Changes at Roots program

The 2016-17 school year in the 509-J district will see the start of the Bridges Career and Technical High School. Bridges will have two sites: one in Warm Springs and one in Madras.

The Warm Springs component of the Bridges High School will be the Roots alternative education program. The Madras component will be the Annex. The two programs have operated separately, but in the 2016-17 school year will be under Bridges.

The change was approved by the school district board, with the stated goal being to improve graduation rates, performance and attendance. But the idea is also controversial, at least in Warm Springs.

Roots has so far operated with a director, Dawn Smith, and one teacher, Earl Simmons. Under the Bridges program, Roots will have two teachers, and no director. Instead, there will be a principal of the overall Bridges Career and Technical High School.

The idea is to provide more teaching and counseling services to the Warm Springs Roots and Madras Annex students, said Rick Molitor, school district superintendent.

On the other hand, many in Warm Springs are not happy that Dawn Smith will no longer be at the Roots program. They spoke in her support at the school board meeting last week. About 40 supporters were on hand, and about 15 advocated for keeping Dawn at Roots, which she helped establish two years ago.

The school board, though, voted to continue with the changes proposed in the Bridges Career and Technical High School plan.

People who want Dawn to continue with Roots say the program is graduating more students than were graduating with the pre-Roots alternative education program in Warm Springs. Another point, they say, is that school officials did not meet with the Warm Springs residents on the proposed change prior to its adoption.

The change came as a surprise to Dawn Smith as well. Part of the surprise, she said, “is because we’ve been moving in a positive direction.”

The Roots program saw 13 students graduate in the most recent school year. The pre-Roots alternative education program in Warm Springs would often see two or three new graduates.

Another point is that Dawn spent her time at Roots teaching and working with the students; so the program in effect already had two teachers. Dawn is a certified administrator, though not a certified teacher, and would not be eligible to apply for the new teaching position at Roots.

On behalf of the district, Rick Molitor said the Roots program can do better. “We’re not trying to diminish the Roots program, but to enhance it—to improve graduation rates, performance and attendance,” he said.
In other school news:

The Confederated Tribes and School District 509-J continue to work toward a new multi-year education agreement. The current agreement expires this summer.

The Education Committee and Council say vague obligations in the current agreement should be corrected with a more specific set of performance standards.

The Tribal Education Committee and Tribal Council have developed a draft proposal. The parties are scheduled to meet on the agreement on Tuesday, July 12, at 11 a.m.