staff, leadership, and communities of these schools continue to inspire and energize me.

Leadership is key. We know that strong, inspiring, and focused school leaders can make all the difference in creating and sustaining school success. Through programs like the Oregon Leadership Network we have supported the development of strong, equity-focused, innovative school leaders around the state. I have been honored to work with many amazing educational leaders during my time in office, and I am proud of the work the Department has done to foster and develop educational leaders in our schools and districts. We have also worked with partner groups around the state to better engage parents and community members in their schools. Together we are empowering parents to get engaged, better support their kids, and collaborate as partners in the education process.

Castillo But one of the biggest focuses of my time in office has been raising the rigor in our schools to ensure our students are better prepared for college and career when they graduate from high school. Early in my term, I set reading as a high priority and over the past several years our state has sharply focused on reading and literacy instruction. We now have the nationally recognized Oregon Literacy Framework which supports high quality literacy instruction at every grade. Working with the State Board of Education, we have raised the bar in both reading and math in our elementary and middle schools to better prepare our students to meet new, more rigorous graduation expectations aligned to national and international college- and career-ready standards. Knowing that seat time doesn’t equal knowledge, we implemented the proficiency-based Essential Skills which require students to demonstrate their mastery of key subjects prior to earning their diploma. This year’s seniors are the first to graduate with the Essential Skill of reading, with writing and math requirements coming on board over the next two years. The requirements will help prepare our students for the challenges and opportunities of life after high school and will provide our state with a strong, competitive workforce for the years to come. While we want to continue to increase the graduation rate and reduce the dropout rate, we also need to ensure that the Oregon diploma means something. Our graduates can now exit our schools confident that they have the skills for future success.

I am proud of the work that we have accomplished together over the past decade. Our schools are embracing equity and diversity, our students are rising to more rigorous expectations, and more of our students are graduating high school prepared for their next steps. But the work is far from over. We still have far too many students dropping out of high school or not graduating on time. Our low-income and minority students still battle achievement gaps. And of course, we still face persistently underfunded schools. We need to get serious about investing in our state’s future—and that means creating stable and adequate state education funding to ensure our students have access to the schools, services, and supports they need and deserve.

I will continue to fight for Oregon students and schools and will continue to champion the great work going on around the state. Thank you for all you do and all you have done…but most importantly, thank you for all you will continue to do to advance education and education reform efforts in our state. There is nothing more important and nothing more inspiring than this work—building the foundation for our future.

Keep up the good work!

With gratitude,
Susan Castillo
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