By DEVIN WEEKS
Hagadone News Network
COEUR d’ALENE — Sometimes, all it takes is an outside perspective to solve the most complex problem.
Combined with parental concern, a passion for optimal education and an unwavering support of Idaho's teachers, that helpful perspective has become a key piece of RISE (Raising Idaho Standards for Education), a local volunteer organization committed to building a stronger community through stronger schools and finding solutions to those complex education problems.
"We think of ourselves as an education think tank made up of individuals who bring different skills and experiences," RISE President Rebecca Smith said Tuesday morning. "We don’t see ourselves as a political organization or a partisan organization. We’re not ideological. We’re just focused on improving public school learning for all students in Coeur d’Alene and maybe eventually across Idaho."
RISE has eight active volunteers, including four advisory board members, who come from backgrounds of education, business, research, advocacy and nonprofit work and all have children in the Coeur d'Alene School District.
Smith, who has extensive nonprofit experience and is an adjunct English professor at Gonzaga University, said RISE is focused on research and best practices and supporting schools in finding solutions when challenges are identified.
"Our schools have a very lean staff, at the district level and in our buildings because of funding issues, so for every challenge that they face, they don’t necessarily have the resources to look into it with the level of depth that maybe we could provide as community members," she said.
RISE formed about two years ago when Smith and other parents realized some of the same issues were impacting all of their kids.
"We had some concern about the rigor and achievement that our children are experiencing in the schools, and as we talked with others, we found that was a shared concern that many of us have,” said RISE Vice President Bill Elliott, a retired CEO and COO with more than 30 years of experience in health care.
"We know our educators face some real challenges given the state’s low level of investment in education,” he said. “So we thought, ‘How could we be of help to the education system in trying to improve things?"
RISE officials spent a year and a half on a listening tour to collect data from all of the schools and find out what the biggest issues are. They met with every principal in the district, administration officials, school board trustees, the superintendent, district administrative staff and other education organizations as they embarked on this mission.
RISE is what one might consider a "critical friend" of the district, one who supports the good things that are happening but isn't afraid to buckle down and find out if there are more efficient ways of doing things.
RISE members have already been accepted into and involved in school affairs, such as the curriculum audit, the superintendent search and data summons processes and they will soon form a committee to look into the teacher recruitment and retention issue that is plaguing North Idaho.
"That’s been great to have a voice with some of those issues and be able to be a partner in that way," Smith said.
RISE plans to serve as a connector, an entity that can advocate for teachers and schools when they can't speak for themselves. Members hope to expand the RISE network across the state, all the while seeking what will serve Idaho's students best.
"I believe in community and the power of community,” Smith said. "I enjoy taking the skills that I have and trying to make the community I’m in better for everyone. I really believe children are our future, and are a really important investment for us."