A new law concerning graduation requirements will mean no more standardized tests for Douglas County students.
Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 744 into law last month, which will halt all essential skills testing required for graduation for the next three years. The prerequisite tests student’s proficiency levels in reading, writing and math.
The passage of the bill stirred debate among community members in Douglas County.
One of those who feels skeptical is Micki Hall, a retired teacher and former board member for the Roseburg School District.
“It seems like a solution looking to create a problem,” Hall said.
She said without essential skills testing, she is worried how schools will be able to identify kids who may need extra help.
“As far as students directly, I think the fact that some may be graduating without those essential skills ultimately harms kids in the long run,” Hall said.
But Michelle Knee, the Roseburg Public Schools assistant superintendent, emphasized that this does not translate to students being underprepared for graduation.
“SB 744 suspends essential skills testing for the next three years but does not remove Oregon’s graduation requirements,” Knee said. “Students are still required to show proficiency in all core subject areas in order to graduate.”
Essential skills are tested through traditional standardized tests or through portfolios that include work samples from students.
Logan Bishop, an incoming senior at Roseburg High School, said the tests didn’t help him understand the material better but did help him see areas for improvement.
“It’s nice to have a metric of some sort to say how I’m doing or areas that I can improve in,” Bishop said.
The law comes after a year with essential skills testing already slashed due to the pandemic. It also opens the door for the state to review current graduation requirements, said Liz Merah, press secretary for the governor, in a press release.
“In the meantime, it gives Oregon students and the education community a chance to regroup after a year and a half of disruption caused by the pandemic,” Merah said.
She went on to add that this gives time to evaluate whether or not the current set-up for testing essential skills actually benefits students.
The suspension of standardized testing also allows officials a chance to examine ways to make requirements more inclusive, according to the press release.
“It gives Oregon a chance to reimagine and rebuild our education system in a way that more equitably serves Oregon’s Black, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color,” Merah said.
The review will look into ways to be more accessible for students with disabilities, for immigrant or refugee populations currently learning English.
Bishop said he could see this possibly increasing graduation rates in areas like Roseburg.
“The goal of a public education system is to graduate people,” Bishop said. “So I guess making that more accessible for everyone is good.”
Knee said she wanted to reassure the community about the school district’s dedication to rigorous standards for graduation.
“These standards are key to ensuring students are prepared for life after high school and that students remain on a path to success,” Knee said.
While the bill was mostly divided along party lines, former Rep. Gary Leif was one of the few Republican lawmakers who voted yes on the bill prior to his passing. Roseburg Mayor Larry Rich who worked closely with Leif during the last few months said he did not know the reasoning behind Leif’s vote.
Recommendations for new standards are due to the Legislature and Oregon Department of Education by late September 2022.
Determination has won out over being disabled for Brad Baimbridge, Mike Sullivan and Stuart Wagner.
These three men have not been denied their preferred professions, despite suffering on-the-job accidents and subsequent spinal cord injuries. They have continued to work in the logging and construction industries. Their determination could probably fill a log truck, or a couple of dump trucks.
Baimbridge and Sullivan both use wheelchairs. Wagner beat the odds after his accident and is able to slowly walk with the help of a walker. But all three continue to operate heavy equipment, just like they did before their accidents.
“For the most part, people with spinal cord injuries don’t get any further than their injury and deal with the misery of it,” Sullivan said. “Don’t listen to the medical field on what you can and can’t do. Figure it out for yourself.
“Don’t give up, try to keep a clear head, try to avoid feeling sorry for yourself,” he explained of how to deal with injuries and disabilities. “There’s always somebody in a worst situation than me. Every day is a bonus for me because it could have ended, probably should have ended, in 1979.”
Sullivan, who owned a logging company, was injured that year when his vehicle was hit by a wheel and tire that came off an oncoming lowboy truck on a rural highway. The wheel and tire hit a front corner of Sullivan’s vehicle, flipping it onto its side before it was hit by the vehicle that was traveling behind the lowboy.
Sullivan suffered several cracked vertebrates and two dislocated ones, leaving him paralyzed from the upper chest down. He has full use of his arms and hands.
After returning home, Sullivan traded his bulldozer for a modified dozer that he could operate. He went back to work in the woods.
Sullivan admits that he went through several years of depression and constant physical and emotional pain. But he was driven to support his wife, Louise, and their two young children.
“She was with me every day,” he said of Louise, who has now been his wife for 47 years. “Her dad was a logger so she knew the business. She wanted me to do what I wanted to do. We had the equipment, the investment.
“A handful of people helped us get back into business,” he added. “Some people out there believed in us, they encouraged me, they didn’t act like I had a disability. They put me to work.”
Wagner was injured in 2015. He was a log truck driver and when he pulled the cable wraps off his load at a log yard, a log unexpectedly rolled off the top and struck his head. He suffered a shattered vertebrate, two dislocated vertebrates and a pinched spinal cord. After surgery to fuse two vertebrates together, he was given a 5 percent chance to ever walk again.
“I kept trying,” he said. “My right leg doesn’t work very well, but I managed to be able to kind of walk with a walker.”
Wagner bought an excavator and started his own business with that machine. He had a wife and two children to help support.
“I wasn’t willing to just give up,” said Wagner, now 42. “I don’t like to sit at home. I’d rather work.”
Wagner was good friends with Michael Sullivan, Jr., so he knew the older Mike’s situation.
“Mike just told me my best option was self-employment, that I just needed to find my place in the industry,” said Wagner, who did get his contractor’s license and went to work with his excavator.
Baimbridge was falling a tree on July 4, 2018, about 10 minutes before the 1 p.m. closure because of fire regulations. He was just starting a backcut on the tree “and I don’t remember anything after that.”
The top of a drought-killed tree, about 30 feet in length, fell and hit him in the head and back, driving his head down between his knees. He fell face first in blackberry vines and then 7 feet of tree landed on him.
“I don’t know what caused it to come down, no idea,” Baimbridge said. “I was knocked out. When I woke up and tried to move, I couldn’t.”
He suffered a hyperextended spinal cord, two fractured vertebrates, five fractured ribs, a punctured left lung and an injured left shoulder. He has 60% to 70% feeling in his lower body, but no voluntary movement.
“I knew what I was up against,” said Baimbridge who earlier in his life had worked as an EMT and a volunteer firefighter so he had seen physical trauma suffered by others. “You have hope, but you have to be realistic about your situation.”
Baimbridge was friends with Wagner and spent several hours talking to him about life and disabilities. Through Wagner, Baimbridge met Sullivan and those two talked.
Baimbridge also got help in keeping his body stretched out from Terry Brock, the owner of Bodyshop Total Fitness in Sutherlin. While still in the hospital, Baimbridge received a call from Brock who offered to volunteer his time and facility to help the injured man in his recovery. Their goal was for Baimbridge to get back on his feet and to walk.
“I obviously didn’t, but Terry gave me 100 percent of his effort for a year,” Baimbridge says.
Sitting at home was no fun so he accepted an office job at the Department of Human Services in Roseburg. After six months inside, he knew he had to get back outside.
Baimbridge purchased a modified bulldozer in 2019 and started yarding logs. In 2020, he bought a skidder that he modified so he could run it and then bought a logging shovel that was already modified.
“I grew up running heavy equipment,” the 54-year-old said. “I’m most happy in the woods.
“Truly one of the challenges of going back to work in the woods was trying to get folks to believe that I could still do most of what I could do before,” he said.
Baimbridge, Sullivan and Wagner through their own persistence and dogged determination proved just that.
“I’m still running heavy equipment,” Sullivan said. “That’s my therapy.”
“Don’t set limits for yourself,” Baimbridge said. “You can do a lot more than you really think you can. Just try it. I wouldn’t be healthy mentally if I wasn’t being me.”
“Don’t feel sorry for yourself,” Wagner said. “You have to find something you can still do, something you enjoy doing and something you’re capable of doing.”
Danny Quinn has had it. Jeff Marotz and Doug Harvey — same.
The three men have taken it upon themselves to try and make peace with the scores of homeless people living behind Gaddis Park and along the South Umpqua River and keep the area as clean as possible.
Quinn, who owns a nursery in Glide, started the cleanup efforts more than a year ago. He saw the potential of the park and the adjacent areas, and his love of landscaping and people kicked in.
Harvey is a retired newspaperman who often jogs along the river. He also sees the potential in the park and offered to help when he saw what Quinn was doing.
Marotz sees the situation from the flip side — he lives in an RV and is technically considered homeless. He works to keep things peaceful and encourages the homeless individuals in the area to keep their surroundings clean, if nothing else as a matter of public health.
The three said they made noticeable progress this summer, had the park and surrounding area looking nicer than ever, and helped create an admittedly tenuous but workable coexistence between the dozens of homeless people in the area and the families coming out to watch youth baseball.
That’s all gone now, they say. Baseball is over and the area east of the Interstate 5 bridge suddenly has become something of a war zone, with no end or solution in sight.
“Every square inch is covered with trash. There’s trash in every bush, every camp. This is extreme,” Quinn said. “They’re not camping here, they’re trashing the living hell out of the park. It’s sick. We’ve pretty much given up.”
The three aren’t entirely sure what happened, but they have their theories.
Earlier this summer Roseburg city officials announced plans to begin cleaning up homeless camps along the river, after leaving them alone due to concerns over COVID-19. About a month ago the first cleanup took place at Gaddis park. Similar cleanups have since occurred at Deer Creek and Templin parks in the city.
The cleanups have created a degree of instability in the camps, including fights as new people come and go into the camps. Add to that mix heavy drug use, mental illness, dire poverty and a distrust/dislike of police and authorities and you have a powder keg that exploded this week, they say.
“Now it’s like there’s no respect,” Quinn said. “They got pissed off ‘cause they got chased off the first time, and now they’re defiant. Now they want to show the cops who’s in charge.”
There is enough blame to go around for everyone, the three men say. They all acknowledge that the police have been put in the unenviable position of having to perform what is largely a social service role. For the most part, Quinn and the others give the police high marks for their efforts, which for months seemed to be paying off.
But simply clearing out encampments without a place for people to go is destructive, they said. The same for handing out $1,500 tickets for littering to people who have no intention or means to pay them. Lately the men said they have seen ticket after ticket thrown on top of piles of trash, often covered in feces just to make a statement.
“The tickets have absolutely no impact. Nothing,” Quinn said. “What a waste of city hours, a waste of city time. Because they have no plan.”
Instead of handing out tickets, why not require community service work, such as helping clean up the park, Harvey suggested.
“We need some creative thinking, some creative solutions. But we’re getting nothing,” he said.
It’s not just the homeless who should be helping clean up the park, Harvey said. The same goes for elected city officials who make policy from afar and the Internet crowd who criticize the efforts of Harvey and the others but don’t ever pick up a shovel and offer to help.
“We don’t see any boots on the ground,” he said. “We’re overwhelmed, and we’re the guys that do this stuff. It’s frustrating. What’s the plan?”
In addition to the public health and safety concerns, the three are worried about the damage the encampments are having on the health of the river. The trash, feces, toilet paper, tires and other items that end up in the river can’t be good for the water quality, they said. They also worry about the degradation of the river banks from encampments, which expose root systems and could be dangerous when the rainy season hits.
So for now the three say they are putting away the trash bags, stuffing their hopes in their back pockets, and waiting for a miracle, if even a small one.
“We’re not going back there until the cops do something real, we’re walking away from under the bridge because it’s just out of control,” Quinn said. “They said they’re coming back next week, but they’ve said they were going to do a lot of things they haven’t done.”