JUNCTION CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT UPDATE

JUNCTION CITY SCHOOLS UPDATE:

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October 2019
 
As I write the update for October, I just learned that our Lady Tigers’ volleyball team won their first game in the State Tournament this morning and are advancing to play in the “Final Four” tonight in Forrest Grove. Best of luck to them, and many thanks for representing Junction City so well- all season long!
 
TERRITORIAL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
           
Territorial’s ever-involved and supportive parent group is off and running this year!  A big thank you to Wendy Thelander and our amazing TPA for putting on another successful Scholastic Book Fair and Curriculum Night.   TPA also sponsored an all-school Harvest Party on the afternoon of November 1st and it was a huge success with fun and festivity for all!  Our Taste of Territorial Spaghetti Feed and Art Show is scheduled to take place on November 15th.
 
October marked the start of three very popular school programs including LEGO League, OBOB and Garden Club. Students in LEGO League will be presented with a problem and have to gather research and brainstorm- as a team- ways to solve that problem.  Students in this club are also learning about programming robots to complete predetermined tasks and challenges.  Oregon Battle of the Books also got underway this month and looks to be generating a lot of excitement among involved students. Finally, we held our first Fall Garden Club meeting on October 14th, with 49 students in attendance!
 
Beyond that our Fall Easy CBM benchmark testing wrapped up earlier this month, staff came together for a school-wide data meeting on October 9th.  We looked at student scores in Math, identified strategies and planned for interventions to support student growth and enrichment.  We worked with reading consultant Teresa Lowell on October 24th to analyze reading data and to develop strategic plans to best meet every student’s needs.  We will continue to work to identify the best resources and strategies to elicit even more improved outcomes going forward. 
 
This fall, Territorial teachers have been planning and collaborating in teams to build effective Social Emotional Learning (SEL) units and lessons.  Teachers have been busy implementing components from two of our new SEL curriculums: Zones of Regulations and Second Steps.  We believe as we increase students’ social emotional learning skills, we will also be able to increase student learning and overall student success. 
 
We’re also continuing to focus on student attendance.  As we move into the holiday season, the best gift families can give their child is a good education.  We encourage all families to be mindful of taking “extra” vacation days.  Remember just a few missed days here and there, even if they’re excused absences, can add up to too much lost learning time.  Our teachers will be teaching right up until vacation starts, and will start teaching on the day we return from vacation.    We would also like to encourage families to track their attendance on the tracking sheet that was mailed home at the beginning of the school year.  The goal is for students to miss less than 9 days of school this school year. 
 
 Please mark your calendars- Territorial’s Parent/Teacher conferences will be held at the conclusion of 1st trimester in December.  By conferencing in December, with completed report cards in hand, teachers have the ability to not only speak to the standards of achievement expected for each grade level, but also provide detailed information about current student progress toward those standards.  Also at conferences, teachers of 4th and 5th grade students will share individual student score reports from last spring’s Smarter Balanced Assessments as well as an overview of our school data from those same state assessments.
 
LAUREL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
           
This year at Laurel, our attendance goal is to have 90% or more of our students attend regularly. In order to achieve this goal, we’ve ignited a campaign with attendance as the key focus. Laurel students are earning rewards based on their attendance rate per class, grade, and even individually. Our students are also voting on a school wide attendance incentive for each month and working toward earning a school field trip for the trimester. We are encouraging students to make every day count at Laurel because we know that when students attend school, they are safe, happy, and successful.
 
Laurel’s parent/teacher conferences took place near the end of October. Many of our students and their families had the opportunity to review students’ progress thus far and take time to set goals and discuss future growth. For the families’ convenience, our teachers worked from 8:00am to 8:00pm on October 24th to allow those families who may only be available in the evening to participate in such an important part of this crucial family-school partnership. We were so happy to have the opportunity to meet with so many parents!
 
We’ve been practicing our safety drills to put emphasis on safety procedures. Fostering a safe learning environment is in the core of the Laurel’s vision and we focused on teaching this concept throughout the month of October, and in the months to come. In addition to fire, earthquake, lockdown/lockout, and evacuation drills, we also used drills to practice room clears. A room clear involves moving students and staff from a certain unsafe location to a safer location.  Examples of unsafe or emergency situations may include medical emergencies, natural disasters, water/gas leak, or unsafe and aggressive student behavior. We have come up with a “buddy system” that identifies the location that each classroom will go to should a room clear be performed. Our Positive Behavior Support Team came up with a universal signal and plan that each classroom uses when a room clear is needed.
 
At Laurel, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is an important part of student growth and development. We talk about friendship, compassion, and caring for one another. We explain that a safe learning environment is the right of each and every student and that we are all responsible to make sure we contribute to such environment. This year, we will continue this focus on social emotional learning through additional staff training using a new tool designed to collect data and provide interventions for students called DESSA.
 
Laurel teachers have been meeting during their weekly collaboration and PLC time to develop academic goals, dive deep into the curriculum, and plan thoughtful lessons with student outcomes in mind. They also use data to analyze their effectiveness of their instruction and make ongoing plans for intervention and extension as needed. Additionally, teachers recently attended a training on the benefits of morning meetings and how they support our SEL goal and build classroom communities; many classrooms are now supporting community building through morning meetings.
 
 
OAKLEA MIDDLE SCHOOL
           
So much wonderful learning and growth is taking place academically, socially, and emotionally.  With help from Junction City Lions, Oaklea Parent Group, and Nurse Puderbaugh we had a smooth and efficient health screening.  Since we are now a CATCH school, this screening also helps provide baseline data as part of the requirement for the grant. 
 
Our OPG delivered on some prizes for our fall fundraiser by bringing Kona Ice in at lunch!  A huge thank you to the OPG and all the students and families that helped raise a significant amount of money for different field trips and programs throughout the school year.  The end of October brought Red Ribbon Week- and our 7th and 8th grade Leadership teams planned a fantastic week of activities to encourage students to stay healthy and away from drugs.  The week concluded with an assembly on November 1st. 
Oaklea was part of the Great Oregon Shake Out on October 17th and our superstar Resource Officer Jackson was with us to lead the drill.  Many earthquake protocols have changed over the years and it is important to ensure students know what to do in the event of this type of emergency.  
 
Our fifth graders have really been focusing on Literacy and the groups are making so much progress already.  Sixth grade students had Forest Field Day (which was cold, but dry!) and have been learning to use microscopes and Smartboards to correct their writing.  Seventh graders in Mr. Tedrick’s class have been developing their reading comprehension skills, analytical abilities, and summarization skills; essential to academic success. Eighth graders in Mrs. Holman’s Language Arts classes have been reading the novel Endangered; a story about a young girl’s survival in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of war.
 
Sports:  Oaklea volleyball has concluded with players competing hard and growing both individually and as teammates.  They didn’t win every match, but almost all were very close and the spirit was great.  Cheer has been going on and is wrapping up before starting the first of two winter seasons.  And wrestling is just about to begin as well.  Girls’ basketball has just started and will continue into December.  Football has two games left and have only lost one game so far. Cross Country is winding down having had their district meet on Wednesday the 23rd.  Many runners set personal records this year. 
 
A huge shout out to Oaklea’s 8th grade Science teacher, Jennifer Henry as the 2019 Tri-County Chamber, Junction City School District, teacher of the year award winner.  Jennifer is in her third year with Oaklea, but she has had an enormous impact student and teacher growth.  Jennifer is one of our Team Leads, has taken on Social Emotional Professional Development for staff, and has even been a referee for our 7th and 8th grade volleyball matches.  Our school is so fortunate to have Jennifer!
 
We continue to use our early release days to collaboratively make plans and decisions that will impact our students daily.  Our Team Leads continue to guide our PLCs and are active learners within the process as well.  Some of our newest Team Leads have been participating in the Learning By Doing training with Janel Keeting of White River School District.  We had very successful conferences with parents on October 23rd and 24th.  These are long days for staff, but the additional evening time certainly helps working parents make those conferences to discuss their children and the great work taking place at Oaklea.  Looking ahead to November we have the Fall Book Fair starting on the 4th, Family Fun Night 6pm-8pm on the 7th, and the Band and Choir Concert on the 21st.
 
 
JUNCTION CITY HIGH SCHOOL
 
At JCHS, our PLC Team leads and administration have worked to create our Continuous Improvement Plan for this current school year.  We will be focusing on 3 clear goals: (1) The Development of a Common, Shared Vision for our HS, (2) Increasing our Regular Attendance Percentage, and (2) Ensuring more than 90% of our 9th graders earn 6 or more credits this year.
During the month of October, JCHS Tigers celebrated Homecoming and the annual Noise Night.  Our JCHS Volleyball team just wrapped up an undefeated 10-0 Sky-Em league record, and is poised to make a significant run in the State Playoffs.  This is a history-making group, and we truly appreciate the way they handle themselves on the court, working together as a true team and demonstrating sportsmanship.  Our football team honored seniors at the final home game of the year vs. rival Cottage Grove.  We want to acknowledge these athletes for their perseverance and sportsmanship during a challenging season.  Cross Country competed at Districts and are headed to the state meet. Runner Anika Thompson is having a record-setting season!
This month, we have focused on emergency drills and preparedness.  The students and staff participated in the Great Shakeout earthquake drill on October 17th, and a Lockdown drill with a fire alarm on the 21st.  Two officers from the Junction City Police Department were present with us during the lockdown drill to observe’ debrief and provide us with feedback.
During our October’s Inservice Day at the high school, our teachers received training on restorative practices and positive behavior support from a team of researchers from the University of Oregon.  This school year, several teachers will be taking part in a pilot research study called PRIDE.  We will be working on ways to bring resolution to behavior concerns, teach alternative conflict resolution methods and to strengthen our relationships at the same time.
 
 
DISTRICT NEWS
 
District Office and building administrators have been very busy putting the final touches on our District’s- and each school’s- Continuous Improvement Plan (CIP). The board will be asked to approve our submission of this federally-required plan at their November meeting; the plan is due on December 6th.  
 
These same administrators have been busy engaging our staff in planning for the Student Success Act (SSA), which we will implement beginning with the 20120-21 school year. The SSA will provide our district with nearly $1.3M in additional funding each year- with those funds specifically focused on (1) better meet the behavioral, social-emotional and mental health needs of all our students and (2) reduce academic disparities and increase academic achievement for all our students, but with a keen focus on those students from historically-underserved populations.  The funds can be used to ensure that (A) all our students are provided with a well-rounded education, (B) additional learning time and support is made available to the students who most need it, (C) class sizes are strategically reduced for specific content areas or special programs designed to increase academic achievement, and (D) we further address the health and safety needs of our students.  We deeply appreciate the enthusiastic and insightful input from our staff, and will be rolling out a parent engagement survey in the next few weeks.  We also plan to have some stakeholder (parent and community member) focus sessions to get more in-depth input from parents and community partners who have or work with students whose needs have not been adequately met and who have experienced achievement or opportunity gaps relative to our overall student population.  If you are interested in participating in such a focus group, please reach out to the District Office to give us your contact information and we will let you know when we have scheduled these listening sessions. 
 
We also want to thank the many, many students, staff members, parents and patrons who recently participated in our Community Vision Survey. We are working with a nationally-renowned organization, Inflexion, to develop a clear and compelling vision for what we, as a community, want for graduates of Junction City School District and to help us develop a clear sense of District Identity.  A representative from Inflexion will be in attendance at the board’s November meeting to share their findings and to guide the district through next steps. 
 
In other district news, now is a good time to correct the record about some things that have been stated on social media recently regarding the District’s online program, JC Online, transfers, releases, and virtual charter schools.   Parents who have further questions about this issue are encouraged to contact the district to express questions and concerns as the district does not have the people-power to have those “conversations” via monitoring social media and correcting misinformation on that platform.
 
Sometimes people talk about “parent choice” for their children’s schooling, and there are various ways parents have choice for their child’s educational setting- some of those choices require the permission of a resident district, and others do not.   First, Oregon law requires that public school students attend school in the District where their parents reside.  Parents who wish for their child to attend school in another district may utilize the inter-district transfer process; both districts must agree to this transfer.  In the case of our district, given our growing student enrollment and resulting capacity concerns at particular schools and grade levels, we are not accepting transfers at this time (exceptions may be made for a student who is experiencing an emergency in another district, and those transfers may be granted on a hardship basis). 
 
There is no more “Open Enrollment” which was a process that allowed parents to move their child to any district of their choosing; the process was open during the month of April each year and as long as the receiving district had an opening, the child could transfer and then become a permanent student in that district. If the district did not have enough openings to accommodate all the requests (our district experienced this a number of times) then the district had to utilize a blind lottery system to determine who would get the available slots.  Last year was the final year for this process; the law has now sunset and the legislature opted not to extend the law.
 
There are a number of choices that parents can make about their child’s educational setting that do not require the consent of the resident district.  These choices include private schools (parents must pay the tuition), brick-and-mortar public charter schools (Triangle Lake, Willamette Leadership, Network Charter School are some local examples) and home schooling (parents must register their children at Lane Education Service District).
 
There also are “Virtual Charter Schools” such as Oregon Connections Academy, Fossil Distance Learning Program, Baker Web Academy, and Teach North West to name a few.  These programs are sponsored by a local district and often are in partnership with a for-profit provider; they enroll students from all over the state.  The enrollment laws for these programs are different than for the brick and mortar charter schools; resident districts can deny releasing students to these programs if the resident district meets two conditions. The first is that the district has met the “3% Cap”- meaning 3% or more of the district’s school-aged population is enrolled for homeschooling or attending a private school, brick-and-mortar charter school, or a virtual charter school. Currently, our District is at 3.86% of students in this category- many small and mid-sized districts have also reached that cap.  The second condition that must be met before a release to a virtual charter school is denied is that the District must offer at least two online options for students.  Our district meets this condition as well, through our JC Online Program.  At some grade levels, there are 3 or more options for students to choose from, many of which are the same exact platforms that are used by the virtual charter schools. 
 
Our JC Online program coordinator, Linda Jackson, works closely with families to choose the platform and instructional materials that are best for their child.  If a parent has identified curriculum (e.g., Saxon Math) that we don’t currently offer and that they would like to use, Linda has arranged to purchase it for their use.  Our program also provides students with all the books and instructional materials needed to implement the program.  The district also offers a chrome book or laptop students can check out to access online learning, may reimburse families for the cost of basic internet coverage for that access at home, and will reimburse parents for the cost of supplies and consumables they may need for specific lessons.  JC Online students can choose to work in our learning center- located in the Pitney Center, or at home or wherever the parent chooses.  We have our licensed classroom teachers and content area specialists available to support students who need additional instruction or support. 
 
 
JC Online students also can choose to use a “hybrid model” where they do part of their learning online, and take specific classes of their choosing such as music, math, CTE programs, or PE in our schools. JC Online students (full-time, part-time or “hybrid” program students) are welcomed and considered district students at all assemblies, activities and field trips, and can participate in clubs, sports, and after-school programs at all our schools. If eligible, they also can utilize our Free and Reduced Lunch program, and of course have access to our special education programs and programs for Talented and Gifted students, bilingual translation and interpretation services, counseling and college and career center support, and access to our district psychologist and nurse as needed. 
 
What our JC Online program does not do is give families a “stipend” like many of the virtual charter schools are doing. These stipends reportedly range from $900 per student to at least $2000 per student (Teach NW in the Marcola School District).  A handful of Junction City families seeking a release from our district to attend a virtual charter program have expressed that they do not want to do JC Online because we do not provide such a stipend and they need it, or want it.  These stipends are State School Fund (SSF) dollars that the virtual charter school hosting districts are passing on for families to use for a variety of purposes including dance lessons, private music lessons, gym memberships, tuition at licensed childcare facilities such as Strive Academy in Junction City.  In some instances, the stipends are issued as P-cards (preloaded debit cards).  
 
While the social media narrative seems to be that the district is denying release of students because “we need the money”, that is not the case. Our enrollment is up almost 50 students compared to the 2014-15 school year- and as referenced in our Long-Range Facilities plan- we are facing some capacity concerns. We serve only Junction City students rather than looking to open our doors to get students (and ADM) from other districts the way that the virtual charter programs do.
 
I also would point out that many of these virtual charter schools are very much “in it for the money” vis a vis their partnership with for-profits like K-12 Insight, and they are incentivizing parents to use their program by providing stipends.  Other virtual charter programs have been developed by some of our state’s tiniest districts, who have relied on enrolling students from around the state as a way to help support their district’s regular educational program. 
 
The most important reasons, however, that we want JC students to use the district’s JC Online program rather than a virtual charter school program is that we can- and do- control the quality, and we know what we are providing for Junction City kids.  Interested patrons can request a copy of a chart showing the graduation rates for the various virtual charter schools where some JC residents attend; almost to a program those virtual charter graduation rates are significantly lower than our district’s graduation rates. The exceptions are for the two programs that reported 100% graduation rates for last year:  it should be noted that they have zero special education students, and/or they have zero diversity by virtue of their entire student population being comprised of white students.  (An audit by the Secretary of State’s Office and published in the spring of 2017 found that nearly 50% of all of Oregon’s dropouts are from either online charters or other sorts of alternative programs.  Interested patrons also can request a link to a recent article about the failure of one of the virtual online charters- the Oregon Connections Academy. The author of the article, someone who wrote for the Oregonian for 10 years, emailed it out to many Oregon superintendents earlier this month. Finally, I would add that while our district can deny release to virtual charter programs, we have routinely granted about 30% of the releases requested if individual family circumstances warrant such a release, and after we have had the opportunity to collaborate with the parent to see if we can address their concerns and meet their child’s needs in our district.
 
 
BOARD MEETING NEWS
 
The October board meeting began with honoring “Students of the Month” from each of our schools.  swearing in our new High School Representative to the board, Ali Bedacht. Ali will be a great addition to our meetings, and will be in attendance, as her busy schedule allows, to offer information on high school happenings.  The honorees are as follows:
 
Territorial recognized Chloee Strasheim as their Student of the Month. “Chloee is a friend to all. Chloee makes a point to look for students who perhaps are by themselves at recess and then she invites them to join her and her friends. Chloee is a great example of what kindness looks like in action!”
 
Jeffrey “Case” Morrell was Laurel’s nominee, because “Case is such an incredibly sweet student and one that has grown a TON this year as a strong and reliable friend to other students in his class and grade level. Case is so eager to come to school every day and make a great positive impact as a student. We see Case giving his best efforts in the classroom, as a student pushing himself to be his very best, and also in his friendships to show his friends he cares, knows how to be a great friend who not only shares, but cares a lot about seeing his friends happy. Case is excelling as a 1st grader and we are so very proud of his achievements and growth!”
 
Evalyn (Eva) Buenau is a 6th grader at Oaklea and was their October Student of the Month. Eva’s favorite classes are Ms. Paull’s Social Studies and Mr. Jacobo’s Language Arts. She really enjoyed the family vacation to Disneyland and the movie “Sleeping Beauty”. She is very involved with multiple sports and is a fantastic student and leader. At this point, she thinks she might like to be Math teacher when she grows up.
 
Junction City High School honored Allison (Alli) Bedacht as the October Student of the Month. According to her nomination letter, “Alli is to be commended for her leadership, service to community and her school, and her academic accomplishments. She has been a 3-sport athlete all through high school, and will have earned 12 varsity letters at the conclusion of her senior year. She is currently one of our leaders on our league undefeated volleyball team. Alli is ASB Vice-President, and a National Honors Society officer with a 3.8 GPA. She is editor for our Yearbook team, and has also been recognized for her community service through Girl Scouts. Alli is one of the kindest individuals you will meet, and makes our high school a better place through her leadership by example. We would like to thank her for all she has done during her four years at JCHS.”
 
After hearing the District Update- as well as reports from the Junction City Education Association and the Student Representative to the board, the board heard from a large contingent of Laurel teachers who wanted to share with the board their many positive experiences while working at Laurel, and under the leadership of Principal Rizkallah. They shared their pride in the many achievements the school has made, and how they progressed from being identified as a “Focus School” 6 years ago, to now being considered a “Model School” for the growth in student achievement and their development of many innovative, successful and effective programs that lead to great outcomes for Laurel students. Several of them also pointed to their own professional development and their improvement as teachers thanks to the instructional leadership of, and coaching model implemented by, Principal Rizkallah. The board expressed gratitude for these teachers sharing their stories, and encouraged them to be sure to spread their positive words in the broader community. More details about their presentation will be available when the minutes from the October meeting are approved in November and then posted on the District’s website.
 
Next, the board received the monthly District Improvement Update Director of Instruction Erika Vaughn. Erika provided an update on the status of each school’s School Improvement Plan, and how those will then be incorporated into our District’s Continuous Improvement.
 
Erika then shared more about our Stakeholder Engagement Process in relation to the District’s Student Success plan and reminded the board that at their November meeting, the board will be asked to approve submission of the plan to the Oregon Department of Education.
 
 After these updates, the board then considered action items, beginning with approval of the calendar for the preparation of the 2020-21 budget.  They then approved the hiring of Shannon Peale as part-time temporary PE teacher at Territorial Elementary for the remainder of this school year; this position was made possible thanks to a grant that TES received from the ODE.  The board approved a number of updated policies after giving them a “second reading”.  The board also acted to approve the District’s updated Long-Range Facilities Plan which is attached to this Update, and scheduled a 5:30 work session prior to their November board meeting to have further discussion about the district’s facilities needs and short and long range plans. 
 
In terms of Discussion Items, the board received a report on School Safety Trainings, drills and protocols from JCHS Co-Principal Brian Young, who serves as the lead administrator for our district’s safety and security program. Brian shared that he and District Safety Officer Ken Jackson have just completed a week-long training with “National Security Shield” which offers a very comprehensive protocol for assessing school safety.  Brian was the only educator present for this training- all other participants were from the law enforcement community, including local representatives from the Lane County Sheriff’s Office. Brian and Ken will be conducting assessments of each of our school campuses over the rest of the year- the assessments take up to a week and are very, very in-depth.
 
In terms of other discussion items, the board learned that with the passage of SB  415, which passed this last legislative session, School Board Members are now considered as mandatory reporters for Child Abuse.  That means 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year each of them now have the legal obligation to immediately make a child abuse report to either DHS or law enforcement if they have reason to suspect a child has been, or is being, abused.  The board’s executive assistant, Stephanie White, has set each of them up with access to our annual trainings on both Child Abuse Reporting and Sexual Conducting Reporting.
 
The board also learned about newly passed legislation that makes further changes to Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).  This past legislative session, SB 1049 passed and included a number of provisions that are expected to reduce our PERS rates going forward.  (It should be noted that some aspects of those reforms- most notably the Employee-Cost Sharing piece- are the subject of a current lawsuit and it may be some time before that issue is resolved.) 
Prior to the passage of these new reform measures, our district had already taken a number of steps to reduce our Unfunded Actuarial Liability (UAL) for PERS.  Last year, the board approved bonding of $13M, or more than 50%, of our PERS UAL.  That is expected to have an immediate, and increasingly significant, positive impact on reducing our UAL; the bond will be repaid from our district’s general fund from the savings on what would have been our district’s PERS rate. 
 
Over the past 4 or 5 years, our board also has been approving annual transfers from the general fund to a PERS reserve account, which positioned the District to apply for and receive a $100K match from the State of Oregon to pay down our UAL; we set aside $400K for this purpose, so this resulted in an overall reduction of a half-million dollars for our UAL. 
 
Finally, SB 1049 lifted the cap for the number of hours per year that a PERS retiree can work, post retirement.   This means that we have current employees who are eligible to retire from PERS but who could continue to work back for the District, up to full time, for the next 5 years which is when the provision sunsets.  The board was reminded that we have a provision in our licensed contract that allows for post-retirement “work-backs” for the remainder of the school year in which a licensed staff member retires.  While extending beyond that is now possible, the superintendent offered a recommendation to the board to consider requests to go beyond the mid-year retirement work back on a case by case basis, and then to only allow them for hard-to-fill positions and only on a one-year, or at most two-year, contract basis.   In addition to removing the hour limitation, SB 1049 now will require districts to continue paying the full PERS rate on all retired employees; this would not go into the individual employee’s retirement account or calculation, but it is currently unclear if those funds also will be used to pay down the employer’s UAL. The savings the District would continue to realize for rehired retirees is that the District would save 6% as we would not be required to pay into the employee’s IAP.
 
After hearing the final two discussion items- receiving the Financial Update (things look good) and the Monthly Enrollment Update (enrollment is up several students again this month), the board adjourned into executive session.
 
The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Monday, November 25th at 6 PM.    It will be preceded by a Facilities Plan work session at 5:30.       Until then, GO TIGERS!
 
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