Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Visiting the Highline Education Association

(Left to right): Debby Strayer/Mt. Rainer,  Linda Wheeler/Beverly Park, Patrick Lamb/Global Connections, Sandy Hunt/Beverly Park, Sern Watt/Marvista, Stacie Hawkins/HEA President, Julie Kastien/Sylvester; Not pictured: Sue McCabe/Mt. Rainier, Shawna Moore/Sylvester, and Ryan Reilly/Madrona

Yesterday afternoon I visited the offices of the Highline Education Association. The HEA represents our certificated staff - teachers, counselors, nurses, substitutes, etc. They have more than one thousand members and are valued partners.

HEA President Stacie Hawkins invited me on this particular day to meet with the HEA Executive Board. First of all, they eat well - soup and salad from Panera - yum! And it would have been rude of me not to join them, of course. On a more substantive note, we got to do some relationship building and there was some informal sharing of what was on everybody's mind. President Hawkins and I have discussed venues for collaboration and we look forward to finding both formal and informal opportunities to connect.

As Stacie's suggestion, one thing I did was solicit ideas for possible Highline Foundation for Excellence projects. I explained that the Foundation is looking for additional opportunitites to supplement the basic district offerings and told them to think about it and send me suggestions. But wow, they came up with a full page of ideas on the spot! The brainstorm included expanding foreign language offerings at middle school, bringing in theater performances (like a staging of MacBeth recently at Global Connections H.S. on the Tyee campus), supporting afterschool opportunities, purchasing standing desks and exercise ball seats for active kids, library books, musical instruments, art docents or artists in residence, Waskowitz scholarships, and even ballroom dancing!

We will certainly have our disagreements at times, but district leadership and HEA leadership have a lot common interests to make Highline the very best district possible. I look forward to working together with President Hawkins and the HEA on behalf of our staff and our students.   

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hail to Aviation High School

When I was in the fifth grade, the President of the United States came to my small hometown in Pennsylvania, and I badly wanted to see him. It wasn't that I wanted to see Ronald Reagan, specifically...I wanted to see the President of the United States. As a ten year old, I knew nothing about politics, but I did know, intuitively, that the President of the United States coming to your town is a big deal that doesn't happen every day. For whatever reason, I wasn't able to go, and I had to wait 30 years to see The President of the United States in person.

Principal Reba Gilman addresses the AHS students
 The student body of Aviation High School won't have to wait that long: they got to see the President of the United States yesterday. The entire student body was invited to attend his speech yesterday at the Paramount Theater as recognition for excellent work as a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) "Lighthouse" model school. To be recognized in this manner is a real honor! The students and chaperones were comped tickets for the recognition. And also, thanks to the Aviation H.S. PTA, whose funds purchased the school buses to the event.

Arrival in Seattle

The day began at 10:15 Sunday morning, when 365 students, parent chaperones, and staff gathered in the gym at Aviation H.S. for a pep talk by Reba Gilman. Mostly, Principal Gilman was reminding students that the purpose of the school's involvement was recognition, not political. Soon we were assigned to one of seven buses. Mine included school board member Bernie Dorsey, staff members Katie Carper, Sarah Fitzpatrick, and Dindria Barrow, parent Gordon McHenry, and about 40 students. We were safely driven by Sandy, who gave up watching the Seahawks for the occasion, but wore her Seahawks earrings anyway.

Waiting in the rain to get in

Everything was on schedule...until we arrived at the Paramount. Hurry up and wait, as the saying goes. It was a good lesson in patience for the students. First, we waited in line outside the theater, which stretched three blocks. The line itself lasted at least an hour and included a short rain shower. Eventually, each of us passed through the metal detectors...and then waited again in our balcony seats. About a half hour later, the Robert McCray Band played three or four numbers. I found myself wishing we were in a small jazz venue to hear them, but mostly wishing for the President's speech to begin. Nope...just another hour of waiting.

The pause gave me time to reflect on the amazing journey Aviation H.S. has taken since its opening in 2004. Many have traveled this journey, including my predecessor superintendents Joe McGeehan, who helped dream up the school, and John Welch, who helped make it a reality. Some, like my friend Rita Creighton, started on the journey with us, but have since passed away. Those early days were a leap of faith, especially for the first hundred students who went to the Duwamish site we borrowed from SSCC with four teachers, two office staff, a principal, and a dream.

Principal Gilman with AHS seniors

Fast forward to today and Aviation H.S. is well established as a school of choice for math and science, nested within an aviation context. By design, nearly half of AHS students are from districts other than Highline, and over the years students have commuted from as far as Monroe and Port Orchard to be a part of this unique school.

With school board member Bernie Dorsey
Last month, we broke ground on a state-of-the-art $43 million facility that will be located next to the Museum of Flight air park. Amazingly, $15 million of the amount was raised from donations by generous donors, making the school a true public/private partnership. Former Superintendent Welch, Principal Gilman, and lead donor James Raisbeck - among many - deserve much credit for their vision and follow through in rallying the aviation community, as well as the public entities that supported the fund.

Finally, the moment arrived. At 2:45, basketball legends Lenny Wilkens and Bill Russell took the stage with charm and charisma to introduce the President. The anticipation was palpable and I watched the reactions of the students - each of whom I spoke with later told me they were grateful for the experience - as much as I listened to the words of the speakers. Finally, nearly an hour and a half after the scheduled end of the event, it was time. Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Supporting the Organizations that Support Highline

Highline staff at the CDA fundraiser: (left to right) Delila Leber, Bernard Koontz, and Bernadette Merikle

What does a new interim superintendent do on a Friday night? In case you were wondering (I know you weren't, but play along)...tonight, I'm going to see the new release "Moneyball", a baseball movie starring Brad Pitt. But since they don't allow cameras in the movie theater, I won't be blogging it. Instead, let me tell you about how I spent the previous two Friday nights, at fundraisers for the White Center Community Development Association and Southwest Youth and Family Services.

White Center Community Development Association

With CDA Executive Director Aileen Balahadia
 Last Friday was the dinner/auction for the White Center CDA. The CDA has been around for a decade supporting the community of White Center. As you may know, White Center is in unincorporated King County and lacks some of the coordination and promotion that a local city government can provide. The CDA's work includes family development, neighborhood revitalization, and community development. With only ten staff, the CDA is small, but mighty, drawing on community members and friends to accomplish many of their projects.

The event last Friday was held at South Seattle Community College and really reflected the diversity of the community. I never got a headcount, but Highline staff were seated at table 18 of 23, to give you an idea of how many folks bought a ticket to the event. Bob Watt called the live auction, featuring many very interesting items. One I got outbid on, but would have loved, was a traditional Mexican meal cooked by Julia Bautista-Salinas and served at Kate Stannard's home. As for entertainment, the show-stopper was a traditional Cambodian dance, featuring graceful dancers in gorgeous costumes.

White Center is such a richly diverse community. The CDA is helping it to meet its potential. Our students benefit tremendously from their support.

Southwest Youth and Family Services

(L to R) Board President Sili Savusa, Bernadette Merikle, and her husband Robert
Two Fridays ago was the annual dinner/auction for Southwest Youth and Family Services. Like the CDA, this organization helps students and families at the north end of Highline. While Southwest is located in West Seattle, it has always served White Center as a focus, as well as the South Park and Delridge neighborhoods. SWYFS has been around for more than 20 years and has been led by Steve Daschle, a community leader with a quiet passion and gravitas.

The Southwest dinner was at The Hall at Fauntleroy. I am always impressed when I see how many events our elected officials get to. Joe McDermott, from the King County Council, was at both the CDA and SWYFS events, and many made it to one or the other, like County Executive Dow Constantine, who was at the Southwest event. But the person who made the biggest impact may have had the shortest resume in the room. It was a young lady who had just graduated college the very same day as the event. In her words, she was completely out of options by age 15. She had a child and keeping up with school was a huge challenge. Enter the Education Center at SWYFS. Long story short, she got back on track and seems headed for a bright future.

With Highline's John Boyd and White Center Promise Director Laurie Bohm
The comment that stuck with me from the evening is that Southwest is there when nobody else is. There are holes in society's support systems and one of them is for older students who are behind in school. That's why we need organizations like SWYFS and why I will take to the school board this Wednesday a proposal for a pilot program that will expand the program in partnership with the district. The new deal will allow Southwest to serve students who otherwise would probably be out of school altogether. Don't get me wrong, it's our job not to give up on any student, but sometimes our students need all of us coming together to give them the opportunity to make it. That's why working together with Southwest and the White Center CDA is so important to Highline Public Schools.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Visiting with the Marvista PTSA

Marvista was welcoming for its first PSTA meeting of the year
Last night, I had the pleasure of joining the Marvista PTSA at their first general membership meeting of the new school year. Marvista's PTSA is well known for their support of the school and I was not surprised to see a large turnout.

It's great to visit night events at schools. Here, I met Theresa Coluccio, the PTSA president, and I also got to meet a responsible young lady who was running the child care when I dropped off my 8 year old son. Lori Bento and Ginnie Brossard were there to put the "T" in PTSA. And the meeting opened with a 6th grade string quartet performing "Ode to Joy."

With Principal Mike Fosberg and PTSA Pres. Theresa Coluccio
Princpial Mike Fosberg delivered a thoughtful report on Marvista's test scores, celebrating good news and not hiding areas where the school has room to improve. While achievement at Marvista is high, Mr. Fosberg spoke about how teachers are digging into the data to figure out how to improve literacy instruction and close achievement gaps. Parents asked good questions, too, such as what the school was doing to address any dips in scores and how confident Mr. Fosberg is about scores in the future. Principal Fosberg is confident that developments in curriculum, such as math and literacy frameworks introduced last year, are working.

I really appreciate PTAs and what they do for students. As a district, we have had to cut $18 million dollars from our budget over the past three years. Although PTAs can't make up that difference, they do fill gaps and provide opportunities for students, such as field trips and arts experieinces, that we are not funded to provide. They also provide much more in their presence and personal support. The kids know when there are adults who care about them.

I think most of us know that it's harder to get a PTA going than ever these days. There seem to be so many competing priorities and our lives are busier than ever. So my hat's off to the many moms, some dads, and dedicated teachers who donate their time and energy to enrich the lives of our students.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Southern Heights Staff Works Hard, Plays Hard

Just a few of the talented, hard working Southern Heights staff

Some of you might know that before my current position, I was "Chief Accountability Officer". Of course, a lot of people asked me what that is. Mostly, it's about helping staff use data, but occasionally it meant delivering difficult results to staff who are already putting in long hours and giving their heart and soul to their students. Two years ago, I had a data presentation of this sort at Southern Heights. Today, I want to shout their success from the rooftop.

Southern Heights is one of the few schools in the state that made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) this year after not making it they year before. Their overall school percent proficient on the MSP improved in every subject.
  • Reading: 51% (2010) to 67% (2011)
  • Writing: 44% (2010) to 60% (2011)
  • Math: 38% (2010) to 64% (2011)
  • Science: 10% (2010) to 23% (2011)

Their improvement wasn't just on the MSP. Southern Heights has had tremendous improvement on the MAP test, a computer adaptive national test, and the Math Benchmark Assessments, a practice assessment from OSPI that gives teachers detailed feedback.

And the improvement isn't luck. I've had the fortune to work closely with Principal Deborah Holcomb and a few teachers and I can attest that they have been working hard and working smart. Southern Heights staff monitor the progress of their students closely through regular short assessments. Teachers plan together to coordinate lessons and the schedule is set up to meet the needs of students.

Staff collaborate on the academic subject plans during PCT

Friday, I dropped in on a Professional Collaboration Time (PCT) where staff met to finalize the school improvement plan for each subject. Once upon a time, that might have been done mostly by the principal or a few lead teachers, but Friday the entire staff was gathered around tables discussing the intracies of improving in each subject. It was a great example of collaboration among staff.

Jennifer Matthews and Alyssa Dahl serving Italian sodas

I must mention that the esprit de corps seemed very high during my time there. For a few minutes before PCT started, the staff gathered in the staff room and served each other Italian sodas. The mood was light and congenial. Only the fact that a staff member was leaving for a new job (for a well known national education organization) kept the occasion from being entirely upbeat.

Staff celebrate a departing staff member

When the work is this hard, I sometimes worry about teacher burnout. Seeing Southern Heights staff celebrate together made me feel confident that their success will be long lasting.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chinook Improves, Then Asks for Parent Partnership

Last year was Chinook's first with the support of a school improvment grant to improve its outcomes. Along with the grant came heightened accountability and expectations. Ambitious targets were set for the school to improve test scores, and the school made significant gains. Chinook's 7th grade math MSP scores improved by 24 points from 2010 to 2011, to nearly 51% percent proficient. Principal Mark Demick has analyzed the data and he reports that and that it was the largest historical MSP or WASL increase ever in Highline, Kent, Renton, Auburn, or Federal Way. Writing scores were also up, from 35% to 44% percent proficient. And students who stayed at Chinook from 7th to 8th grade saw their reading scores go up.

Principal Mark Demick (standing) and AP Robyn Wiens (far right) listen to parents

Thursday night, I joined Principal Demick at the Parent and Community Advisory meeting. Mr. Demick's comments celebrated the gains Chinook achieved last year before enlisting parents in joining the effort to improve the school.

It was a wonderful night. It was announced that 44 parents were there, although I would have guessed more and the ample pizza supply was gone before the meeting began. Parents learned of programs like the Community Schools Collaboration (CSC), which provides afterschool programming four days a week. And they were engaged around the best way for the school and parents to communicate. Most parents seemed to prefer email, although they had other ideas. One mentioned Tracey Drum's blog at Bow Lake as a potential model. Another stressed how important it is for the students to know that parents and teachers are working together as a unit.

One thing I really liked about Principal Demick is how frequently he related his own experience as a parent in the conversation. He shared his experience checking up on assignments his daughters might not have completed and shared how he wished he'd have done more to prepare for college when his now high school senior was in middle school. As the parent of a new middle school student myself, that one hit home. (They grow up so fast!)

CSC staff member Karly Feria addresses parents about afterschool opportunities

Congratulations to Chinook for pulling off a great parent kickoff, and thanks also to parent leader Terri Hewitt for helping to gather such an enthusiastic parent group!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Des Moines Rotary Supports Instruments for Students

With David Endicott of Music4Life...hand his cool rotary valve tuba!

After my bike ride on Saturday, I stopped by the blues festival in Des Moines sponsored by the Des Moines Rotary. The DMR is a great supporter of Highline schools and our students. This event was focused on raising money to purchase musical instruments for Highline students. And on top of that, there was some great blues music. I heard a band called Left Hand Smoke, a cool name for a band with very cool music.

With Representative Tina Orwall, a big supporter of schools

Many of you have heard my story of borrowing an instrument to join the school band. I ended up majoring in music education for my undergraduate degree and teaching band. Although I no longer play, the lessons I learned as a music student will benefit me for the rest of my life. And if my school didn't have loaner instruments, I would have missed this opportunity. For too many of our Highline students, financial barriers can get in the way of the great experience of studying an instrument.

The three Rotary clubs in our district - Des Moines, SeaTac, and Burien-White Center -  have backed a project called Highline Music4Life to solicit cash donations and instruments that are donated to Highline Public Schools for student use. This is a great project and anyone with an instrument in the closet should put it to use making a difference in the life of a student.

Here are some ways you can get involved:
  • Go to the Highline Music4Life website
  • Donate money or drop off an instrument at a participating location
  • Drop off an instrument at the Music4Life booth at the Des Moines Farmer's Market on Saturday, Sept. 17, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Lastly, kudos to district staff who worked the event for the Des Moines Rotary, including long-time DMR member Catherine Carbone Rogers, our communications director, and Scott Logan, our transportation director.

With school district staff Catherine Carbone Rogers and Scott Logan

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Biking Highline from Dubsea to Des Moines

As I write under the familiar cloud cover of Seattle, let me share a story from this weekend, where we were granted one last burst of beautiful summer weather. This post is about an afternoon spent touring Highline by bicycle, touching all five communities along the way and seeing our familiar district with new eyes.

White Center
My wife Shannon in front of Dubsea Coffee
My ride began with an iced coffee with my wife Shannon at Dubsea Coffee in the Greenbridge area of White Center. I was hoping to see owner Sibelle Nguyen, whose investment in the neighborhood has helped build community as well as delivering coffee goodness. Sibelle was gone for the day, but a steady stream of customers kept the shop hopping. After coffee, I set out to ride from the district's border with Seattle to the south border with Federal Way.

Two summers ago, I bought a bike at Bicycles West in Burien. Not having ridden for twenty years, I selected a basic model, mostly on the appearance of sturdiness. My bike isn't fast, but it gets me around. I enjoy biking more than being particularly good at. You'll notice I don't have the spandex bike shorts (thank goodness, right?) and I don't even carry a kit to repair flat tires (that's what we call foreshadowing, kids).

Posing with my bike in front of White Center Heights Elementary

Garden boxes at the new Seola Gardens
After passing White Center Heights Elementary, I cut over to 4th Avenue SW, a direct route with light traffic. Immediately, I started to notice things that I don't usually see. These included the striking rebuild of Park Lake Homes, now called Seola Gardens. Where stark looking post-war duplexes once stood a new community is emerging, vibrant in nature, reflecting the hopes of a new generation. I've seen them before from my car, but never noticed the planter boxes that fall below the grade of 4th Avenue. Gardens indeed.

Hazel Valley Elementary, from the corner of 4th and 132nd
Still on 4th Avenue, I crossed 116th Street and passed into Burien. Before long I was riding by Hazel Valley Elementary. On two wheels, I couldn't help but notice where there are bike lanes and where there are not. Although the trend has been to add more pedestrian friendly routes, it was interesting to me how often sidewalks disappear and reappear.

I was also much more aware of  youth walking and biking the streets of our district. Even on a non-school day I rarely rode more than a block or two without passing a school aged person on foot or on two wheels. As a community, we need to make sure there are safe routes for students to and from school. I'm glad folks like the Highline Healthy Communities Coalition are thinking about this, including many district folks such as Aimee Denver, Val Allen, and board member Bernie Dorsey.

The transit center in Burien adds a splash of art to 4th Ave.
Riding into the heart of Burien, I passed the brand new transit center that opened last month. I don't know what I expected it to look like, but it has exceeded my expectations, with its enormous, three-dimensional mountain scenes. A block later, I passed nearby the Highline High School Drill Team carwash. What resilient and hardworking students we have in these difficult financial times.

Normandy Park

After a short stretch on 1st Avenue, I cut over into a residential section of Normandy Park. My intended destination was Marvista, our only current school in Normandy Park.

The old Normandy Park Elementary

Since it was on the way, I elected to ride by the old Normandy Park Elementary site, which is now used as City Hall and as a community rec center. Before the airport expansion, before the bridges crossed Lake Washington, before the Boeing bust in the 1970s, Highline peaked at about 35,000 students, nearly double our current enrollment. When the population contracted, we had far too many schools for our 18,000 students, the level we've been at for more than a decade. There are former school sites across the district, and the old Normandy Park site seems particularly useful to its community.

My flat rear tire (boo!)
After taking a picture of the old Normandy Park site, I hopped back on my bike and heard the grating squeal of a deflated bike tire. I recognized the sound immediately and soon the air was coming out of my best laid plans, too. Without a bike repair kit, I was stranded and forced to call for a ride to a bike shop.


I got dropped off at Angle Lake Cyclery on International Boulevard in SeaTac and quickly was up and running again. Unfortunately, the afternoon was getting late and I didn't have time to ride by any schools in SeaTac. Folks in SeaTac, I'll be back soon! I've already been to Madrona, Hilltop, and ACE, and this week I'll be visiting Chinook.

Got that flat fixed in a jiffy!
I left the bike shop riding on Hwy. 99 to 216th. Even that little stretch of SeaTac helped me to reflect on the many different communities within Highline. Already I had been to White Center, Burien, Normandy Park, and now SeaTac. Each community has its different ethnic groups and histories. Students walk to school and to catch the bus in areas ranging from quiet side streets to here on International Boulevard. Our role is to educate them and to expect the most of every student. We should know these different experiences and routes to and from school, but our high expectations should be the common denominator for all students.

Des Moines

Pacific Middle School, with Mount Rainier High School in the background

While Highline has five communities, truthfully there are many more. My trek through Des Moines stayed mostly on Hwy. 99, detouring only for ride past Midway Elementary and Pacific Middle School on 24th. Later in the day, I got down to the blues festival along the waterfront, a different part of Des Moines. (I'll post on this later in the week.) When you think of Des Moines and the south end of our district, you may think of the Midway area, or the "downtown" Des Moines area, or the scenic area by the Masonic home, or the north hill. All of those are Highline, and our teachers have students from multiple geographies within their city in every classroom. It's one of the main things I like about public education.

Red = completed. Yellow = lost to flat tire.
I had hoped to get to Auntie Irenes as a sort of finish to my ride that started at Dubsea, but my wife and I had a rare date night on this Saturday and the babysitter was starting soon. After a quiet ride past Midway and Pacific, and a glimpse of Mt. Rainier High School in the distance, I cut up Kent-Des Moines Road and turned right onto Pacific Highway. I don't recommend this route on two wheels, and I stayed to the sidewalk as much as possible. Even then, I was aware of the challenges our students and families might face as I dodged sandwich board advertisements and the many driveways on my way to 252nd, our south border, eying Redondo Fred Meyer in the distance. 

Reflecting on 10 miles

This August, I asked all of our principals and district administrators to get out of their car and know their school community without the barriers of windows and car radios. It really does help gain a new perspective on the district.

Did I see the whole district on my ride? Not by a long shot. But after those 10 miles I biked, I feel like I'm a little closer to being in the shoes of our students as they travel the district.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cascade Teachers Plan Tutorial Class on Friday PCT

With administrators Diana Garcia (left), Jacob Ellis, and Annika Mizuta
What do you know about Cascade Middle School? You may know the school from a prior experience with it. You may know what you've read about it in the paper as a school in improvement. Or you may not know much about it.

What I want you to know is that the Cascade staff is taking ownership of their school and their results. Today, I attended the staff meeting during Professional Collaboration Time (PCT) and I was immediately struck by a couple of things. First, the teaching staff has a leadership role in the school. Principal Diana Garcia is engaged and quick to jump in where she can add value, but teachers are active participants in their own development. Second, this staff is energetic and dedicated. Temperatures were in the mid-80s outside and not much lower inside. It was Friday afternoon and the meeting followed five hours with students. But not once did I see a teacher anything less than engaged and fully present. Yes, that's their job, but I truly think this group is working on behalf of kids and not merely doing their job.

Michael Franzen and Nadia Counter present the math plan
Mike Sokoloski enjoys an ice cream sandwich - a relief from the heat
Today's meeting was about tutorial, a class most students have four days a week for thirty minutes. This is a time for students to reinforce and deepen their learning through independent practice. Teachers from the math and language arts departments presented the tutorial plan to their colleagues. Students in math tutorial will use our new ST Math software, which stands for "spacial temporal reasoning" and introduces or reinforces concepts in a visual manner. ST Math adapts to each student's needs and it engages students through tasks involving the animated penguin JiJi. If this sounds hokey, I have seen students use the program with enthusiasm and they will tell you it makes them love math. Many early adopters of ST Math have had fantastic student results. And remember, this is a complement to our more traditional, book-based math curriculum.

Kristi Fowler (left) and Karen Boucher present the reading plan
Most students not engaged in math tutorial will participate in independent reading. Today, language arts teachers coached their colleages on how to support students in choosing just right books and monitoring student reading. The teachers stressed the value of time spent reading. As a former musician, I know the value of practice, and that goes for academic skills, too.

This has been a time of change at Cascade, and I'm sure initially it was difficult for teachers to redesign the school under the microscope of federal accountability. Changing principals can create more unrest as well. However, there are a lot of signs that things are going in the right direction, including student growth on district tests and some, though not yet all, areas of the state assessment. Just over a year into its improvement grant, Cascade seems poised for a great year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

ACE Blends Best of New and Old

So far, my tour has been a blend of reconnecting with long-time colleagues and meeting new staff, parents, and students. Nowhere have I been as aware of this as I was yesterday at ACE high school on the Tyee Educational Complex.

ACE is the first school I have visited with a new principal. Janae Landis joins Highline from Kent School District, where she served as assistant principal at Kentridge and Kentlake High Schools. Previously, Ms. Landis was director of a math and science center at WSU Tri-Cities. With two degrees from WSU as well, I'm guessing she wears crimson and gray on Apple Cup weekend, but I'll forgive her. ;-)

With new ACE principal Janae Landis

I can relate to Ms. Landis' experience as a new principal on the Tyee campus. My first administrative position was at Tyee in 1997 as a very green 27 year old assistant principal. It was my favorite job, an action packed three years with the Tyee students and supportive peers, but I was learning so much every day, it was like "drinking from a fire hose," as they say. Fortunately, I can tell you that Ms. Landis is much better prepared than I was back then.

Bethany Plett's students use on-line language resources

As I toured the ACE campus, I enjoyed seeing many old friends, some of whom were there when I worked there and some who participated in the transformation of Tyee into three small schools. There were fond memories of taking a class in American Sign Language from Joani Bishop and office manager Gail Korakis keeping me on my toes. I also remember being there when many of the current teachers were dreaming of creating a school with higher achievement and college going rates by all students, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. In fact, historically ACE has had as strong of a college promoting culture as any school in Highline.

With Chung Yee, long-time campus security staff to the Tyee Educational Complex
For my visit yesterday, I asked to meet some of the new teachers, and what a spirited bunch. Patricia Larson chose to teach math at ACE after 11 years teaching on the eastside of Lake Washington. Steve McCord is a second career teacher who starts his science teaching assignment with valuable life and professional experience. Daniel Guy and John Roberts were busy at a white board matching special education students with apprpriate instruction when I interrupted their planning. And I met Araceli Caldera in the main office, the kind of enthusiastic and hospitable office staff member who I'd imagine connects well with students and their parents. The only regret I have from my visit to ACE was not taking notes. So many great new folks to meet and names to learn!

ACE has a lot of work to do this year to build on their continued quest to prepared all students for college. I'm just thrilled that they have such a mix of committed veterans and newcomers to take the school to the next level.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Friday Night Lights at Highline High School

Quarterback Eric Anderson scores for Highline under a gorgeous evening sky

The core of the school district is what happens in our classrooms, but there's a lot going on that supports and enhances our district, too. Friday night, I visited Memorial Stadium for the football game between Nathan Hale H.S. and the Highline High School Pirates.
This year's very late arriving summer provided a beautiful backdrop for a night of high school football. There was a good crowd on hand, especially for a holiday weekend non-conference game. It was a spirited bunch, in many ways like thousands of high schools across America. There were players and parents, cheerleaders and the band, teachers and townies. Highline made a strong effort, staying with Hale most of the game, but ultimately losing 28-21. Still, the team looks like it is on the rise.

Friday night football under the lights

High school sports are about so much more than just the action on the field. There was a sense of camaraderie among the students in the stands. It was basically "good clean fun," surprisingly similar to my years as a high school student in Pennsylvania. Maybe that's why I gravitated to the band, my old stomping ground, which was blasting mostly oldies like Hang On Sloopy and Wipeout. It was good catching up with Scott Babcock, the long-time director and fellow trombonist (except that he actually, you know, still plays).

The band performs at halftime under the direction of Mr. Babcock and student director Dalia Pedro

I saw several supportive teachers and staff members at the game. No doubt they were reflecting on Highline's first week with a six-period day schedule, instead of the four-period block schedule. A few teachers shared their thougths on this with me. There are a lot of advantages to the six period day schedule, such as the continuity of year-long classes, but a few drawbacks and growing pains, too. I'm glad teachers felt comfortable sharing both sides with me.

Finally, I couldn't end without a nod to Principal Damon Hunter. It was no surprise seeing Mr. Hunter at the game, seated in the front row. Visibility is one of his strengths. Last year, I went to Highline during testing and the office staff told me to go to the main hall, in front of the library. Sure enough, there was Mr. Hunter, sitting at a table he had pulled into the hall with his laptop computer. The halls were quiet, and he was going to keep it that way.

With Principal Damon Hunter

With the band, the cheerleaders, and the fans, Memorial Stadium was anything but quiet on Friday night. Best wishes to Highline High School on the new school year!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Back to My Roots: The First Day of School at Hazel Valley, Cedarhurst, Hilltop, Valley View, and Midway

The first day of school is one of my favorite days. Yesterday, I stopped for gas on my way to work and couldn't help but notice the kids walking to Highline High School. They had a little more purpose in their posture. They wore clothes that seemed intentionally chosen for annual first impressions. There was palpable energy, even if mixed with a little bit of nerves. That's what the first day of school is all about. For me, it's one of the best days of the year.

For the first day of school, which also was my first official day as interim superintendent, I decided to visit the five schools I taught at in Highline as a young instrumental music teacher.

Hazel Valley Elementary

I planned my day as a big loop from one school to the next, not unlike in the mid-90s, when I packed my trombone and box of music supplies in the trunk of my 1991 Ford Taurus with a rebuilt transmission. First up was Hazel Valley.

Hazel Valley custodian Amin Shibly keeps the school looking better than new

Let me just say, Hazel Valley is a drop dead gorgeous school. It looks as good as when it opened, maybe better. When I taught there, it was the old brick schoolhouse. While I miss the wood covered floors and classic look of the old school, I don't miss walking across the dirt and gravel parking lot to our cramped music portable classroom.

Left to Right: Isuzu Niizuma, Jenny Chilson, and Johnathan Letcher

But a school is about people, not the bricks and mortar. At Hazel Valley, I met many folks. One joy was meeting Jenny Chilson and Isuzu Niizuma in the community room. Jenny is with the PTA and Isuzu is a former parent now working for the school, employing her bilingual skills to assist families. 

With the always dapper Principal Johnathan Letcher

Principal Johnathan Letcher took me on a tour of several classrooms. This was during the first hour of the new school year. We got to see little ones in Kristy Stuard and Chris Soetha's classes learning to wash hands efficiently and effectively and we visited Megan Parnell and Betty Minckler's Integrated Learning Center classes (ILCs). The ILCs hit the ground running with teaching on day one, and several student engaged in instructional computer programs. 

Thanks to Principal Letcher and the staff and students of Hazel Valley for letting me join them at the very beginning of their new school year.

Cedarhurst Elementary

Left to right: Janis Dingwall, Harmony Keane, and Jeana Ragghianti 
Next, I headed east on 128th across to Cedarhurst Elementary. While this, too, is a new school, I was greeted by familiar faces in the office, including Janis Dingwall, whose son Eric played drums in my band. She proudly informed me that Eric is now a graduate of WSU. Soon after, I saw Patti Shane, and her son is getting married. Not to make me feel old or anything. :-)

With Principal Bobbi Giammona (right) and AP Casey Jeannot (left)

Principal Bobbi Giammona led me on a tour of the school. One thing I learned is that the school is trying "recess before lunch."  There is research that suggests not only is it better to exercise before eating, but we don't want kids rushing through their lunch in anticipation of recess. There are some challenges to this new routine, too, but it's worth trying a new practice if it helps kids be healthy.

I loved getting into classrooms and meeting the students of Cedarhurst. One 3rd grade student instantly recognized new assistant principal Casey Jeannot, as they both were at Hilltop last year. It was a good reminder of the importance of connections with students, especially for students at a new school.

With a student explaining his reader's notebook
Just a couple of hours into the new school year, I saw lots of learning going on. Students were journaling about their reading, gathered in the library to read, and just plain reading. Eight years ago, we actually had to track which schools started reading on the first day of school. Now, the first day is academic from day one, a tribute to the hard work and focus of staff.

What was striking at Cedarhurst was campus spirit. Principal Giammona handed "Paw Pride" to classes who were walking the halls with, well, pride.

With Jackie Faundez, one of our bilingual tutors when I was at Beverly Park

Thanks to Cedarhurst for letting me back in to enjoy the first day of school.

Hilltop Elementary

Back on 128th, I drove past the old Boulevard Park site. It was a decaying old school building when I was teaching. Now, it's a beautiful SeaTac park. While I'm glad I know the history of the Boulevard Park school, it's a good reminder to look to the future, and not the past.

Hilltop students heading out in their new uniforms

What's new at Hilltop this year? School uniforms. Parents voted to have uniforms by a margin of 85% in favor. The school joins Madrona and Midway with uniforms. McMicken Heights also added uniforms this year. Hilltop's uniforms are dark blue, light blue, or white shirts with khaki or blue pants.

Teacher Martha Gibson was one of many to share with me how proud students are of the new look. Principal Rick Wisen told me this has been one of the smoothest starts to the school year ever.

In Joleen Cross' classroom with Principal Rick Wisen

Instructionally, classes were already dialed in. We visted several classrooms, including those of Carolyn Koziol, Lynette Noyes, and Greg Martin, and the teaching and learning never stopped.  It's a good sign when the students don't even notice me - as hard as that might seem to believe!

I also met Linnell Pitt, a student teacher from UW who is learning from Hilltop teacher Joleen Cross. These kinds of relationships are mutually beneficial, and every year we are able to hire many bright young teachers who have interned in our classrooms.

UW student teacher Linelle Pitt works with a student

With its new blue and white look, Hilltop is off to a great start!

Valley View Early Learning Center

I didn't spend much time at Valley View. Why? They don't have any students yet. Their four year olds in the ECEAP program start September 19th and their Special Education program for 3 and 4 year olds starts the 12th. In the meantime, staff is getting ready and some are in kindergarten classrooms finishing the transition of their former students. I promised Valley View's administrator Annah Petersen-Benitez that I'll be back when students are there.
Of course, Valley View was once an elemenary school. It was a spirited place that I remember fondly. I remember the old principal, Jan Tietz, and some of the staff, including Michael Thorson, Carlyn Roedell, and Ginnie Brossard (among too many to name).

In my old Valley View classroom with Candy Grant (left) and Kelsey Sikma

Of the five schools I taught in, Valley View is the only one where my actual classroom still exists. I used to share it with Colleen Thomas, who now teaches music at North Hill Elementary. When I dropped in, I found that it is now a special education classroom and much to my surprise, one of the staff members who uses it is Candy Grant, parent of former music students of mine at Hazel Valley! What a small world, and a delightful surprise.

Midway Elementary

Last but not least, my first day tour took me to Midway. I have so many pleasant memories of teaching at Midway, which was an intermediate school when I taught there from 1994 to 1997. Intermediate schools had only grades 4-6, which provided lots of students to join the band program, and supportive teachers like Theresa Duhamel and Keitha Bryson encouraged students to try an instrument. Unbelieveably, we had more than 100 students in the band program at that time.

With Midway 6th grade students

The Midway of today is a different place, both in terms of the community composition and the academic focus of the school. In the recently released test state test scores, Midway made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) based on their significant improvement. Staff celebrated with a flash mob dance and I'm sorry I missed it!

With second year Midway Principal Rebekah Kim

I met Principal Rebekah Kim in the lunchroom at the end of 6th grade lunch and we visited a few classrooms. One class I specifically asked to visit was Franli Newman's 6th grade class. Franli is the daugther of Z.Z. Newman, who works in the Family Center at the district office. Sixth graders beware...Ms. Newman was giving a spelling test on the first day of school! Summer's over, kids. :-)

Franli Newman administers a spelling test to her 6th grade class

As I had seen all day, students were engaged in learning. There was a time when the first day of school was all about orientation and relationship building, but no more. Those things happen, but we hit the ground running.

Before leaving, Principal Kim showed me a mobile cart that carries netbook computers. We purchased hundreds of netbooks over the summer to support our new adaptive math program. They are cost effective ways to get computers into the hands of more students, and kids love them. More importantly, our computer adaptive math program pilots are showing results, as our district growth in math exceeded growth statewide in every MSP grade level!

Thanks again to Rebekah and all of my accommodating hosts on the first day of school!