The Big Picture

Thoughts on big issues, challenges, and celebrations of the education work we do....

Educators must have an unwavering stance on racism and equity

Above: video clip from HDESD staff address on June 3, 2020. For full message to staff and community, please see post below.

A message from Paul Andrews
Superintendent, HDESD

As an organization dedicated to putting children first, taking care of each other and embracing innovation, our work around equity at the High Desert Education Service District remains critical on every level and in every fiber of who we are. Our calling as educators is to ensure that each and every student we serve has access to an excellent and equitable education. A fundamental reality, however, is that for every child to receive that equitable education and ultimately to succeed, they must feel safe, welcome, loved and included within the walls of their school and surrounding community.

The murder of another innocent black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota last month is yet another painful reminder that we are not doing enough to interrupt the historic and systemic racism that dominates our nation. And then there are the other innocent black men and women — including Breonna Taylor in March of this year — whose lives have been taken from them because of the color of their skin. These are not just policing issues, they are flaws in our education system, in our economic system, in our housing system, in every system that keeps the status quo.

On behalf of the children and families who look to us for partnership and support, we stand in solidarity with our communities of color. This is a time for us to show courage and to raise our voices against injustice and stand up for the children and families we serve. This is also a time for me as a white man, as an educator, as an advocate for children with special needs, to reflect on my own “why” and my calling. Data consistently show that the education system in America is not working for children of color. And when it comes to education, we are the system. Data consistently show that our children of color are not receiving the same support, services and opportunities as our white children. Young black boys in our schools are being over-identified for special education — especially in the category of emotional disturbance — and disproportionately disciplined, from preschool all the way through high school. As I reflect on my career, I recognize that I have not done enough to interrupt these injustices and that is my personal connection to the equity work we have been doing and will continue to do at HDESD.

For the past two years, we have been actively engaged in an equity journey which is an individual and collective commitment to fighting systemic racism by examining and redesigning structures that reinforce inequity and harm to our students, families and educators of color. Last year, our board passed an equity policy that has become our road map in this work. As we travel along with miles of road to cover still, we are committed to and passionate about change.

The world needs us, as educators, to have an unwavering stance when it comes to equity and making our educational system better for kids and families. Our children need us to right the wrongs in this system that we are stewards of.

Our sense of urgency and opportunity around equity work is further fueled by the momentum taking place throughout our nation and the entire world. I’m feeling more hopeful and heartened than I have in the past as I see and hear more white voices speaking up as allies to our communities of color. I am humbled by our employees who are initiating difficult conversations and supporting local efforts to speak out against racism. And, I’ve watched our teams build and grow programs centered in equity for many years.

We will continue to engage our HDESD team in equity training with partners such as the Oregon Center for Educational Equity. We will continue to hold ourselves accountable for bringing our equity policy to life and using it as a guide for every decision we make.  We will continue to build upon decisions and policies to diversify our organization and expand our knowledge, awareness and action in support of our staff, students and families of color. Together, we will continue to drive change in support of equity as we put kids first and take care of each other. We will continue to weave the work we have started into broader work that fights injustice until we have finally dismantled the systemic racism that exists in all aspects of our lives.

A message from Paul

Paul Andrews and a Redmond High student

Experiencing education through the eyes of students

Last month, I spent a full day going back to school. As an educator and administrator, I’ve been an observer in the classroom many times, but it’s been 33 years since I’ve attended high school myself and truly learned through the eyes of a student. It was an incredible opportunity that I took on as part of the national Shadow a Student Challenge.

Through the Shadow a Student Challenge,  HDESD is making an innovative shift to better understand our education system and we’re hoping to inspire educators and administrators throughout Central Oregon to do the same. This challenge is based on the concept of human-centered design, a growing movement in the business world to build a deeper empathy with the people for whom we’re designing. We believe this creative approach will generate new ideas and innovative solutions in education as well. It will help us to truly understand who we are designing learning for – our students.

CTE at Redmond High School

Because HDESD provides coordination and support to Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in our region, I chose to immerse myself into the day of a 10th grade student in the CTE program at Redmond High School.  The student I shadowed had classes in Welding, US History, Algebra 2, Chemistry, Ceramics and mentoring.  This was my first Shadow a Student Challenge and I relied on the national toolkit to guide my experience. The toolkit provides a very specific framework for a meaningful shadow experience. It began with establishing personal learning goals to clarify what I wanted to get out of the shadow experience.

This was a great opportunity to partner with Redmond High School to begin integrating the notion of learning directly from student insight and experience about where to innovate within education. Spending a day side-by-side with a student opens up a unique perspective that adults can’t experience otherwise.

The next step is for me to share my observations and insights with the CTE team and explore small ideas and opportunities that we might test to enhance the learning experience for students in our program.

Expanding Shadow a Student in Central Oregon

Moving forward, I hope to see Central Oregon become a leader in the National Shadow a Student Challenge. If you would like to learn more, visit the Shadow a Student Challenge website or contact Anna Higgins, our Director of Innovation at or (541) 693-5628.

The PERS Situation 2016

Oregon has a PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) shortfall looming. In this video, Greg Munn, Director of Business Services shares the big picture on the issue and talks about what we are doing at High Desert Education Service District to prepare for it.

Increasing Technology Equity and Accessibility in Central Oregon

Students in Science Lab

“Why should we look to the past in order to prepare for the future? Because there is nowhere else to look.” —James Burke, science historian

The Challenge: Increasing Technology Equity and Accessibility in Central Oregon

The US Department of Education released the 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) earlier this year. The plan, Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, challenges us to focus on “using technology to transform learning experiences with the goal of providing greater equity and accessibility.”

We tackle the issues of equity and accessibility daily via the services we provide to our districts and students in the High Desert Education Service District. The educational technology services we provide range from high-speed internet connections for staff and students throughout Central Oregon (equity) to assistive technology devices and support for our students with disabilities (accessibility). We have been providing and improving access to these services since the call to action of the first NETP in 1996. Does the 2016 Plan challenge us to do more? Yes.

Merging the Past: The Information Superhighway

The 1996 Plan—Getting America’s Students Ready for the 21st Century: Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge—included the following high-level goals:

  • All teachers in the nation will have the training and support they need to help students learn using computers and the information superhighway
  • All teachers and students will have modern multimedia computers in their classrooms
  • Every classroom will be connected to the information superhighway
  • Effective software and on-line learning resources will be an integral part of every school’s curriculum

I chuckle when I read the phrase “information superhighway” in the year 2016. Twenty years ago, our focus on technology was very tactile. We were fascinated by that superhighway, labs full of computers, CDs full of learning resources, and software labeled edtech. We hired technology trainers who delivered training on a specific edtech product. We checked off the boxes on our goals list with pride. We tackled the technology literacy challenge.

Preparing for the Future: Learning, Teaching, and Leadership

I wish I could tell you today that we have arrived at the post-edtech era and our fascination with devices, blinking lights, and things we can touch has matured. In the post-edtech era, we will not think about technology as a set of things separate from education. We will set objectives and pick up the right device or software to meet them. Our teachers will feel supported and empowered to weave mobile learning and digital content into their classroom practice. Our leaders will plan, budget, and implement sustainable programs (and not one-off projects) to provide greater equity and accessibility. That is the challenge of the 2016 NETP and future-ready education. We are not there yet, but this latest update to the NETP drives us closer to the vision of everywhere, all-the-time learning.

The 2016 NETP does not open with a set of four goals we can check off. Instead, it provides us with recommendations and examples from school districts across the country. It challenges us to design our goals by connecting the domains of Learning, Teaching, Leadership, Assessment, and Infrastructure. It spotlights paths to action for us. Our first step is a renewed commitment to professional learning that we will kickoff with a series of edcamps and professional learning opportunities for teachers. (Join us at Edcamp Central Oregon on April 30 at Ridgeview High School.)

I am excited to unpack the sections of the 2016 NETP with my colleagues and education leaders here at High Desert ESD and our partner districts in Bend, Crook County, Redmond, and Sisters. When we reflect on our past work, we see the miles of steady, purposeful progress guided by past NETPs that have built our current, solid infrastructure for our students. We accept the broader challenges of the 2016 Plan with renewed energy.


It’s Time to Step Up for Children with Special Education Needs

HDESD EI/ECSE students

It’s time to step up for children with special education needs

The United States is experiencing a significant increase in the number of children being identified with special education needs. In Central Oregon, the early childhood special education student population has increased by 10% in the past year alone and physician referrals for services have more than doubled in the last six months. This shift is largely driven by an increase in developmental screenings designed to make early intervention services available to families. While outcomes for children receiving these services are striking, funding has remained largely unchanged in Oregon since 2007. At the same time, the cost of providing early intervention and early childhood special education programs has risen significantly over the past several years.

Early intervention is a game-changer

This shortage of early childhood special education funding is particularly puzzling when you look at the big picture. In Central Oregon, nearly 20% of students who receive early intervention no longer need special education services by age three. Recently, we watched 95% of a cohort of Central Oregon speech articulation students meet or exceed state reading standards by the third grade. The long-term impact on both student success and the cost of education is impossible to ignore. While there is absolutely no question that these programs have a profound impact on the lives and futures of our children, they have been underfunded for years. It’s time for all of us to step forward and advocate for this critical work, so we can give our educators the resources they need to help our children succeed.

Asking for more support

Our High Desert Education Service District is leading an effort to request a substantial increase in funding for Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education (EI/ECSE) in Oregon. We provide EI/ECSE services to all eligible children in Central Oregon as well as four rural counties in other parts of the state. To do this, we’ve joined forces with former Deputy Superintendent of Public Education Rob Saxton and other education partners, including the Oregon Association of Education Service Districts, the Oregon School Board Association, and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators. Community support and advocacy will only help further our cause. If you would like more information, I welcome your calls (541-693-5602) and emails (

I’m honored to work with the High Desert Education Service District’s team of highly skilled special education experts. They provide exceptional early childhood developmental support for children birth to 5 years of age (prior to kindergarten) through screening, evaluation, and specially designed instruction for young children with special needs in Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson Counties.