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HomeNewsA Rebuttal to Communication Coordinator Gregg Koskela’s 'Newberg School Board History' Article

A Rebuttal to Communication Coordinator Gregg Koskela’s ‘Newberg School Board History’ Article

Op-Ed contributed by Newberg, Oregon resident Becky Wallis responding to Newberg Public Schools Communications Coordinator Gregg Koskela's blog article, 'Newberg School Board History'.

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Who is Gregg Koskela? Why does he have to have a disclaimer in his article to point out that he is speaking as a private citizen? I’m going to bet it’s because it would be extremely unprofessional for a school district employee to disregard the respect they should have for an employer.  I have seen Gregg Koskela’s signature line on emails from the School District regarding district news and information, however I had not ever seen his name in the community. This is not to say that Gregg wasn’t involved in the community, but to simply say that not everyone that lives in Newberg and Dundee have heard of who he is outside of his job. So, with that said I find it disingenuous to state that he wrote a timeline of his job experience as a private citizen. Is he considered a private citizen while working and gaining that knowledge he claims to be his own perspective and receiving tax payer dollars while stockpiling those perceived experiences? He claims the reasons the board members need to be recalled is due to lack of transparency, illegal actions and failing academics. Who’s in charge of those academics? Is it really the board members? Is it the administrative staff that is hired to run an educational institution? Are the academics actually improving? Did they improve under Dr. Joe Morelock?

To address his summary, let’s point out some rather outstanding untruths. Unironically.

Firstly, the policy adopted is not a “flag ban”. The policy is called “Staff Participation in Political Activities” which prohibits what is already illegal under state law, but is now a policy that can be enforced by the school district. I find when one strives to write a factual article, they should stick to the facts and not insert their own interpretation of such. This would turn their argument from objective to subjective and quite literally turn their timeline of factual events into a story within an editorial. Since Gregg does seem to have a book on the front page of his website, perhaps this timeline should also be looked at through a fiction lens.

Second, academic progress has been falling since before the election of Dave Brown and Brian Shannon. A person would not be able to attribute the failing to any board member once the Covid pandemic hit. This would be another opinion inserted into what is labeled as truthful timeline. The firing of Superintendent Dr. Joe Morelock should have had no impact on curriculum development as that takes place in the prior year for the current year’s lessons and academic plans. Such curriculum development is not done on biweekly basis. Also, the loss of Dr. Derek Brown was not anything to do with board as he chose to resign his position. Was that really a great thing to do for a district that just lost their superintendent? Is that supposed to make Derek Brown a hero for leaving them with zero administration leadership?

There is no proof at all that Chair Brown and Vice-Chair Shannon have broken public meeting laws. Just because a group of people say it is, does not mean it is so. No one has been charged with any crimes here. To say that they have participated in illegal actions and unethical behavior is an egregious and libelous accusation.

Lastly, are we really talking about transparency here? I received, as many others before me; to include news and journalists, public records documents that were not redacted at all and even included attorney-client communication. This was surprisingly the most transparent a government agency in the state of Oregon has ever been. Yet, the secretary and the superintendent saw no issue in handing out the district’s legal advice documentation and the board attorney’s legal advice documentation.

Let’s move on to the timeline.

The first Bold topic of the timeline is the Anti-racist resolution with dates referencing July 2020. The Anti-Racist Resolution references three individuals that are heavily intertwined with the Black Lives Matter movement. To say that the Anti-Racist Resolution had nothing to do with that is disappointing and disingenuous. The original vote, Dave Brown’s zoom feed was cut off and he could not give his explanation until the next board meeting. He at the time, did not feel it was appropriate to address his vote on social media, an environment that can be very toxic at times, and felt it necessary to wait until the next board meeting. Unfortunately, the masses couldn’t handle the wait and he was forced to give a statement in the only place available that would reach the most people without the toxic negativity that can come from social media; the Newberg Graphic.

Jumping almost an entire year to a bolded topic of “Black Lives Matter signs in schools”; April of 2021. One would be a bit concerned and confused that the writer left out almost an entire year between topics in his timeline, but hey; he’s writing it.  The blurb about BLM signs in schools is a bit confusing as he references others “took up that concern”. Is he referencing the Newberg Equity in Education group that started in June of 2020? Anyway, BLM signs were noticed in the Dundee Elementary and a group of concerned citizens discussed it on a number of social media groups and also sent emails to the principal. This concern from parents has nothing to do with Chair Brown or Vice-Chair Shannon. It’s a parents right to be concerned with what their children see in classrooms. A child came home and said a black lives matter poster was in a classroom. It was posted on social media and like all things, it grew to be more than what it was. Parents assumed it was BLM posters. Can you blame them? The political climate in Portland, a neighboring town, was one of anarchy and destruction.

Next in the time line he provides is “Flag ban”. Conveniently leaving out an entire election that was specifically for the school board and Chehalem Parks and Recreation Board.  Our district went through an election where the voters voted in their candidates. They chose the candidate to best represent them in the district they were running in. That was Ines Peña, Renee Powell and Trevor DeHart. The constituents of Newberg voted in Renee Powell and Trevor DeHart on a platform of getting the Newberg School District back on track to have higher graduation rates and lower out district transfers. The district has been losing money in the form of out of district transfers somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 million dollars since 2017. The decline starting in 2017 and sliding further down to 2019; finally resting at a loss of 736 students. Only about 300 of that from Covid pandemic losses.

After that, he has “Political vs. support of people” where he says Brian Shannon and Dave Brown would not listen to those that opposed specific flags being removed from the classroom. This is simply untrue. The board held a listening only session where they heard from countless critics and also supporters. The board received numerous emails from the public and they are all read, even if the writer claims they are not.

Now we see a new topic of “Illegal hiring of attorney”.  It’s become clear this is no timeline, but a personal opinion written to look as though it’s an authority of true factual events. Make no mistake, this is neither a real timeline, nor a factual accounting of what’s taken place in the school district. There are several emails, retrieved from those un-redacted public records that prove the hiring of Tyler Smith from Rural Business Attorneys in Canby OR was done legally. Mr. Smith put out a statement from his office outlining the ORS that proves this. Again, there have been no charges, nor any judgements handed out by a court to substantiate the opinion of Mr. Gregg Koskela.

Gregg then goes on to complain about director Rebecca Piros and her disability that requires accommodations for sight. He failed to note that Dr. Joe Morelock , according to the emails received in public records, had himself withheld the most important document the board needed when passing the GBG Policy of Staff Participation in Political Activities… the letter from the district’s attorney stating her advice about the policy. The letter supported the fact that the policy would withstand a constitutional challenge. Here is where we really see the editorial that Gregg wrote is actually based in opinion and not facts. He attempts to tell his version of an executive session decision. It’s in the emails received. It’s not factual. How would Gregg Koskela know what took place inside an executive session and why would he be sharing it to the public? Again, the preface to the executive session is outlined the public records. So thankful the secretary sent out un-redacted attorney-client communication to prove that!

The third to last topic bolded is “A focus on education, not indoctrination”. In this section of the “timeline”, Gregg says that they [Dave Brown and Brian Shannon] have not offered one single other idea for improving academics. This is an exaggeration that warrants some discussion. The board meetings have been virtual boxing matches. Brandy Penner leading the punches with rude, condescending and disrespectful dialogue that fosters no constructive or meaningful communication. She is too busy chastising the board members she does not like to allow the board to move on from past motions, which by the way is something OSBA [Oregon School Board Association] frowns upon. With Brandy being an advisor for Oregon State Board of Education, one would think she would make bigger attempts to foster kind and respectful communication instead of being so abrasive that board members are stunned into silence. There is not enough time to go into the demographics and barriers that I would like to here, so I’m moving past that in this particular editorial. Although I don’t think comparing providing free meals to range of outcomes is fair in this particular paper he wrote.

The next one “curriculum” he claims the things have been improving under Dr. Morelock and Dr. Brown. With this one, I leave you an insertion of the statistics of grades 3, 4, 5 from the state Oregon Department of Education Website.

DistrictSubjectGrade Level2018-19 count2018-19 %2017-18 count2017-18 %2016-17 count2016-17 %
Newberg SD 29JEnglish Lan ArtsAll Grades144756.8140455.4146055.9
 MathmaticsAll Grades107742.6107342.6109642.2

The next set is all student’s proficiency level for the year listed in the table.
Go to the Oregon Department of Education website for downloadable spreadsheets.

SubjectELAELAELAMathMathMathScienceScienceScience
Year2018-192017-182016-172018-192017-182016-172018-192017-182016-17
All Students56.8 %55.455.942.647.242.238.359.662.1
Multi-Racial71%6755.651.955.242.547.26555.6
Migrant23.3%25.534.515.322.118.27.820.435.7
Hispanic/Latino36.5%3636.420.423.621.212.436.738.6
Black / African American65.4%705026.945193085.757.1
Asian69.7 %79.378.967.665.563.463.258.881
White61.6 %59.861.148.147.248.343.765.270

As you can see from the tables, the notion he is saying about the statistics getting better… it’s not true. These are pre-Covid years. Notice the group with the smallest proficiency? Hispanic/Latino and Migrant. I have heard nothing of this in the laments of the small minority of the board and staff that screams about inequities nonstop.

We hear so much about Black Lives Matter that it’s apparent a specific demographic has been so far marginalized, it’s embarrassing to put on paper. Yes, black lives do matter. So do Latinx lives. So do Asian. So do Multi-racial. So do white lives.

These very clear statistics have nothing to do with the board members. This is a result of poor leadership of the school district. The proponents of the recall continually say that the Superintendent saved the district millions and built up a reserve. So what? If the students aren’t learning proficiencies to the level needed to go forth in the world with a strong and stable footing, then all the money in the world is not worth it. What is education for? Why are parents sending their children to a school eight hours a day for it they can’t get a proficiency level above 50% for all children. Why are we spending time being angry about two motions we can’t get past in the board meetings to even discuss the curriculum? The failing academics you see in the tables above are not the result of the two motions the board put forth to remove political activism out of the classrooms. It’s due to the poor management of an educational institution.

We need to move on and look for real solutions and address the actual factual problems within Newberg School District. You won’t find those in an opinionated timeline written by a disgruntled employee attempting to convince people he is speaking from an honest perspective.

(Editor’s Note: Yamhill Advocate has published its own timeline of the Newberg Schools Saga in a previous article that readers may be interested in.)

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Becky Wallis
Becky Wallis
Becky Wallis is a resident of Newberg, Oregon.
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