Thank you for being my fellow board members over the past five years — we achieved much including passing a bond and hiring a new superintendent and two great new administrators — but as I have voiced at several of our meetings I leave frustrated at our struggles with change. The recent election was a mandate for that change vs. status quo and continuing the ways of the past. The people of Sisters Country, supported by some influential voices, have spoken. I honor their decision and would offer some parting thoughts.

I fundamentally believe that the future of a small district is different than in the past. In the past our schools focused on a defined geographical area for students, and as the town grew so would the school. Families had little choice once they picked where they would live, and schools did not compete. This probably contributed to a degree of complacency.

Today with open enrollment, charter schools, etc. we are in a different world, a world where schools compete for students. And this will only increase with distance learning, telepresence technology and self-driving vehicles changing the need to be physically present or dependent on traditional bussing. It is happening already, most notably Baker Web (Academy), home-schooling and Redmond Proficiency Academy are attracting our children. As Bend spends its $300-million bond on specialized schools they, too, will attract Sisters-based students, as you can bet they will offer distant learning versions of their programs. Marketing will be a skill that we will need in the future, and a greater emphasis on the parents as clients with much improved communications will be a key, to student attraction and retention.

As a small school district critical mass is not far below our current enrollment. I believe that if our enrollment drops 10 percent it could create some significant issues in terms of class size, continuing to operate with three separate campuses, and our current curriculum breadth. And ultimately academics would suffer, whether we like to admit it or not, our school’s academic performance on objective measures attracts people and influences not only their school decision but also where they choose to live. I think being the 6,543rd best high school in America (US News Scorecard), reflects our inability to compete on our current trajectory — we should be aspiring to be best in the NW, given our student population, great teachers and community support, why not?

So the question is how….

1. Beef up academics — Over my five years on the board I have heard this over and over — Great teachers in front of students for more time, we need everyone in the district on the same page around this and I am hopeful the initiative coming from Salem will spur us in this direction – Longer school year, day, less in-service days.

2. We should expand the curriculum to offer more choice from FFA, trades to more AP classes and new topics. We can achieve this by embracing community involvement. We have a tremendous record in this area but we could greatly enhance community based education by acting as tutors / mentors combined with online classes. Maybe even community led electives.

I want to comment on class size, which is critical to keep small at elementary, but as children get older, given limited money, shouldn’t we offer more choices that meet their personal needs rather than fit them into smaller classes in subjects that may not be a good fit? A focus on class size may be a good soundbite but I would argue letting class sizes grow to say 30 to 35 in the high school while offering more choice may be a better path for a small school district.

3. We need to focus on the individual student. Each student should reach her potential, and we need to explore ways to move away from generalized approaches and build education around the student. Easier said than done, possibly, but we have folks with great ideas that should be embraced.

4. In a future world we need to pick how we are different and put a focus behind it. We need to be a clear center of excellence and attract students not only in-person but online.

5. The children of America (the world…) are concerned about global warming, and are speaking up including those in our schools. Why not demonstrate support for them by investing our last bond dollars in a solar array rather than a bus barn. It would reduce our energy costs, and send a clear message as to what matters to us and our support for the students.

I continue to be passionate about the schools. I have my children enrolled and acknowledge that we have some tremendous programs. My comments are from my heart and hope you will include them in your future plans. We need to embrace excellence and we need to promote and recognize achievement in every area possible.

Editor’s note: Stephen King left his incumbent position on the Sisters School Board to run for election to Position 3 in the May 21 election. Jeff Smith won the election.