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SWIFT Family and Community Engagement in the Pendleton (OR) School District

About the same time SWIFT began its partnership with the Pendleton School District in eastern Oregon, the district passed a large bond that allowed them to build two new elementary schools and an early learning center designed to welcome and support all students. Washington Elementary School, in particular, shifted geographical boundaries yet remained a neighborhood school for much of the area’s Native American population, which makes up 13% of students in the district and 36% of Washington Elementary’s total student population. Additionally, many of Washington’s students live at or below the poverty level.

Guided by the SWIFT framework’s emphasis on family and community engagement, the district set two important goals: (1) improve attendance of Native American students at Washington Elementary and the Pendleton Early Learning Center; and (2) reduce disruptive behaviors through implementing Conscious Discipline’s Trauma-Informed Practices. The district hired a Native American Family Advocate, who works on improving attendance among the Native American population. In order to create a welcoming sense of community, through this collaborative effort, signs in the building were printed in English as well as two of the tribes’ languages, Umatilla and Weyilletpuu.

The school shifted their response to absences to align with Conscious Discipline routines. Instead of sending a letter warning parents that they were in violation of attendance statutes, the district now sends a postcard “Wishing them well” and then a care basket to the student’s home when they are absent multiple days. Rather than assuming the parents want to keep their child out of school, this approach recognizes the family may be experiencing stressors that make it difficult for the student to get to school. The district also recognizes cultural practices as “off campus learning activities” instead of unexcused absences. 

Recognizing the traumatic effects of marginalization and poverty, the school district adopted trauma-informed practices of Conscious Discipline for all K-5 staff, including teachers, paraprofessionals, school counselors, principals, and even bus drivers.

The district works closely with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and facilitated a connection to a Conscious Discipline trainer. Tribal HeadStart and YellowHawk Health Center now use this trainer. At the first trainings, parents in these programs recognized the practices their school age children had been learning at school and using at home. This increased the school to home connection for our families from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

As a result of these intentional efforts, the school experienced significant reduction in Office Discipline Referrals (ODRs) – the lowest in seven years. From the 2014–2015 school year to the 2016–2017 school year, Out-of-School Suspensions (OSS) dropped from 72.5 total days to 11.5 days, and the total number of incidents that resulted in OSS dropped from 64 to 10. During the same timeframe, the number of incidents that resulted in In-School Suspensions (ISS) dropped from 41 to 5.

-Julie Smith and Laura Miltenberger

Julie Smith’s educational career spans 18 years. Ms. Smith worked as an instructional assistant in special education after obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree in Music Performance. This sparked a lifelong passion for serving students with disabilities in public education. After becoming a licensed special education teacher with a focus on behavioral intervention, Ms. Smith taught in the Beaverton and then Pendleton school districts for nine years. She completed her Master’s of Science in Special Education at Portland State University in 2004 and obtained her National Board for Professional Teaching Certificate in 2007. Ms. Smith worked as a Teacher on Special Assignment, instructional coaching, before starting her career as Special Programs Director at the district office in 2012. Through her career, she has focused on partnering with general educators and administrators to develop an inclusive comprehensive support system for all students. She recently completed her Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership through Lewis & Clark College.