The governor has charged his education teams to outline a budget and a policy framework by the end of May. For Ron and Lynne Saxton, the task seems less onerous because they share the governor’s vision of achieving results, outcomes and accountability.
“That’s not what we’ve had historically,” says Ron. “Historically we’ve had a system where results and outcomes were how many days of school you had or how many years — ‘seat time’ kinds of measurements, not performance measurements. And you know, that’s not the way you run anything.”
The governor’s holistic “zero to 20” approach to education makes sense to the Saxtons, who see a clear connection between a toddler’s poor family conditions, a child’s weak school performance and an Oregon workforce’s failure to compete in a global economy.
It especially makes sense to Lynne, who is lauded for results at ChristieCare, formerly the Christie School. Attention to family needs and responsibilities, while setting measurable expectations for every child’s achievement, has translated into a new level of success for the venerable institution.
“[Lynne's] got a laser focus,” says Kitzhaber’s education adviser, Dr. Nancy Golden. “She’s very much about focusing on the outcome and creating the system that gets us there. She has what I call a line of sight, always keeping her eye on what are the outcomes we need for students so they arrive at kindergarten with the skills to be successful and can leave first grade ready to read.”
Ron laughs when he shares how capitol insiders explain Kitzhaber’s emphasis on making sure kids are ready to move on academically before they’re promoted. “It’s really because John’s a doctor,” he explains. “You don’t take someone into the hospital and then say, ‘Well, they’ve been here a month, we’re going to release them.’ You release them when they’re well. His notion is, you don’t come to school not ready to learn and you don’t go to third grade not able to read.”
Ron says there will be no talk of financing until ways are found to make the existing system more efficient. “We’re not focusing yet on sources of money; we’re talking about uses of money.”
In the meantime, Ron’s team is looking at ways that school districts can share resources and use them more efficiently. For example, the various food service and transportation systems are being scrutinized, with an eye toward consolidation.
“I think John very, very wisely understands that you can’t ask the voters, the taxpayers, to change how we fund schools until you can say that we’re delivering a quality product and it’s working,” he says. “There are a lot of people who believe the problem still is that we don’t have enough money and that if we just had more money nothing else needs to change. And I reject that and Lynne rejects that and the governor rejects that.”