Monday, April 16, 2012

The Epic Spring Cleaning Post

Principal Karin Jones showed me around McMicken Heights just before Winter Break
Perhaps you spent Spring Break cleaning your home. Whether you work at a school or are a parent, it's easy to let a few things stack up as in the bustle of the school year. Back to school brings a burst of excitement, then it's the holidays, and then maybe you've dreamed up some goals and initiatives for the new year. All are productive endeavors, but now it's April and you have that nagging pile of best intentions gathering a gentle covering of dust. Perhaps not, in which case I'd like to read your self-help book. But if you're like me, you'll appreciate that...

This post contains pictures from all of the Highline sites I visited this year, but did not get around to blogging at the time. As I rushed to get to 50 sites in 50 days (so far I'm at 59 and counting!), there were some weeks with multiple visits and I couldn't get them all written up.  These schools and sites were just as fantastic as the rest. So without further ado, let's call this post "saving the best for last."

McMicken Heights Elementary

Right before Winter Break I decided to drop in on McMicken Heights. I don't ususally do this, as I've learned that unannounced visits from the superintendent could be a bit nerve-wracking. But I had heard so many great things about what's happening at McMicken Heights that I decided I'd take the chance. Principal Karin Jones was gracious and accommodating, allowing me to tag along as she visited classrooms to deliver a few student recognitions, and showing me through a handful of dynamic classrooms, ranging from new teachers to veteran teachers pioneering new approaches. A highlight was dropping in on Josi Hodge, who participates in the district's Panasonic partnership that is working to develop equitable approaches to education in Highline. I also got to see Raz-Kids, a computer adaptive literacy program we are piloting. There are so many exciting things going on at McMicken Heights, I clearly could have spent an hour in every part of the school!

Seahurst Elementary

I went out to Seahurst for a Professional Collaboration Time (PCT) session where the school was studying bar modelling in the Math in Focus curriculum. I've made several visits to PCT to witness schools making use of the time the community has generously allowed us to use.

What was great about my time at Seahurst was seeing Principal Chris Larsen lead professional development, and witnessing the entire staff engaged in "doing the math," a common theme of our study of math pedagogy. By engaging with problems in the same way a student would, you gain an appreciation for where students can get off track and anticipate misunderstandings before they frustrate a student.

It was also fun to see some of my former teacher colleagues who have ended up on the Seahust faculty, such as Kerry Jo Clark and music teachers Kelley Bliss and Theresa Fornalski.

Des Moines Elementary

On another PCT Friday this fall, I joined Des Moines Elementary for dismissal and staff development. Coincidentally, the focus was again on math. For a while I sat in with Principal Jenniffer Reinig and a group of 3rd-grade teachers, one of whom introduced me to teacher reports from one of our computer-adaptive math programs. Soon after, I realized that the presence of the superintendent in small group conversation can interfere with the business that needs to be done, so I set out looking for others with whom I could connect. Before departing Des Moines, I ended up having a conversation with Katie Postlewait, a terrific upper grades teacher. Katie shared with me about a university class she took over the summer in higher mathematics, just so that she could better appreciate what her students were building up to. For late in the week, on a Friday afternoon, this was a very motivated group of teachers!

Odyssey High School
We often begin a discussion of Odyssey with this question: Do you want your airplane's pilot to have sat through flight school, or do you want him to be able to fly the plane? Odyssey, along with Big Picture, is pioneering a competency-based approach to education. Rather than emphasizing seat time, the school is built around achieving specific learning objectives. I saw Principal Joan Ferrigno and the staff in action developing their competency-based approach on a January Friday PCT time. Odyssey, which is on the Tyee Educational Complex, recently opened as a choice school and is open to students from the entire district who are looking for a more personalized, and technology-facilitated, education. Odyssey is building on the work of others and developing an innovative much so that state officially designated Odyssey as an "Innovation School," along with Aviation High School and Big Picture.

With Sandy DeSisto, a colleague from my old Tyee days

Pacific and Sylvester Middle Schools

What's neat about my visits to Pacific and Sylvester is that I was invited by teachers to both schools. I went out to Pacific for a Thanksgiving-themed feast for students. Pacific has a thriving AVID* program, which provides support and opportunities to help solid students turn into high-achieving, college-bound students. AVID teacher Darla Hayes reached out with this invitation, and I'm glad she did! I also connected with Schell Ross, a colleague of mine from my teaching days at Valley View.

(L to R) Darla Hayes, Schell Ross, and Sarah Ruppert 
* AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination...which is why I usually stick to the simple and catchy "AVID," and leave it at that!

Shortly after visiting Pacific, I was invited out to Sylvester by Steve Owens, a special education teacher. Steve is one of my heroes. He didn't start out in education, but eventually found his calling working with middle school students with emotional and behavioral challenges. Steve has a positive approach to student management and he's really bringing the best out in his students. One of Steve's strategies is to invite outside speakers at lunchtime and open it up to any interested student in the school. Not wanting his students to feel isolated, these "brown-bag lunch" lectures create a wonderfully integrated environment. I presented on a Friday in December around a theme of career development. After months in the superintendent's chair, spending an hour in front of kids was a great test of my credibility as an educator!

With Steve Owens and Principal Vicki Fisher
 Des Moines and SeaTac Rotary Clubs

Highline students are fortunate to be supported by so many community organizations. I've written about several over the course of the year, but I didn't get around to sharing the two Rotary Clubs I had a chance to visit. The SeaTac group is a very active supporter of schools in SeaTac, helping to run the Holiday Bazaar at Tyee and recently holding an auction that will support schools, among many other activities. Likewise, the Des Moines chapter has a long-standing tradition of distributing dictionaries to 3rd graders in Des Moines, helping students acquire musical instruments, and many other initiatives. I had the honor of speaking at a SeaTac Rotary meeting at Galliano's Cucina and a Des Moines Rotary meeting at Landmark on the Sound. I'm deeply appreciative of the engaged work our Rotarians do, including our own Catherine Carbone Rogers and Scott Logan, members of the Des Moines chapter, and Global Connections Principal Rick Harwood, an active member of the SeaTac Rotary.

With long-time school supporter Dave Bush of the SeaTac Rotary
Des Moines Rotary members give dictionaries to eager Parkside 3rd graders

Highline Retired Teachers Association

Finally, I'll "retire" this lengthy post with my visit to the retired teachers group. I've known Nancy Rudy since my time at Tyee. She was an institution there as an English teacher, and my three years at Tyee corresponded with her last three after a long career. I lost track of Nancy for a few years, but then she took on a leadership role with the retired teachers group. One thing led to another, and recently I was invited to speak at their monthly luncheon. That was great fun! I so much admire people who have given their entire professional lives to children and still want to remain engaged. In fact, the question and answer part of my presentation went on for 20 minutes or more! They wanted to know about the new high schools, what foreign languages we offer these days, and what we're doing to teach civics, among many other things. My hat's off to these energetic folks. And they are always looking for new members, retired or not.

That's Nancy's bright smile, front left.

Thanks again to everybody who has welcomed me into their school, classroom, workplace, or community organization this year. And thanks to those of you who have been keeping up with the blog. I thought I owed it to you to get caught up with all of these wonderful sites around Highline. I'll see you back here for a few more posts before the year is out!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Highline Historical Society Gearing Up for Big Future

With (L to R) Nancy Salguero McKay, Carla Jackson, and Cyndi Upthegrove

You probably knew that Military Road runs the length of Highline, from near Hilltop Elementary to near Pacific Middle School. But did you know it was built under the leadership of well-known Civil War participants? (Grant, Pickett, Sheridan, and McClellan) Or did you know that a nearly intact dinosaur skeleton was found during excavation for the light towers at the north end of Sea-Tac Airport? These were two of many interesting factoids I learned while visiting the collections of the Highline Historical Society collections during Spring Break.

Championed by Cyndi Upthegrove, the Highline Historical Society has been collecting artifacts of the school district and Highline community since 1994. In fact, they have employed a professional curator, Nancy Salguero McKay, for the past six years. The organization accepts donations of items as folks clean out attics and Ms. McKay processes new items by cleaning, freezing (to eliminate bugs and odors), photographing, cataloguing, and storing each one for long-term preservation.

I saw the collection in its current storage facility, where it fills three plus rooms with aisles of meticulously organized containers. It really was fascinating to see Highline's history right before me, especially the donated collections of former superintendent and Highline Citizen of the Century Carl Jensen. To get a taste of the collection, take a look at sample of photos from twenty current and former Highline schools on the organization's website.

I needed a special tour to see the collections, but soon you won't have to. The Highline Historical Society is in a fundraising campaign to build a permanent home on land they have acquired at 152nd and Ambaum in Burien. The design is stunning, and you can support the project by becoming a member of the Highline Historical Society.

Deputy Supt. Carla Jackson with curator Nancy Salguero McKay in the stacks

This dinosaur, found near the airport, is now in the Burke Museum

Cyndi Upthegrove shows off one of her favorite newspapers from the collection

This chart from Sunnydale elementary dates to the 1880s

Wouldn't you like to know what treasures are in those boxes?

Superintendent Jensen donated a rich collection of artifacts to the Society 
These yearbooks will be filed with hundreds more like them

Renderings of the museum in Olde Burien that will someday hold these collections

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Highline Performing Arts Center: 20 Years and Counting

With Amy Daligcon-Dowell and Dan Wolcott at the Highline PAC

My very first experience in Highline eighteen years ago included a tour of our then new Performing Arts Center (PAC). I was a new elementary music teacher in the district and two experienced teachers walked me through every nook and cranny of our shared performance space. It made a great impression on me! If you've never been backstage, you might be surprised by the professional feel of the equipment in the wings and the theatre style dressing rooms.

Over the years, I've been to the PAC for school concerts, graduations, professional development sessions, and even the Seattle Symphony. Yesterday, I hopped on stage to record a video message updating our equity work for the year. That will be out soon.

Thanks to head technician Dan Wolcott for all of his assistance yesterday, and to PAC manager Amy Daligcon-Dowell, who has made sure "the show will go on" for more than 1,000 school and community events over the years!