State approves Vale, Nyssa migrant program split

State officials will allow the Vale School District to run its own migrant education program and allow Nyssa to keep its program but under close state supervision.

In a pair of letters Friday, Sept. 29, to Vale and Nyssa, Charlene Williams, director of the Oregon Education Department, approved requests from Nyssa and Vale to establish separate migrant education programs.

Adrian will participate in Vale’s program, but Vale leaders will handle the management, according to the letter.

With that, Nyssa’s migrant program, which has been under state investigation for two years, will remain under “high risk” and under “strict supervision” by the state, according to Don Grotting, Nyssa’s compliance officer.

Grotting said that Gabe Fuentes, Nyssa’s migrant program supervisor, and Angela Sanchez, former lead recruiter and family specialist, were placed on administrative leave. He said Fuentes would continue coaching boys basketball.

He would provide no other details.

Sanchez did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Fuentes, who had a successful basketball coaching career, said he was going to focus on the positive and that he is excited to be back where his coaching journey began.

He was the Nyssa High School girls basketball coach from 2004-2007 and led the team to a state championship in 2007, the first girls team sport championship in school history.

He coached the boys basketball team in Nyssa from 2007-2010. The boys squad finished third his last year, the best in school history. He moved on to Treasure Valley Community College in 2010 and was a recruiter and assistant coach for the mens basketball. In 2013, Fuentes took over the struggling women’s basketball program. During his tenure, which ended in 2019, he led the girls squad to three state playoff runs.

“Nyssa will always be home,” he said. “So I am excited to work with a great group of young men this season. Go Bulldogs”

The Enterprise has submitted a public records request seeking documentation of the move that takes two key officials out of Nyssa’s program two years into the state’s investigation.

Matt Murray, the district’s federal programs director, has been tasked with supervising the migrant program. The district explained in a state letter that Murray’s new role should allow the Nyssa district to keep running the program, which currently serves 229 students.

“The district will be eliminating the current migrant supervision position,” Grotting wrote in the Sept. 8 letter. “The district will also evaluate the competence and skills of all currently funded.”

Meantime, Vale and Adrian’s migrant program for its 25 migrant students will be under the supervision of a bilingual migrant education program coordinator who has yet to be hired. Alisha McBride, Vale’s superintendent, said the job has been posted on the Vale School District website. The position starts at $65,000 per year and will be a Vale employee but will spend time in both districts.

McBride said that once the coordinator is trained, the coordinator will identify and recruit new families for the program.  It remains unclear how many students Vale and Adrian forecast enrolling. McBride said enrollment numbers would be based on “federal eligibility requirements.”

According to the letter, the Vale migrant program allocated over $110,000 to hire the coordinator, broaden early literacy and preschool programs within both districts and expand virtual tutoring in Adrian for migrant students.

The Vale program is a short-term fix for a problem that needs a long-term solution, according to the Sept. 29 letter.

Nonetheless, McBride said while it’s uncertain what will happen after the 2023-24 school year, the Vale migrant program will allow the districts to focus on migrant families and develop a program without the “distraction of intense monitoring and heightened program oversight.”

In a Sept. 18 letter to the state education agency, McBride noted that establishing a program for so few students would not be viable for long. She said it was the best immediate option after the Malheur Education Service District decided not to take over the migrant program.

Grotting said Nyssa district officials met with the state education agency authorities from Tuesday, Oct. 3, to Thursday, Oct. 5. The meetings included extensive training and reviewing the district’s migrant education budget,” he said.

“I think this is the best-case scenario for Nyssa,” he said. “They have this opportunity to show that they can successfully administer this program.”

Grotting is the district’s former superintendent hired by the Nyssa School Board in part to handle the fallout of the investigation of the program.

He said Nyssa would be under strict state supervision and the Nyssa state would get extensive training under the new formation of the program.

Williams, the state education director, said Nyssa will have to continue contracting with the Oregon Migrant Education Service Center in Salem to work recruiting students to participate in the Nyssa program. That office plans to hire a recruiter to work in Nyssa, Williams wrote.

Since January, the district has covered the costs for the Salem organization to recruit students.

Williams said the migrant program is to be supervised by Murray, former principal of Nyssa Elementary School, and that no management duties can be assigned to anyone else. She said that no district employees found to have violated the federal program can be employed by the migrant program.

She said the school must contract with a third-party bilingual contractor to conduct parent advisory committee meetings and host family engagement activities.

Nyssa has been getting nearly $1 million a year and employs staff for the program. In May, the Education Department said it intended to recover $350,000 in federal funding it identified the district for erroneously enrolled students.

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