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