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.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Oktoberfest and a Blog Update

Hi everybody! The blogging has been a little slow lately due to a quick trip to a Latino education summit, but I'm still getting around. Last week, I visited PSAT testing on the Evergreen Campus and a great recycling event at North Hill. I'll be writing those up soon, as well as visits to Child Care Resources' fundraiser and White Center Promise. And Monday I'm headed to Global Connections at Tyee for a very fun visit. More on those soon.

Saturday night was Oktoberfest at the Cove in Normandy Park. It's one of the Highline Schools Foundation's annual fundraisers. Once again, the Foundation put on a show that was upbeat and entertaining, as well as being a savvy revenue generator. The fun parts included great music and dancing, interesting auction items, and Foundation board members serving brats in lederhosen. The fundraising included silent and live auctions, a dessert frenzy (each table bids on the best desserts), and "raise the paddle" donations in support of arts and athletics.

Many folks came together for this night to be possible. Ashley Fosberg and the Foundation staff and volunteers have been working overtime to put on two events this month (with the Brat Trot 5K last weekend). Chuck Tuman and his sidekick Travis kept the auction light as MCs, rocking the lederhosen. President Sili Savusa's attendance represented the school board. And I'm appreciative of the many Highline staff who were present, including principals Vicki Fisher, Mike Fosberg, Rick Wisen, and Julie Hunter, ERAC staffers Catherine Carbone Rogers, John Boyd, Kim O'Neil, Janet Hodson, and Charlene Edwards, and many teachers. A final shout-out goes to the generous Terri McMahan, district athletic director, who purchased two tables and led the support of athletics throughout the evening.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Martinez Foundation Supports Diverse Teachers

L to R: Don Waring (Human Resources), Me, Joana Chacon (Teacher/Cascade M.S.), Edgar Martinez, and Diana Garcia (Principal/Cascade M.S.)

In Highline, more than seven-in-ten students are children of color, but nine-out-of-ten teachers are white. This week, I recorded a video where I spoke about our equtiy initiative, so I know that without looking it up. The latest numbers are 73% children of color, 10.5% staff of color. Our Latino student population is our largest ethnic group, at 33% of total enrollment. It's one of the reasons I speak frequently of equity and cultural competence. Our children need to see their faces reflected in those who teach them, and until our staff becomes much more diverse, it's important that all of us become as culturally competent as possible.

With Holli Martinez
Enter The Martinez Foundation, whose mission is to support diverse and highly qualified teachers. It's run by Edgar and Holli Martinez. (Yes, that Edgar Martinez.) In a time where foundations have increasingly complex giving strategies, theirs is as straightforward as it is logical: Give scholarships to Latino and other minority students who have the potential and passion to become great teachers. It's a winning strategy.

Today, I went to the Martinez Foundation luncheon in Seattle. I believe in the mission of the Martinez Foundation, and I was doubly joyful to see one of our Highline teachers as a star of the show. Yes, people were there to see Edgar and Holli, and the keynote speaker, Sherman Alexie. But our very own Joana Chacon of Cascade Middle School was featured in a Martinez Foundation video about how the Foundation supports new teachers.

Sometimes it can feel like we're in this alone. Our kids need our help more than ever, but our budget has been slashed three years in a row. Today was reassuring that others in the community support education (the event raised over $180,000!) and, together, I know we can close achievement gaps and give all of our students an education that prepares them for college, career, and citizenship.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Burien Brat Trot 5K - A Highline Foundation Success

The family did the Burien Brat Trot 5K on Sunday! The event is one of two the Highline Schools Foundation for Excellence (HSFFE) is heavily invested in during October. The Foundation does amazing work supporting the children of Highline and their teachers. In fact, you should really sign up today for their next event, Oktoberfest at the Cove, this Saturday night (10/15). It will be great fun and raise money to support additional opportunities for students.

I'll get this out of the way first...My family didn't run this as a race. We all did a mix of walking and running. The point was to do something with the whole family, including our two sons, ages 8 and 11. And in that respect, my wife and I were big winners, getting to share this experience with our boys. You can see me cross the finish line with Sam here. Andrew was way ahead of us, finishing in 37 minutes.

Before the race, you really got a sense of the theme. There were people (and animals!) all over with brat-like attire, as well as a German oompah band. This is a relatively new event, and participation doubled this year to nearly 1,000 people.

For me, the race was part social, as I knew lots of fellow runners and race volunteers. Before the race, I ran into Teachers Darin Stoltz, Alana Vinther, Jeb Binns, and SherryMarsh. During the race, I saw HSFFE Executive Director Ashley Fosberg running with her daughter, Principal Rick Wisen running with his kids, and Deputy Superintendent Carla Jackson with her daughter Angie. On the route, we had a nice conversation with Counselor Jeff Ferry from Pacific and his wife, Librarian Jennifer Ferry from Southern Heights. Carlyn Roedell was on the route as a volunteer, directing traffic. At the finish line, I was greeted by Cascade Principal Diana Garcia, and former School Board Member Shay Schual-Berke. I even stopped to say hi to Angus Mairs and his daughter, which would explain my slow time! Well, partly, anyway...

After the race, we got in line for the race's namesake, and the brats really did taste good!

With my sons Sam (left) and Andrew

Lisa Tuman (left) and Ashley Fosberg were among many to pitch in

Chuck Tuman of the Foundation board, a very shy guy!
Now this is how it's done!
Ready...set...(wait for 800 people ahead of you)...go!
We passed the Lake Burien School arch on the 5K route
At long last...the brats!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Students and Parents at the After High School Fair

Students from Evergreen's HS3 discuss their college ambitions
Highline's vision is for all students to graduate prepared for college, career, and citizenship. And by "college", we really mean any post-secondary education that leads to a family wage job in the 21st Century, including four year colleges, community colleges, technical colleges, and quality apprenticeship programs. We all know folks who make good money without a college education, but the truth is that those kinds of jobs are increasingly scarce. A high school diploma alone is no longer sufficient for large numbers of students to go on to a make a good wage and contibute to our community.

It wasn't that long ago that Highline didn't have a districtwide college fair. Seven years ago, Julie Burr Spani and district staff put together the first After High School Fair, and the rest is history. This year's AHSF was on the Evergreen Campus, and it featured numerous post-secondary exhibitors and workshops on topics such as writing a good admissions essay and getting financial aid. Many thanks to Barb Wilson for her leadership of the AHSF this year, and to numerous staff who step up to give our students and parents this wonderful opportunity.

Next year's After High School Fair will be at Mt. Rainier High School, and I want to see every middle and high school student there!

I'll tell the rest of the story with pictures...

Ray Zombro kept count at the door. Although I didn't get the final count, I'm sure the total surpassed 800 by the end of the night.

One of the first things students saw was Kim Thomas, our student advancement coordinator. She got the local Round Table to sponsor a raffle.

The financial aid workshop was popular with parents, as you might imagine.

Former superintendent John Welch was there with his daughter Natalie. John is as responsible as anybody for the success of the AHSF over the years.

Students were able to complete a "passport" that had them visit different types of post-secondary programs.

(L to R) New Start staff members Andrea Love, Josh Bellinger, and Bev Mowrer led a group of more than 40 New Start students, most of whom walked together to the event from the Salmon Creek site.

And don't forget the middle schoolers! A large group of middle school students attended the "Middle School Rally" to get fired up about college. Chinook even sent a bus full of students to expand their college awareness.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

CHOICE Academy: Highline's Best Kept Secret?

The banner outside of CHOICE* Academy claims this niche school is the district's best kept secret. Well, they shouldn't have invited me, with my camera and blog and whatnot. The secret's out!

*CHOICE stands for Children Having Options in Creating Education. Even I never knew what that stood for, but I like it.

Administrator Mike Sita (left) and longtime teacher George Wheeler
CHOICE Academy is a small school for secondary students (middle and high school grades) who aren't looking for a large school experience, or even a small school experience. At 80 students, CHOICE is like a collection of one-room school houses under one roof. It is a very tight community of students, staff, and parents. One of my professors once advised that education is not synonymous with schooling, and CHOICE Academy is a good example. Students are learning, but in flexible structures that allow students to integrate their out of school learning with their formal education. I spoke with a delightful young lady who volunteers at the Union Gospel Mission, and integrates the project in her journal during advisory. Students taking dance, acting, and other pursuits have similar approaches.

There has always been a strong parent connection with CHOICE. Many CHOICE families are former homeschoolers, so it's a natural transition. While there is no longer a formal "hours" based requirement, CHOICE parents are asked to join one of a variety of roles that support the school in ways that are flexible to parents' interest and availability. I met two parents in the office who are big supporters of the school and were waiting to work with administrator Mike Sita.

Brouchures for a mini-college fair in Ms. Greenburg's advisory
Speaking of Mr. Sita, who is the leader of CHOICE, New Start, and other alternative programs, he toured me around during advisory and the first class of the day. In Kay Greenburg's advisory, students were engaging in a mini-college fair. The night before was the district's After High School Fair, and Ms. Greenburg's advisees were taking notes from college brochures and internet searches. Other advisories featured presentations by students on their out of school learning.

Jennifer (Ramirez) Browning rings the cowbell between classes
I have to tell you about one moment I have never seen in any school. CHOICE, at our old Woodside Elementary site, doesn't have bells to change classes. So at the end of the advisory period, office manager Jennifer (Ramirez) Browning stepped into the hall...and rang a cowbell! Amazingly, the kids just shuffled along to class.

You probably have noticed Highline's new logo, which represents our aim to have a pathway for every student. CHOICE Academy will only meet the needs of a small number of students, but every parent and student I have spoken with about CHOICE can articulate that it feels like the right home for them.

Postscript: After hearing the cowbell that signaled the change of classes, I thought I might be able to help. Several years ago, I was given a beautiful bell by Seattle University for serving on a committee. When I got back to my office, I found that bell. It has been gathering dust ever since, so I'm sending it over to CHOICE Academy to be put to good use!

A new bell for Highline CHOICE Academy

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Walking to School for Healthy Highline Month

The School Board (in snazzy Healthy Highline hats!) with Aimee Denver

Last Wednesday, I had the honor of proclaiming October "Healthy Highline Month". You can read it in its "whereas and therefore" glory here.

Also at the board meeting the School Board and I agreed to participate in the Healthy Highline Activity Challenge! With board member Bernie Dorsey as the chief instigator, the six of us agreed to walk, run, ride, or do whatever it takes to be active for the month of October. I started the challenge with two trips to the gym in a 24 hour period. There are many teams doing this across Highline and I'm excited to see so many "grown ups" being great role models for our kids.

October 5th is International Walk to School Day. That would be today, of course, and this morning I joined dozens of kids and the entire staff of Midway Elementary in walking to school. A friendly Des Moines Police Officer gave the kids a pep talk about staying on sidewalks and even flashed a handful of "tickets" she would give for kids getting off of the sidewalk as we walked up 24th Avenue to school. It was a great event to emphasize both healthy activity and safety with the students. Here are some photos from the event.

The kids were lined up and ready to walk to school behind the Healthy Highline banner.

I had a nice conversation with parents Alonzo and Sandra Gray, who accompanied their 3rd grader on the walk.

Midway's PE teachers Derek Severson and Derek Byrne helped direct the kids in the walk.

Many thanks to Highline's Val Allen and John Vander Sluis from the Bicycle Alliance of WA for organizing this event.