Wednesday, December 14, 2011

White Center Pride

Sili Savusa (left) with Principal Dave Darling at the White Center Summit
 Tonight marks a changing of the guard between two titans of the White Center community, who both dearly love their community and the community loves them back. A sincere thank you to outgoing board president Sili Savusa, whose leadership led to the Equity Policy and the district's heavy involvement in White Center Promise, among many, many other things. And welcome to new board member Tyrone Curry, longtime custodian and track coach on the Evergreen campus.

Last Saturday, I spent the afternoon at White Center Heights Elementary for the annual White Center Summit, organized by the White Center Community Development Association. The event brought together hundreds of White Center residents and supporters for a day of community building. Participants heard speakers on a variety of topics and got to enjoy free family portraits, music and dance performances, and great food! Here are a few pictures from this wonderful event...

Participants signed an "I Love White Center" banner

The huge gathering was entertained by groups, such as these dancers

Music teacher Mark Rice led WCH students in performance 

White Center CDA staff celebrate the opening of the Unity Village residences

I love this mural of Martin Luther King, Jr., made from traced hands of WCH students

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hidden Gems at the Tyee Holiday Bazaar

L to R: DECA student Araceli, Mrs. Vinther, and Global graduates Amanda Ouch and Cathy Jimenez
I was assistant principal of Tyee High School from 1997 to 2000, so I know a thing or two about the Tyee Holiday Bazaar. (Like how one time, the reader board used the less conventional "bizare" spelling, until I caught it. True story.)

What I didn't know is how much the Bazaar has grown in the decade since I worked at Tyee. This past Saturday, Tyee campus hosted 130 exhibitors, selling a wide variety of wares, such as jewelry, candles, and many seasonal gift items. And they turned more away due to lack of space! Demand is so high that the event fills the large gym, small gym, and cafeteria.

Global Connections High School has assumed sponsorship of the event, in partnership with the SeaTac Rotary Club, of which principal Rick Harwood is a member. But in large part, the event is run by G.C.H.S. DECA students. DECA is a nationwide program that supports marketing education.

You might not know that the Global Connections DECA program is among the top handful of DECA clubs in the state. Global DECA students routinely take home top prizes in the statewide DECA competition, and often place highly at the national competition as well. Teacher Alana Vinther is an absolute rock star!

The other tradition of the Tyee Holiday Bazaar is the tree and wreath sale by the Global Connections band boosters. Some of the gentlemen in the band helped me pick out a beautiful wreath that is now hanging on my house. (And Mrs. S. approves!) Like DECA, the Global band program is noted for its statewide accomplishments, specifically in the state solo and ensemble contest, where individual Global students have finished first in the state in recent years and groups like brass quintets routinely are competitive. I'd be surprised if any other school in the state either as small or economically diverse does as well as Global. Big kudos to band director Lyn Nelthropp for carrying this tradition forward year after year!

Note the full parking lot. (I checked the spelling, just to be sure!)

The gym was packed! As were the small gym and cafeteria. 130 vendors in all.
Entrepreneurial DECA students sold pancakes to Principal Harwood
A Global band wreath now adorns my house. $20 well spent!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Highline Council PTSA

Reps from school PTSAs come together as a district council
Have you ever been in line at Starbucks and had a stranger ahead of you pay for your coffee? That's generous, and it usually starts a cycle of generosity where others make a similar purchase for someone in line. It gives you a warm feeling (or maybe it's just the coffee.)

How about if you were given a large sum of money, with no expectation other than you spend it wisely. Would you pass that down?

Highline Council Parernt Teacher Student Association (HCPSTA) interim president Jill Wunch started Wednesday's meeting with an example of just that. A few weeks ago, the Highline Council received a check for their scholarship fund. For a cool one thousand dollars. From a 2004 graduate of Tyee High School. "It's time that I gave back," he wrote. Wow.

Thanks to all PTSA officers and volunteers who do so much good for our students. And thanks to Jill, who was PTA president while I was principal of Beverly Park, stepping up when there was nobody else.

Left: Region 9 PTA representative Maureen Monson
Right: HCPTSA interim president Jill Wunch

Just Saved the Taxpayers $3.7 Million!

This isn't on the tour of schools and sites, but I have to share a pretty unbelieveable thing we just did.

Today we refinanced our 2004 construction bond. Basically, it's like refinancing your house...if your house had a $38 million mortgage. We were able to reduce the interest rate on our school construction bonds from 5.25% to 2.98%. By issuing new bonds at a lower interest rate, we were able to save taxpayers $3.7 million!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Comes Early to Beverly Park

Chatting with an enthusiastic student and his father

I recently attended the kindergarten family lunch at Beverly Park Elementary. What a great time!

I was principal of Beverly Park about ten years ago and working with the BP staff and families was one of the highlights of my career. One of the really great parts of the school was the kindergarten program. Teacher Richard Dunn, who taught kindergarten during my tenure and continues today, set an inclusive tone with students and families. The BP kindergarten classes at the time were innovative in piloting a national reading curriculum and did a wonderful job preparing their students for first grade.

Beverly Park kindergarten teachers and support staff
Today, Beverly Park has five kindergarten classes, and thanks to state funding that prioritizes communities with high need, those classes are full day, not half day. To build community with parents and family members, the Beverly Park kindergarten classes hold a monthly lunch with families. With the wide array of food crossing over cultures and the sense of unity between school and family, it really captures the spirit of Thanksgiving!

The day I was invited, more than one hundred parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters joined current kindergarten students. I cannot tell you how proud those little ones were to show off their classrooms! And we all know that strong bonds between schools and families help everyone.

Dozens of moms, dad, aunts, uncles and grandparents joined the celebration
I have always considered Beverly Park to be a hidden jewel in Highline. I still have some friends there, although I don't see them as often as I would like, and on my last visit I barely even got to say hi to Brenda, the office manager, let alone visit the rest of the school. I am grateful to Principal Kathy Emerick, who has taken the school to new heights since I left. And I enjoyed seeing Leslie Perry, who is filling in for Mrs. Emerick for a few months. Leslie was my principal when I taught at Hazel Valley and we are fortunate to have her back in the district for a few more months.

Mostly, it was the kids who made this a special day. Nothing beats the look on a kindergarten student's face, ready to learn. Making sure they get a great education is the best motivation for my job.

Beverly Park Elementary, at the old Glendale Jr. High site

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Superintendent

Sometimes visiting schools happens faster than I can post to the blog. To give you an idea of what my day is like, and to share about some of our valued partners inside and outside of Highline Public Schools, I present: A day in the life of a superintendent. *Disclaimer: It's not all school and community visits every day - I wish!. I attend a lot of meetings, too, but those aren't nearly as interesting. ;-)

Highline Community College

For me, Wednesday, October 26th started out at Highline Community College at one of their community breakfast gatherings. This one was special, as HCC is celebrating its 50th Anniversary! Congratulations HCC!

They HCC staff included some trivia to mark the special occasion. Do you know where HCC started? On the campus of Glacier H.S. Which languages were first offered at HCC? French, German, and...Russian. (Never would have guessed that.) There are many more tidbits at a special website for HCC's 50th Anniversary.

It was great getting to learn about the programs at HCC today. Highline is the most diverse community college in the state of Washington and even in these tough times is working to meet the needs of the student body and the community. I sat next to an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher who is helping adults of all ages broaden their opportunities. Presentations highlighted the MESA (Math, Engineering, Science, Achievement) program, which serves underrepresented populations in these fields, and Gateway to College, which is run in partnership with the school district and allows credit deficient 16 to 21 year old students to earn a high school diploma at the college.

Recently, I also attended a math transition summit with HCC president, Dr. Jack Birmingham. The goal is to enable more students to enter college level math courses in their first year. Students taking pre-college level courses end up paying for credits that don't count toward their AA degree. I look forward to working with HCC more on this and other projects in the future!

Highline Community College, enhanced by art and foliage
Dr. Jeff Wagnitz addresses community leaders celebrating HCC's 50th Anniversary
With Dr. Jack Birmingham, President of Highline Community College

New Start High School

My next stop was the New Start Brag Day assembly. New Start is a valuable high school option that combines high school content, case management, and credit recovery options. Originally formed in partnership with King County, New Start is a well regarded opportunity for many students who for whatever reason didn't connect with a previous high school. Budget cuts at the county level have affected the New Start program over the years, but the need New Start addresses continues to make it an attractive program. Enrollment is now in the neighborhood of 120 students, double the enrollment several years ago, and yet there continues to be a waiting list for New Start.

I was invited to attend the monthly "Brag Day" assembly. It was so cool! As a small school, all students fit intimately in the Salmon Creek site cafeteria for the 30 minute barrage of recognition and awards. Students were commended for high grade point averages, perfect attendance, and a variety of other accomplishments. I've visited some national models of small, alternative high schools, and I'm proud to report that New Start's emphasis on celebration and esprit de corps would rival any of them.

New Start has made the former Salmon Creek Elementary home

Counselor Andrea Love addresses the school to open the Brag Day assembly

Mr. Taylor hands certificates of achievement to students

Highline Schools Foundation for Excellence

While back in the office, I squeezed in a meeting with Ashley Fosberg from the Highline Schools Foundation for Excellence, Bernie Dorsey from the Highline School Board, and communications director Catherine Carbone Rogers to advise the Foundation on their first Symposium.

Let me give a quick plug! The Foundation is starting a series of symposiums to promote discussion of issues affecting children. The first one will be the presentation of a movie titled Race to Nowhere, which highlights the over scheduling of many students in this day in age. The short movie will be followed by a discussion moderated by parenting educator Jan Faull. Whether you are a parent or staff member, I recommend that you attend!

Highline Schools Foundation for Excellence Presents: Race to Nowhere
Thursday, November 17th, 7:00 P.M.
Mount Rainier H.S.
More information about Race to Nowhere and tickets are available on-line here 

New Futures

Have you heard of New Futures? If not, let me tell you a little bit about them. New Futures was founded in 1993 by teachers at Hazel Valley Elementary School to provide after-school tutoring to students in apartment complexes. Today, New Futures operates four sites at Arbor Heights in White Center, The Heights at Burien, Windsor Heights in SeaTac, and Woodridge Park in Boulevard Park.

I visited the site at The Heights and was struck by a familiar feeling, as my family lived in a large apartment complex from when I was six until after I had graduated college. The Heights is huge and I wandered the campus for a few minutes before Jenn Ramirez Robson met me. Jenn is the interim executive director of New Futures and the organization is very fortunate to have had her on the board ready to take over when the executive director position became open.

The Heights provides New Futures with an entire fourplex of apartments from which to operate. Each has a familiar apartment feel of a kitchen, living room, and bedrooms, and yet is transformed into a combination school, computer lab, cafeteria, and study hall. One apartment serves as the program office and the other three are dedicated to young children, elementary aged children, and secondary aged children.

I was impressed by many things on my short visit. Among them were the quality of the tutors, including a college aged student who is able to work with high school students on subjects such as biology, and the computer lab, which allows students to access the same adaptive math software that students work on during the day at Seahurst Elementary. In fact, Seahurst Principal Chris Larsen and Sylvester Principal Vicki Fisher have both worked closely with New Futures over the years to coordinate learning experiences.

New Futures is mostly privately funded, and if you're so inclined, I recommend you visit their website to get involved!

New Futures serves students at The Heights and three other apartment complexes

With New Futures leader Jenn Ramirez Robson (left), site staffer Anna Raksany, and New Futures high school students
A garden for New Futures students was recently donated by a generous community member

School Board Meeting at Cedarhurst Elementary

Our board values its schools and the community, so board meetings are held at schools on the fourth Wednesday of the month. In October, we went to Cedarhurst Elementary, a gorgeous school in North Burien. You may recall that I taught at Cedarhurst in the mid-90s in my first day of school post.

The best part of the night was before the board meeting even started, as the Cedarhurst choir was performing in the main hall. As a former music teacher, I had to interrupt in between songs to commend the choir on their performance. They were singing difficult music for such and early point in the school year, and I told them, "You sing in tune, which makes me happy." Truly, music teachers Bianca Smith and Stefan Nelson are doing a wonderful job.

The board meeting itself was relatively uneventful, save the school presentation. Principal Bobbi Giammona make a fantastic presentation about the academics of the school and student speakers stole the show. The main action by the board was to approve the refinancing of $38 million of school construction bonds from 2004. Think of it like refinancing your home to save some money on your mortgage - if you lived in Bill Gates' neighborhood!

The Cedarhurst Elementary choir, directed by Ms. Bianca Smith

Principal Bobbi Giammona addresses the Highline School Board

Thanks to our five School Board members: President Sili Savusa, Vice President Angelica Alvarez, Bernie Dorsey, Sue Goding, and Michael Spear. The board is a volunteer position and our board spends a tremendous amount of time attending meetings, researching education topics, and meeting with staff and community members. All of our board members work a "day job" in addition to their service on the board, making for some long days. Their dedication on behalf of our students and community is commendable.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Puget Sound Skills Center

Lately my school visits have been happening faster than I can get them posted. It's a good problem to have!

Today's post is about the Puget Sound Skills Center (PSSC). Actually, I have been to PSSC three times this year already. Each visit captured a unique aspect of what PSSC does and how different groups of people come together to make the programs run.

PSSC Advisory Dinner

Last Thursday night was the PSSC Advisory Dinner. Each PSSC program has an advisory made up of current industry personnel, parents, and graduates. This event, like many at PSSC, was wonderfully catered by the Culinary Arts program. I had salmon with fingerling potatoes. Yum!

Rep. Dave Upthegrove addresses the advisory groups.

I was seated with the Fire Services advisory. Nice folks!

Jobs for America's Graduates

The week before, I attended the Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG) graduation ceremony. This program is supported as a part of Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn's emphasis on preventing dropouts. OSPI was well represented by assistant superintendents Tom Lopp and Kathleen Lopp, and JAG program point person George Hollingbery. JAG boasts a 92% combined graduation and job placement rate. Marilyn Conger coordinates the JAG program for PSSC, with enthusiasm.

I addressed the graduates by touching on our vision of college, career, and citizenship. I told them I was proud of their accomplishment, but they need to seek additional school or training beyond high school to reach a career that will support a family. But what excited me the most, I told them, is that they have the potential of returning to the community as leaders. Mr. Hollingbery from OSPI told me that may be the first time they've been told they were potential leaders by an authority figure. I hope they'll hear that more in the future.

(L to R) George Hollingsbery, Kathleen Lopp, and Marilyn Conger

Michael McSweeney congratulates a student

JAG graduates pose for a picture
(L to R) Principal Sue Shields, Marilyn Conger, and Rep. Tina Orwall

PSSC Superintendents Advisory

My first trip to PSSC this fall was for the superintendent meeting. PSSC is a regional program serving students from Highline, Federal Way, Tukwila, and Tahoma. Although Highline administers the school, the superintendents from all of the districts come together to provide oversight twice a year.

At the meeting in October, Principal Sue Shields presented updates on the PSSC Strategic Plan, program enrollments, and budget. PSSC alum and current teacher Kevin Blaylock reported on the actions of staff. The superintendents asked "critical friend" type questions to help the PSSC leadership refine their plans. While Highline is home to PSSC, it takes the dedication and support of all of the participating districts. I'm sure Sue would join me thanking everyone who supports PSSC.

Alum and current staff member Dave Estes welcomed me to the meeting

Tukwila superintendent Ethelda Burke (right) listens to chef Kevin Blaylock

Thursday, October 27, 2011

At North Hill, It's in the Bag

Principal Nancy Melius jumps into a pile of bags
 The challenge of this blog is that these posts can't keep up with my visits to schools and community organizations. Right now, I have about ten visits I haven't yet written up. One of those was to North Hill Elementary two weeks ago. What did I visit at North Hill? A bus full of plastic bags. Need an explanation?

North Hill Elementary collected the most plastic grocery bags in a regional contest sponsored by King County to raise awareness of recycling. How many bags did North Hill collect? Try 630. No, not 630 bags...630 pounds of those thin bags from the grocery store. Shorewood Elementary came in second with more than 500 pounds. In a recent photo op, North Hill students loaded a school bus FULL of those bags.

Perhaps the reason this post took me two weeks was finding the right educational context for it. Here goes: We often speak of "college, career, and citizenship." Usually, we follow up by expanding on pathways to two and four year colleges. Sometimes we speak of the careers of the future. But without a doubt, we are least likely to speak about citizenship. And we should. Is collecting bags a rigorous intellectual experience? No. Maybe Ms. Edwards found a curricular tie-in for her fifth graders, but that's not really the point.

When I was in elementary school, a classmate of mine conducted an experiment and presented it to our class. Her house had a leaky faucet and her parents didn't think it was a problem, other than being a nuisance. My friend Laurie plugged the sink in the evening and the experiment came to abrupt end in the middle of the night when those little drops ended up overflowing the sink. I remember that lesson thirty years later and hopefully I'm a little better citizen for the experience. Thirty years from now, the students of North Hill will remember the day they filled a school bus with plastic bags, and hopefully they'll be better citizens for the experience, too.

Des Moines Mayor Bob Sheckler commends the students
King County employee Tom Watson presents a bench made of recycled plastics
5th grade teacher Sherry Edwards led the collection effort
The event drew lots of media attention
The assembly line moved a LOT of bags
And now, we're driving the bus! (Well, sort of)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Major Taylor Biking at Global Connections

Meeting with Global Connections principal Rick Harwood and students before the ride

It's true what they say: You never forget how to ride a bike. After 20 years without riding, three years ago I went into Bicycles West in Burien and thought I would just try a bike. And just like that, I was riding again. That one decision has helped me begin the road back to health and fitness. Biking is so much fun - it gives you independence and a new perspective. It's a workout that doesn't wear your joints out. And you can do it at any age.

Fortunately, I had just enough bike riding in my background to pick it up easily as an adult. I remember learning to ride a bike when I was probably five years old. My parents were working at a home for children without parents, and there was a private driveway that my dad accompanied me down as I rode with my training wheels. I rode around our large apartment complex when I was older - I remember one particular wipe out on loose gravel - and graduated to the vaunted "10 speed" bike. But then I got busy with school and extracurricular activities, such as band and baseball. I don't remember stopping my bike riding, but at some point that old Raleigh bike sat idle and began to rust. I don't know whatever happened to it.

But what if I had never started? There would have been no "it's like riding a bike" moment for me three years ago. I'm almost certain I wouldn't have gotten a bike as an adult, along with my wife. I would have missed out on the freedom and the exercise. This summer I worked up to 25 miles, and biking has become one of the few hobbies I've developed as an adult. But as you might imagine, some of our students in Highline haven't had the opportunity to ride. And that, at long last, is a segue to the topic at hand...

Cascade Bicycle Club staff review safe riding practices
The Major Taylor Project at Global Connections H.S.

Last week, I spent a glorious afternoon with ten students from Global Connections High School on the Tyee campus. The occasion was a bike ride. Global is one of five sites for the Cascade Bicycle Club's Major Taylor Project, which provides loaner bikes and safe riding instruction to students in the Seattle area. Forty Global Connections students participate in the program, riding once a week after school during the fall and spring. A group of 25 students take it one step further, riding in the Seattle to Portland (STP) event in July. For many, this two-day trip is the first time they'll camp under the stars, and for a few it's their first time away from Seattle in Washington State.

Bikes at the Des Moines Beach Park
We met after school at the former Tyee woodshop facility. I was greeted by principal Rick Harwood, himself an avid cyclist, and math teacher A.J. Campanelli, who told me he sometimes bikes to work when the weather cooperates. Staff from the Cascade Bicycle Club provided some basic safety instructions and away we went. The destination was the beautiful Des Moines Creek Trail, which runs from 200th, just south of the airport, to the Des Moines waterfront. The ride going to Des Moines was easy, flat or downhill the whole way. All 4.2 miles were delightful on this next to last day of summerlike weather in Seattle.

Adults and students alike enjoyed the ride!
The reward of the ride was a half-hour break at Des Moines Beach Park. Students led activities while we were there, including a spontaneous game of hacky sack and a chance to share our favorite moment biking. The latter was especially fun, as people shared their experiences learning, riding the STP, passing a bus uphill, and learning to get around without a car. I shared getting to ride with my sons.

Soon, we were back on our way. The Des Moines Creek Trail is gorgeous (and bikers, they recently finished paving under the bridge!), but the northbound ride is entirely up hill. It's a gradual climb, and Cascade staff Ed and David advised the students on how to keep an easy cadence in a low gear. We all made it in good shape, only to find a much steeper hill when we left the trail. "There's no shame in walking," we were told. They didn't have to tell me twice.

With CBC deputy director Kathy McCabe
Finally, we were back at school. I thanked everybody for the ride, particularly Kathy McCabe, deputy director of the Cascade Bicycle Club (and former director of the Highline Schools Foundation for Excellence). You may not know this, but the Cascade Bicycle Club is a force in the region. Their membership has doubled in recent years to over 14,000 members. Thanks to their generosity, and "paying it forward", they may have 40 more members in the future, the students of Global Connections H.S.

Why have I devoted nearly 1,000 words to an after school bike club? Recently I've been reflecting on the opportunity for Highline students to become the leaders of the 21st Century. I really believe that opportunity is there. The country is getting more diverse. The world is becoming smaller. Students in Highline have a leg up - the Global Connections bike group looks like a mini-United Nations - but they need to develop their leadership and expand their reach. Our students need solid academic skills, but even more they need the experiences that will broaden their horizons and change their lives.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Evergreen Campus Gives the PSAT

Students at Evergreen Campus come together for sports, pep rallies, and dances

Quiz time: What’s our district’s vision? (This is the participatory part of the blog. I’ll pause for your answer…)

Unless you’re brand new to Highline, you probably said something like, “Every student graduates prepared for college, career, and citizenship.” Don’t worry about memorizing it verbatim. If you put it in your own words, that’s better. And I hope by now you’ve heard me or someone else speak about how “college” is shorthand for any post-secondary option that leads to a career: four year colleges, community colleges, technical colleges, and quality apprenticeship programs.

TEC PSAT administration in the library

AAA students take the PSAT in the gym

Last Wednesday, I was in the north end of our district, so I stopped by the Evergreen Campus during PSAT testing. Highline pays for every student to take the PSAT at least once. We target the 10th grade, and also include 11th graders who for some reason haven’t yet taken it. Most of our juniors take it as well, and there are fee waivers available.

HS3 tested in classrooms

Why do we expect all students to take the PSAT, when some may choose something other than a four year college? We want them to have a choice. By taking the PSAT in 10th grade, students begin to think about college, and what it takes to be ready. And they begin to receive mailings from colleges, immersing them in college culture. If they start this as juniors or seniors, they’ll be at a disadvantage, and doors may have closed that would have been open had they started sooner.

Back to my visit to Evergreen…The Evergreen Campus is comprised of three small high schools:

·         Arts and Academics Academy (AAA)
·         Health Sciences and Human Services High School (HS3)
·         Technology, Engineering, and Communications High School (TEC)

I had a nice visit with principals Norma Barrineau (AAA), Jenni MacDonald (HS3), and Kelly Raymond (TEC). They spoke with me about the joys and challenges of running their schools. I appreciate how they work together so well, in addition to shaping the school they individually lead.

(Left to Right) Principals Jenni MacDonald, Norma Barrineau, and Kelly Raymond

One thing I wish I could do for the principals – and everyone who calls Evergreen home – is deliver them a new school. The Evergreen facility is showing its age. Despite a good effort by our facilities team, the flat roofs leak and the breezeways are deteriorating. The facilities limit our ability to expand lab science classes and even if we got a large donation of computers, we wouldn’t be able to plug them in and put them to use on the antiquated electrical system. The campus is well cared for, but when you’re educating a thousand or so teens a year – and trying to educate them for their future – there is a limit to the usable life of a school. To their credit, the principals know it’s the people who make a school, not the bricks and mortar, and they focus without excuse on what they can do for kids.

Between PSAT testing and visiting with the principals, I didn’t have much time to see other staff. But I did enjoy brief interactions with Mary Jo Leonardson, who taught French when I was assistant principal at Tyee High School in the 1990s and Barb Rodgers, who is a one of our resilient, dedicated office managers.

Best of all, just before I left, Principal MacDonald asked me to visit the integrated learning center (ILC) at HS3. These learners were working with money and will eventually put their life skills to work in the student store. But the very best part was this: I saw a former student from when I was principal at Beverly Park. I recognized “J” immediately. She was a first or second grader when I last knew her. Now, she’s eighteen and I hope the world will treat her – and her ILC classmates – kindly. I know their dedicated instructors do.