Friday, January 27, 2012

Mount View Elementary Shines on the Hill

With Principal Wells

When I was principal at Beverly Park, I would get to meetings at Mount View by driving down SW 108th, past Lakewood Park. The road dips down and then you rise up a consistent grade until you reach 12th Avenue. Mount View appears at the top of the hill, prominent in the neighborhood.

The old brick built Mount View building was crippled in the Nisqually Earthquake, but in its place has risen a gorgeous new school building. Today, that school serves one of the most diverse communities in America through both traditional and innovative ways.

Touring Mount View

I never seem to have enough time on a school visit to linger everywhere I'd like to, but Principal Felecia Wells and I walked through most of the school. I saw several familiar faces I've known over the years, such as Kathy Patricelli and Dan Wickham, and met many new folks as well.

Mount View students were friendly and orderly in the halls moving between classes. I enjoyed everything I witnessed, including a presentation to 3rd graders by Killer Whale Tales.

A guest presentation on whales in anticipation of a field trip to the Seattle Aquarium

Delila Leber's Spanish kindergarten class
Visiting Dual Language

I also spent time in the Dual Language program. We have dual language classes in Hilltop K-3 and Mount View K-2 and the district is currently exploring adding more schools. Both schools started with kindergarten and have expanded by one grade level per year. There are two classrooms per grade level in the DL program.

In our Dual Language program, we enroll about half native Spanish speakers, half native English speakers, and a few students who will become trilingual. All students take classes in English and in Spanish.

Taping the February superintendent video message on Dual Language
The benefits of dual language immersion are documented in research. The biggest benefit is that students become not just bilingual, but biliterate. But research also shows that native Spanish speakers who stay with program past 6th grade actually score better than native speakers in English as well. Learning academic content challenges the brain in ways that reinforce learning in both languages. There is a waiting list for entry into our Dual Language program and it's easy to see why.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

For Those Who Work When Most Enjoy a Snow Day

Snow scenes at Camp Waskowitz

When I was a child, the only thing I knew about superintendents is that they decided if there would be a snow day. But behind the superintendent, there is a team of staff working day and night to make things go smoothly and keep our children safe.

In this post I want to highlight the many Highline staff members who are working behind the scenes when there is a threat of inclement weather to keep students and staff safe, make sure our facilities are in working order, and help me out with the "snow day" decision that gets all the attention.

When snow is falling overnight, three members of our district transportation staff get in their cars at 3:00 a.m. and drive the roads in the north, central, and south parts of the district to monitor conditions. They also call surrounding area districts to ensure that our staff will be able to arrive safely for the opening of school. Thanks to these folks, this morning we hit the media with our decision to delay school at 4:34 A.M., plenty of time for staff and students to change their plans accordingly.

Long before dawn, district custodians and facilities staff are out checking the condition of buildings, clearing sidewalks, and ensuring the heat is on. On a snowy morning, I'll listen to Tom, our central office custodian, over meteorologist Jeff Renner anytime! Even if school is cancelled, these hard working souls are on the job, making sure old roofs can hold the weight of the snow and protecting community patrons by clearing any hazards.

Other staff that pitch in include our communications team and technology staff who get the word out through TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter, our Highline district website, the School Report website, and automated phone calls. Our security staff help transportation spot dangerous road conditions, and our cooks and kitchen staff are on the job preparing meals before most people are out their warm beds. And finally, don't forget our principals and office staff, who often must come in to communicate with families even if school is cancelled.

In the coming weeks, I will visit the work sites of these staff members to thank them personally. And I'll share more about their dedicated work right here on the blog.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Big Picture Middle School a Big Hit

Shortly before break I stopped by Highline Big Picture, which is located at our Manhattan site. From 2005 to the present, Big Picture has been a high school in our district. This fall, we added two classes of seventh graders for a Big Picture middle school program. Big Picture has been recognized by OSPI as an innovative school model and it's one of the things I'm proud of about our district.

Big Picture High School

The Big Picture high school program is built on relationships, competencies, student interest, and internships. Much like an elementary school, students have a single primary teacher, called an "advisor". Rather than an emphasis on content, the advisor model allows the relationship between teacher and student to personalize the learning experience for each child. There are no courses or grades, but students must be able to demonstrate their mastery of competencies through exhibitions. And students attend internships two days per week, promoting personal growth in the real world and allowing students to learn many of their academic lessons in the context of their application to work.

I am thankful for the Big Picture high school program. It allows us to connect with students who crave a more self-directed, applied learning experience. And I don't think any school I've worked with has more passionate and consistent support from parents.

Big Picture Middle School

Parent Teresa Eberhardt and Big Picture's Loren Demoroutis
The focus of my visit was the new Big Picture middle school program. Principal Jeff Petty greeted me and then handed me off to Loren Demoroutis, who is the lead administrator for the middle school program. This year, the school has added two classes of seventh graders, with plans to add to eighth grade next year.

Big Picture's middle school program doesn't include internships, but it bears many of the same elements. The two middle school advisors work closely with their class of 20 students and partner to help cover all subjects and expertise. Their ability to collaborate is enhanced by an elective period where students choose a topic of interest with somebody other than their teacher. While I was visiting, I saw principal Jeff Petty's elective on birds and parent Teresa Eberhardt who worked with students on art projects in Mr. Demoroutis' room.

A student essay on Google Docs
In addition to liking that Big Picture connects with students and parents in ways traditional schools often do not, what I like about Big Picture is that it is resourceful and unafraid to use innovative approaches. While visiting Avi Barnes' seventh grade class, I noticed a student working in Google Docs, a platform to share work on-line used by many major businesses throughout the United States and the world. He was writing an essay on the history of computers and the arrangement allowed him to share his drafts with his teacher for instant feedback.

I hada great time at Big Picture, as I do every time, and I look forward to returning again soon!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

College, Career, Citizenship (and more blogging!) in 2012!

Happy New Year to all of the Highline community!

A classic scene from Des Moines Elementary, one of the visits I'll blog this month
The first four months of the school year flew by for me. What a whirlwind it has been! It seems like just weeks ago we were getting ready for the school year to start. As a former teacher, I should know that's what happens, but it gets me every time!

Since September, I've been to more than 50 schools, worksites, and community groups. Visiting our community and meeting so many wonderful folks has been the absolute highlight of being in this job. This month I'll be visiting the five schools (out of 33) that I haven't yet been to, as well as worksites such as transportation and facilities.

This fall, I've done a better job of making visits than getting them up on the blog. I plan to fix that with a flurry of January posts until I've caught up. And a blog is nothing without readers, so my heartfelt appreciation to you for checking in here!

Whatever you do for our students, thank you. We know our students can achieve at the highest levels when we believe in them and when we hold high expectations for our students and ourselves. Let's make 2012 the year Highline achieves greater equity in ensuring all students are prepared for college, career, and citizenship!