Kitzhaber welcomes Class of 2025 to school

Kitzhaber welcomes Class of 2025 to school
Gov. John Kitzhaber speaks to students at Metzger Elementary School Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (Kevin Eyres/KATU News)

TIGARD, Ore. (AP) — In terms of excitement, it's all downhill from here for the kindergarten students at Metzger Elementary School.

Gov. John Kitzhaber, Chief Education Officer Rudy Crew and, more fascinatingly for the youngsters, a bevy of television cameramen greeted the children Wednesday on their first day of school.

The kids, of course, had no idea all the talk was about them.

The governor visited the kindergartners because they represent the Class of 2025 — a group that faces heavy expectations in his ambitious effort to overhaul public education.

Kitzhaber hired Crew three months ago to transform the state's education system so that every student in the Class of 2025 graduates from high school, and 80 percent of them go on to attain a two- or four-year college degree.

Oregon's graduation rate is 67 percent, so getting to 100 percent is a daunting task. But Kitzhaber and Crew say it can be achieved through innovation and increased education spending.

"This is an Apollo shot here; this is an Apollo moment," Kitzhaber said, invoking the recent death of Neil Armstrong. "What we've done here is we've set the destination, and with motivation and commitment, I'm absolutely convinced we can get there."

Without mentioning the word "taxes," the governor said public education is underfunded at all levels and it's up to Oregonians to provide money to help reduce class sizes, boost vocational offerings and make other improvements.

"Even if we're successful in reorganizing the Department of Education, we can't ultimately be successful without additional resources," he said.

Kitzhaber highlighted some of the changes in Oregon education for the 2012-13 school year:

— The state received a waiver from key provisions of the unpopular No Child Left Behind federal education law.

— Districts are testing various models for evaluating teachers and administrators based in part on student performance.

— The state has placed an increased emphasis on early childhood education programs.

And there is the addition of Crew. The Legislature created the chief education officer job last year when lawmakers voted to approve Kitzhaber's plan to streamline a state education system that has 197 school districts, 17 community college districts and seven public universities.

Crew has control over the leaders of the Department of Education, the university system, the community colleges commission and other state agencies. Moreover, he is overseeing the development of achievement compacts — another change for this school year — spelling out the test scores and graduation rates that school districts, colleges and universities are expected to achieve.

Kitzhaber also appointed Rob Saxton as deputy superintendent of public instruction, a position in which he will head the state Department of Education. Saxton is not related to former Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton.

Crew said the governor's emphasis on early childhood education is the most important part of the state's strategy, but some of the responsibility rests on parents making sure their kids aren't just ready to read when they arrive at school — but already reading.

"It all really does begin at the home level, and how that home is then connected to the schooling work," Crew said. "It clearly involves parents. We've really got to find ways by which to ignite, communicate and ultimately encourage parents to be an active participant in early childhood education."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.