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Latino groups push for improved bilingual education, mental health support in budget

With budget cuts on the horizon, Latino organizations in Salem are urging Salem-Keizer administrators and the school board to move forward with plans to better serve students.

By Rachel Alexander – Salem Reporter

June 1, 2020 at 9:20am

Students organized by Latinos Unidos Siempre urged the new Salem-Keizer School Board to address the mental health needs of immigrant students and stop policies that disproportionately punish students of color at a July 2019 meeting. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Latino community organizations are calling on Salem-Keizer School District leaders to push ahead with plans to improve bilingual education and mental health services next school year, even with budget cuts on the horizon.

“We all must work together to ensure that our children do not lose ground, and instead continue the upward trend of closing the achievement gap and increasing graduation. In the next few months, please reach out and include us in your decision-making processes,” wrote Annalivia Palazzo-Angulo, executive director of the Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality.

Leaders of eight other organizations, including Latinos Unidos Siempre and PCUN, Oregon’s farmworker union, signed on in support. The May 26 letter was addressed to the Salem-Keizer School Board and the district budget committee.

The letter is an effort to salvage for students of color some of the school improvements that Salem-Keizer planned with money from the Oregon’s Student Investment Account. The account was intended to enhance local school budgets to tackle a variety of issues.

The district was to receive $36 million in the fall to be used for better serving students who have historically struggled in local schools, including bilingual students, those with disabilities, students of color and homeless students.

But as Oregon confronts budget shortfalls and significant drops in tax revenue from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s almost certain school districts won’t get the full amount they were expecting.

Districts are also facing significant drops in allocations they normally get from the state. Superintendent Christy Perry said the state’s latest projection would mean about $38 million less for Salem-Keizer next year without legislative action.

Perry said in an interview she expected much of what the Latino groups asked for would be possible. She and other administrators are looking for ways to include new initiatives but on a smaller scale.

Perry said she’s committed to not cut employees whose work is to close gaps for students, like the black and Pacific Islander graduation coaches who have helped boost graduation rates for both ethnic groups to historic highs in Salem-Keizer.

“Those positions have to be held harmless first,” she said.

Palazzo-Angulo said she knows the district can’t do everything it had planned, but outlined four priorities she wants in next year’s plans, based on discussion with Latino parents involved in the coalition.

Improving the district’s bilingual education in elementary school is a top priority, ensuring native Spanish speaking students learn to read proficiently in English while keeping their Spanish fluency.

Salem-Keizer’s plan called for hiring more coaches and mentors to help teachers at eight elementary schools improve English instruction for bilingual students. In the letter, community leaders urge the district to continue that plan on a smaller scale, with at least one elementary school that could serve as a model for bilingual teaching.

Mental health support is another priority, including hiring behavior specialists, counselors and social workers who “understand the intersection between race, ethnicity, language and poverty with adults’ perceptions of good and bad behavior.”

Palazzo-Angulo said district employees need to understand the school-to-prison pipeline, a term used to describe how students of color are more likely to face discipline at school than their white peers and may ultimately end up facing criminal prosecution.

That concern is heightened as students are expected to return to school this fall after months of stress from social isolation and the economic impacts of the pandemic.

“The stress and trauma both adults and children are going through, both at home and at school, can and will lead to negative interactions. The results will be devastating if we are not proactive,” the letter said.

The other two priorities cited by the group are continuing programs to recruit and retain more teachers and educators of color and bilingual teachers, and working to improve partnerships with youth while continuing to build connections with families.

“It’s an appropriate time to have a strong voice on the things you don’t want people to forget, the most important things out there, since there are going to be cuts,” Palazzo-Angulo said in an interview.

The district budget committee last week approved the budget for the 2020-2021 year that starts July 1, but it is certainly going to change. The approved budget, which by law must be approved before the new fiscal year starts, doesn’t account for the expected cuts or costs of the pandemic.

Any cuts in the new budget year will likely come later in the summer once the Oregon Legislature convenes and Gov. Kate Brown has decided how state spending should be reduced to account for steep drops in tax revenue.

Perry and district administrators would then propose cuts if needed, but school board and budget committee members would likely vote on a final plan.

Board chair Marty Heyen said it’s too early to speculate about what might be possible to save since the full impact of the state revenue slump on the district is unknown. She said she’d like to see the coalition’s priorities preserved so long as doing so doesn’t require cuts elsewhere to harm reduce services to students.

“The needs that were laid out by the coalition really are not necessarily needs for a particular group of children. All behavior issues and things they refer to in their document run through all cultures and societies, all our kids, all the different groups,” she said.

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Kaiser Permanente Partners with SKCE and Salem Keizer Public Schools to Tackle Chronic Absenteeism

“In 2018, Kaiser Permanente awarded more than $1 million in grants to five nonprofits and two school service districts in the Northwest. One of those partnerships involves the Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality. The nonprofit utilizes funding support to provide workshops for Marion County Latino parents to encourage involvement in their child’s education while highlighting the importance of regular attendance.”


“The collective efforts supported by Kaiser Permanente to address absenteeism are making an impact. This year, 75% of Salem-Keizer Public Schools grew their attendance rates when comparing the 2017-18 to the 2018-19 school years. At the same time, more than 400 additional students are now considered to be regular attenders.”


Read the full article:

Another way to keep children from being absent: back-to-school medical checkups help keep Mid-Willamette Valley kids in school Why a wellness check is important to your child’s academic future


Student Attendance in Salem Keizer schools Improves and SKCE was a Part of This Improvement

Here’s the notice from Salem Keizer Public Schools

Press Release

For Immediate Release

June 21, 2019



More Than 400 Additional Students Attended School Regularly in 2018-19
Seventy-five percent of SKPS schools increased their attendance rates from the previous year


SALEM, Ore. – In Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS), 49 of the district’s 65 schools grew their attendance rates since the 2017-18 school year, and more than 400 additional students are considered to be regular attenders.

At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, SKPS launched “Every Day 24J” to raise awareness with students and families, schools, community organizations and local officials regarding chronic absenteeism. Since the start of the campaign, schools and community organizations have been collaborating to identify barriers to attendance for students across the district. The work has centered around connecting students and families to community resources, providing incentives for positive attendance trends and most importantly, building relationships with each and every student.

“We know that students succeed when they know that there is someone who believes in them,” said Superintendent Christy Perry. “Regular attendance is a key indicator of student success and habits start with our very youngest learners in pre-kindergarten. Building connections with students from day one and encouraging them to be there every day is the first step toward helping our students reach the graduation stage.”

Chronic absenteeism is defined by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) as missing 10 percent or more of the school year. In SKPS that equates to as little as two days a month–18 days a year.

Across the district schools are working to improve their attendance rates through identifying resources for their students, community engagement and more. At Highland Elementary School, students improved their attendance rate since the 2017-18 school year by nearly nine percentage points.

“We worked to find the root cause of our attendance challenges,” said Principal Christi Cheever. “As we continued to make personal calls each day, we identified barriers for our students such as transportation and lack of housing or clothes that made it difficult for our students to be at school. We worked with the district and our community partners to wraparound and support our students’ needs, and ultimately help boost attendance.”

Through a grant with Kaiser Permanente, the Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality is also working to develop attendance supports for families in the North Salem High feeder system. At North, students improved their attendance rate this year by 6.3 percentage points.

“The sense of urgency regarding attendance has never been stronger,” said Assistant Principal Carlos Ruiz. “Our strengths are making relationships, which are foundational in education. It doesn’t matter what your title is; we all have the capacity and power to connect with kids.”

During the summer, the district will continue to collaborate with community organizations to develop additional supports and resources for families, students and educators to continue to improve attendance.

“The improvements to our attendance rates across the district are so encouraging,” said Perry. “However, we still have a lot of work to do, and this is work that we will continue to do until we help each and every student be there every day in District 24J.”

Four Corners, Phil Decker and SKCE in the Salem Reporter

The second article in the Salem Reporter focuses on Four Corners Elementary School, and the challenges that they have in providing education to their students. Annalivia Palazzo, the SKCE Executive Director, also comments on some of the challenges.

Read the article here.

Four Corners Elementary principal Phil Decker photographed on the playground students Wednesday March 13, 2019. Salem-Keizer schools for Rachel Alexander/The Salem Reporter Wednesday 3/13/19. 2019 Fred Joe /

2017 Improvements in Overall and Latino Student Graduation Rate

The Improvement in the Latino Student Graduation Rate was “impressive”

In a Statesman Journal article, two interviews discussed the improvement in the graduation rates for Oregon students over the last few years. Acting Superintendent for the State of Oregon Department of Education, Colt Gill, and Annalivia Palazzo-Angulo, the Executive Director of SKCE, were interviewed about graduation rates.

Superintendent Gill discussed overall graduation rates and different ways to view the graduation rate data. Annalivia Palazzo-Angulo also discussed graduation rate data, but her information was more specific to the Latino student graduation rate, which was described as an “impressive” gain in the last few years.

“Class of 2017 Graduation” Salem Keizer School District

There was also discussion of how graduation rates change when graduation time is increased beyond 4 years, and when students who graduate through GED, online classes, or other methods are included.

On the Salem Keizer School District website, graduation rates are also discussed. The first paragraph leads to a more in-depth discussion of graduation rates, “According to the Oregon Department of Education’s recently released graduation rates for the 2016-17 academic year, Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) increased its graduation rate by nearly two percentage points. Additionally, the drop-out rate decreased by nearly one percentage point. The graduation rates were based on a four- and five-year cohort of students entering the ninth grade in the 2013-14 or 12-13 academic year. The dropout rate reports on students in grades 9-12.”

The increase in the number of students graduating was led by the Latino student graduation rate

In 2012, 59.5% of Latino students graduated. In 2017, 72.5% graduated. This is a substantial improvement of 13% in 3 years. Seen in number of students instead of percentages, for every 100 Latino students who should have graduated in 2012, only 59 graduated. However, for every 100 Latino students who should have graduated in 2017, 72 graduated. That’s 13 more out of 100 who graduated in 2017 than graduated in 2012.

Graduation rates must increase for Oregon

However, even with the good news, Oregon didn’t reach a 78% graduation rate. For the present, that means the state Department of Education goal of a 90% graduation rate by 2024 is not on track. (The state legislature has instructed the Oregon Department of Education to have a 100% graduation rate by 2025.) Our graduation rate is currently 49th in the nation.



Annalivia and Angel testify before the Salem Keizer School Board

Annalivia Palazzo-Angulo, the SKCE Executive Director, and Angel Reyes, one of the SKCE Educa Inspira Facilitators both testified at the Salem-Keizer School Board meeting on May 23rd, 2017.  Annalivia’s testimony is from 3:32 minutes until 7:54 minutes and her testimony discusses both the school district working within poor state school funding and the importance of maintaining diversity in both hiring and school programs. Angel’s testimony is from 7:54 minutes to 11:35 minutes, and he testifies about the importance of speaking and learning Spanish. Angel’s testimony is in Spanish, with an English translation.


Statesman Journal Interview – Goals for SKCE

Annalivia Palazzo-Angulo, the Executive Director and a co-founder of SKCE, discusses her goals and plans for the future with Statesman Journal newspaper reporter, Kaellen Hessel.

Annalivia Palazzo-Angulo, Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality executive director, greets Elianna Castro, 10, during a Spanish literacy class, hosted by SKCE, on Tuesday, April 28, 2015, at Hallman Elementary School in Salem. Also pictured (from left): Gabriela Valenzuela, Jaylene Oropeza Castro, 5, Veronica Carlos and Yaret Carlos, 6.   (Photo: DANIELLE PETERSON / Statesman Journal)

Read the full article: “What’s new at the Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality?” Statesman Journal May 2, 2015