You can roughly count the number of days the principal of Bend’s new school, Steve Cook, worked on two hands. He’s already planning to do some things differently.
The neighborhood board meetings are like many board meetings: hours with flurries of important decisions. Who has time to sit through this? Some people do. We would hand out medals if we could. Journalists will do it for you.
One of the first changes Cook hopes to make is that after a board meeting he will record a video. It will summarize in a few minutes what action has been taken and what has been discussed. This will be quickly translated into Spanish and both versions will be posted online. This should make finding out what happened more accessible to more people.
It is not a life-changing change. However, Cook takes a step towards his goal of transparency. To inform parents. He spoke about this and other matters when we spoke with him briefly on Monday.
When he was a school principal in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Cook did a podcast – “The Sup is On” – about the school district. He would interview one person, usually a staff member, and they would discuss and explain the issues going on in the district. He made more information available if parents, students and staff wanted it. He hopes to relaunch this podcast in Bend as often as every week.
What most people want to know about Cook is, of course, in what direction he will lead the district. We cannot answer that. It is too early. But we asked him to give us an example of something he was proud of and helped achieve at Coeur d’Alene.
The answer is in two parts. The district did what is called a curriculum audit. He intensely examined what was being taught in the classroom and how it compared to state guidelines and community goals. What does the district actually offer in the classroom? And then he asked the community: What do parents want for their children? What should a graduate of the system look like? What changes does the district need to make?
The district found some problems. Some primary school students were transported across town. Long bus rides meant they missed opportunities to learn. In some schools, full-time kindergarten was offered. Others, no. The two high schools operated on different schedules and actually had different graduation requirements. The district has made changes so that elementary students can attend school closer to home and no longer attend kindergarten full time. Cook told us that the differences persisted in high schools.
As of this writing, Cook was preparing for his first school board meeting on Tuesday night as Bend’s superintendent. Parents and residents alike are right to ask what kind of superintendent he will be. Cook’s choices, his decisions, his leadership can make all the difference.
We all rely on him to be successful. He’s going to need your comments and your help as well. If you sit on your hands when there is a problem, if a calmly reasoned debate on politics becomes a lost treasure, Bend will always have good schools. It would make it harder for them to be tall.