News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Focus on Education: Effects of 2020 events still linger

About the Series: These stories are part of a package noting the third anniversary of the 2020 wildfires. The goal is to look ahead to challenges for Santiam Canyon communities.


Schools dealt with double whammy of pandemic, fires

The year 2020 led to both immediate and future challenges for the Santiam Canyon School District (SCSD). In the spring of 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the schools and led to at-home learning.

That fall wildfires blazed through the Canyon, destroying nearly 500 homes and throwing a second monkey wrench into the district’s works. How can you focus on getting the kids to school when you are struggling to find a place to live and battling with bureaucracy as you try to rebuild your house?

Oh, and that pandemic kept lingering as well.

“We are past the years of COVID, distance learning and wildfire, but we are still not past the effects of them,” district superintendent Todd Miller told The Canyon Weekly in an email exchange. “It has been a very challenging time for education, but it is also a time when our work is most important. These kids deserve our best and need the support right now to continue growing them to be well-rounded adults. 

“I am excited for (this school) year. We have a wonderful elementary reading and math program that grows student skills at their level and we are seeing great success in student growth. Our middle and high school offerings continue to grow to allow students to find courses to fit their diverse interests. Of last year’s graduating class, many of the university-bound students left Santiam with about a year’s worth of college credit already, saving them time and money once they get to college.”

Regarding getting students in the far-flung district back into the classroom, Miller said, “our enrollment is still not back to pre-wildfire levels, but it is slowly, continually growing as we see housing growth and people returning.”

Miller noted that pre-wildfire enrollment district-wide was 596 students. Immediately after the fires the count was 522, or a loss of 74 students. This fall enrollment had climbed to 565. 

The Santiam Canyon, like most districts statewide, saw test scores drop amid the pandemic. Few districts, however, faced the pandemic/wildfires combo the Canyon experienced.

“We have seen a dip in scores nearly across the board,” Miller said. “I see this dip happening for several reasons. First and foremost, the time of distance learning had a negative impact for many students, both academically and socially/emotionally. We are still working to recover skills for students. When you add the stress and trauma of the wildfires on top of that, we see kids in need of significant remediation and support. 

“Also, I think there is an added dip in scores due to a growing negative response to testing, which impacts student motivation during testing. The state removed testing proficiency as a graduation requirement, and the students know it. When you combine learning loss from the pandemic timeframe and students’ lack of motivation for the tests, the setup for poor scores is definitely present. 

“On the flip side, we are also seeing students showing great growth, doing well in classes and graduating with amazing academic and/or work plans post-high school. Our students are showing strong resilience in the things that will greatly impact their ability to succeed after high school. We have more work to do, but I am encouraged with the growth we are seeing.”

The good news with regard to education in the Santiam Canyon is that voters passed an $18 million facilities bond in the May 2019 election, with none of the resulting new construction winding up in the line of the fires.

“We did not lose any buildings in the fires,” Miller said. “We are completing a complete HVAC overhaul at our elementary school to replace an outdated system, while also adding air conditioning into the building. This will make the building a much more comfortable learning environment. We are also working on upgrades to our industrial arts facilities, adding more space for automotive classes and expanding our construction/welding program options.”

“Our students are showing strong resilience in the things that will greatly impact their ability to succeed after high school.”  

Todd Miller SCSD Superintendent 

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Linn County Sheriff’s Office Log: Sept. 18 – 24

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