Trending / District Dissatisfaction: Local parent leads school choice movement | news

Sharrie Ryan-Bivins of Scappoose has been doing her homework: not on reading, writing, and arithmetic, but on an alternative school system and what it could look like for her community.

Towards the beginning of April, Ryan-Bivins shared a flyer on Facebook with the following description attached:

“A group of parents and concerned citizens in our community are gathering to discuss and explore ideas to create an alternative schooling system to public, (and the cost of private and inconvenience of homeschool) for our children! Come join us!”

Ryan-Bivins shared this flyer at the Alternative Schools Informational Meeting in a Facebook post.

The post quickly gained a following, sparking an ongoing conversation about school choice in Columbia County.

Ryan-Bivins said it became clear to her during the pandemic that the public school system wasn’t meeting her children’s needs.

“I’m interested in coming up with an alternative to those, mostly due to the pandemic,” she said. “I had two children at home doing online schooling. Just seeing the struggles having to do with online or sitting in front of a computer all day, but the benefits that came from me being a little more involved.”

Other frustrations Ryan-Bivins said she had with Scappoose School District (SSD) were the learning materials themselves.

“I would ask their teachers for different curricula out of the norm of reading, writing, (and) math,” Ryan-Bivins explained. “That experience of having them at home and seeing and hearing what they were learning – what they were engaging with, really opened my eyes. I saw what my kids were learning in the public school system, and I didn’t love it.”

As her dissatisfaction with the school district grew, Ryan-Bivins said she considered homeschooling, but as a single mother of two boys, it just wasn’t feasible.

“(Homeschooling) was just not something that was in my bandwidth to do,” she said. “I couldn’t afford private school. You know, private schools are amazing. That’s homeschooling. But I couldn’t afford private school for both of my children. And so public school was where we had to land.”

Despite being forced to narrow her search parameters, it didn’t take Ryan-Bivins long to find a viable model.

Learning pods are small student groups supervised by adults for the purpose of learning, exploring, and socializing, according to National School Choice Week, a not-for-profit, charitable effort to raise awareness of effective K–12 education options for children.

There are two different types of learning pods: self-directed pods and learning support pods. Learning support pods are designed to supplement regular class instruction, whereas self-directed learning pods qualify as a type of homeschooling, in which parents or hired teachers plan their curriculum in accordance with state laws and regulations.

Learning pods blossomed under the pandemic for several reasons, including the challenges of remote learning, fears over COVID, and perceived shortcomings of the public school system brought to light during the public health emergency.

A June 2021 poll conducted by EdChoice, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and nonpartisan organization for the advancement of educational freedom, found that 37% of parents were participating in a pod or looking to form or join a learning pod.

Under the learning pod model, one of Ryan-Bivins’ chief concerns would be keeping tuition affordable for middle and working-class families.

“There’s learning pods where parents pay, you know, three to $400 a month. There are learning pods where parents pay $1,500 a month,” Ryan-Bivins said. “I believe that it’s going to be on the lower end of that cost.”

In his March 18 letter, SSD Superintendent Tim Porter informed staff and community members Scappoose schools lost state funding due to a “significant decline” in enrollment since 2019.

Also, in his letter, Porter projected student enrollment next year to be down 200 from pre-pandemic numbers, a decline of 9.7%.

“The decline in enrollment in SSD mirrors the trend we are not only seeing in Oregon but throughout the United States,” he wrote. “Several factors led to the drop, including decreasing birth rates, enrollment patterns, and families’ choices during the pandemic.”

As of April, SSD enrollment is still down by 106 students compared to the 2018-2019 school year.

“Now it’s 1,913,” Porter said. “Last year at this point, it was 1,738, but pre-COVID, in the 18-19 school year in the same month, it was 2,019.”

Data from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) reveals a similar pattern.

According to ODE, 7,905 fewer students enrolled in Oregon schools for the 2021-2022 school year – figures that would not be likely to surprise Ryan-Bivins, who told The Chronicle that her proposal has been well received by the community.

“I’ve had people that have contacted me, personally messaged me on Facebook, saying, you know what, I don’t even have children in the school district, but I would love to help with this,” she said. “I think that there’s more and more families that would like to have more of a say in what their children are learning. I believe that a lot of parents would just like them to go to school to learn math, writing, English, and so forth, and not much else.”

learning pods

A local effort is underway to allow parents to have more of a say in their child’s education.

According to the Oregon Department of Education’s Communications Director Marc Siegel, the educational landscape in Oregon provides several different options for families:

1) Public schools operated or sponsored by a school district and may include the following (though it should be noted that not every school district has each of these options available):

i.e. Private Alternative schools (private schools or community-based organizations that register with the ODE annually and may contract with school districts)

All public options must meet certain requirements for schools as outlined in OAR 581-022-0102, this collection of rules is known as Division 22, according to Siegel.

“Private schools are often accredited, though not always, and are not required to adhere to statutes or rules, and there are no academic standards for home schooling. You may want to also check in with Oregon Federation of Independent Schools –,” he said.

The Alternative School Informational Meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, May 4, from 7 to 8 pm at the Scappoose Public Library.

For more information, contact Sharrie Ryan-Bivins at 503-396-3361.


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