Sunday, June 24, 2012

Congratulations to the Class of 2012!

(L to R) My former students Jose and his brother Alex, a 2012 ACE graduate
This is my last post, after visiting 63 schools, work sites, and community organizations, and more than 15,000 of your visits to this blog. It has been an honor to serve as your superintendent for the past year. I look forward to working in Dr. Enfield's administration as Highline achieves greater and greater success in the years to come. 

My statement, showing the wear of twelve graduations
I have never been more proud to be superintendent of Highline Public Schools than over the past two weeks, officiating at a dozen high school graduations, and attending four other year end ceremonies. One byproduct of our small schools is the amazing quantity, variety, and personalization of our graduations across twelve schools.

My predecessor and mentor, former superintendent John Welch, wrote a recap of each graduation season in an email to principals. It was one of his shining moments, expressing pride in the work of others and the grace and inspiration displayed by our students. I'd like to follow with my own recap, on the blog, of course.

But first, I need to thank the principals and graduation coordinators in our schools for putting on twelve organized, formal, respectful, heartfelt, and spirited graduations. So much work goes on behind the scenes to make graduation possible. Special thanks also go to Barb Wilson from our staff at ERAC for tirelessly and skillfully supporting each and every high school.

Director Bernie Dorsey with fellow HHS alum Royce Badley
I'd also like to thank the school board. They genuinely enjoy attending graduations, which is good, because they each attend multiple graduations every year. They also speak to the graduates, each crafting their own heartfelt remarks. Four of the five school board directors are pictured below. (Apologies to Mt. Rainier alum and board director Michael Spear!)

Below you will see a picture and brief recollection from each ceremony. The schools are listed in chronological order of their commencement. Each of the photos below were snapped on my cell phone. The last thing I wanted to do was to be conspicuous, so these were taken at convenient moments. Graduation is a special ritual, a proud moment for students, parents, friends, families, and staff. I hope the short passages below convey the amazing events our staff put on to celebrate our beloved graduates of the Class of 2012.

Realistic Transition Program (RTP)

Students celebrate with refreshments after the sincere and personal RTP ceremony

Graduation season kicked off with the Realistic Transition Program ceremony. I had the fortune of attending last year as well. RTP's event was probably the most personal of the sixteen events I went to, as teachers told the story of each student. Many of them have overcome challenges and all have a path in life. I was deeply affected at times, hearing of students catching buses at o-dark-thirty to get to a job, sometimes to help support their own young child. Students had found jobs at Safeco Field and at many local restaurants and businesses. Some are moving on to post-secondary options, such as Bates Technical College and the Highline Community College's nursing assistant program. I also remember the proud parents. Every parent is proud at graduation, of course, and I can't exactly describe how this was different, but I think it was that they knew these kids had stepped into adulthood, accepting responsibility that not all of their peers will until they've grown up a bit.

Puget Sound Skills Center (PSSC)

No, I didn't call Jon, a welding student from Foster H.S., and coordinate our wardrobe!

Principal Sue Shields and the Puget Sound Skills Center staff hold two assembly style year end ceremonies at the Performing Arts Center (PAC), one for the AM session students, and one for the PM session. Each event featured the teacher of each of PSSC's 17 programs honoring a student of the year, many with an award that started with "golden" and ended with a tool from the trade. The Golden Wrench, Golden Hammer, Golden DVD, and Golden Toque (chef's hat), for example. Students from many programs arrived in uniform, such as Culinary Arts, Criminal Justice, and Nursing Assistant. There were two emotional moments. One was the presentation of a scholarship by the father of Jayme Thomas, a PSSC Nursing Assistant graduate and nursing student at Highline Community College, who tragically lost her life last fall. He spoke eloquently and passionately about her love of nursing and caring for the most needy. On another note, we celebrated the retirement of Automotive Technology teacher Ralph McKinnon. Many comments were made about his plans to ride off on a Harley. Enjoy your "golden" years, Ralph!

Community Based Services (CBS)

CBS graduates are honored by Jennifer Davis and a full house of family, friends, and staff

I'm not supposed to have favorites, but the Community Based Services celebration was clearly one of the high points of the past two weeks. As deputy superintendent Carla Jackson said, our CBS students are the most real, the most themselves, of all the graduations. Principal Gretchen Baar and the staff showed so much connection with the students, as seen through a twenty minute video Jennifer Davis produced that must have taken many hours to make. I was touched by four things during the CBS ceremony. First, there was so much love for these kids that we had to bring more chairs into the boardroom. Second, that was in part due to the high number of former teachers, both elementary teachers and former Highline staff, who came out to see their students one more time. Third, I literally have never seen such a diverse group of parents root equally hard for all students. It was an amazing display of racial harmony. And fourth, regardless of any communications challenges, the students had no problem expressing their deep friendship and support of one another. I spend a lot of time at youth baseball games for my sons these days, where sometimes parents and players can become aggrieved over the slightest inconvenience - a bad call by the umpire, or a player spending an inning or two on the bench. Seeing this display of love for others and a persistent "glass half full" outlook on life was much more of a gift to me than my presence as superintendent could have been to them.

Puget Sound High School and VITAL Program

Instructor Michael McSweeney celebrates with impressive graduate Anu

Michael McSweeney began the graduation for our PSHS/VITAL program students with, "Are you a mother or father who didn't think this would happen? Welcome. It really is happening." Then we were into "Pomp and Circumstance" and a wonderfully thoughtful ceremony. The VITAL program connects with students who for whatever reason didn't connect at their home high school. Two student speakers spoke on that theme, crediting the relationships and relevance of VITAL and PSSC with helping them succeed. School board director Susan Goding stuck on the theme of the day, greeting the graduates with, "You are all heroes, and I celebrate your tenacity." The guest speaker, Wendy McConkey, shared her amazing weight loss experience, dropping from 450 pounds to 150, and earning her a spot on Oprah. Her "let's be honest" message about overcoming mistakes echoed a theme of resiliency throughout the day. Many graduates were celebrated, but especially Anu, who despite coming to America just a few years ago has an aptitude for welding that many experienced welders lack, and teachers said could one day become president of his homeland.

Highline High School

With HHS assistant principal Paul Harvey, my first administrative colleague

From small programs in small venues, we drove down the hill to the ShoWare Center for our two comprehensive high schools. Each graduation had its own character, and Highline's was quite formal, dignified, and organized. Without feeling rushed, Highline got a huge graduating class through in an efficient hour and seven minutes. School board president Angelica Alvarez delivered a heartfelt and classy address in two languages, which has been enormously well received and appreciated by so many parents. Principal Damon Hunter exhibited great facility in pivoting between the formality of the event and the personal connection of engaging students as they crossed the stage. I enjoyed again donning graduation attire with Paul Harvey, as we had done in our first administrative job at Tyee High School in the 1990s, looking a little younger then, no doubt. Each graduation has core commonalities, but also individual rituals. Principal Hunter asked me to shake hands with every student arriving on stage right, and it was an exhilarating experience looking students in the eyes as they crossed the stage. There were so many optimistic, beaming, proud, and suddenly mature expressions, giving me a tangible sense of our outcomes that I wish every district employee could experience. It was also at the Highline graduation that I figured out if I listened carefully to the reader, I could greet most graduates by name. Somehow, "Congratulations Jessica" felt just a little more personal than a generic greeting. It felt like the least I could do to acknowledge thirteen years of hard work.

Mount Rainier High School

Mount Rainier graduates toss their mortarboards toward the rafters

All week, I wrestled with the ethics of taking a picture from the stage. At Mount Rainier's graduation, I figured out nobody would notice if I did so during the time honored tradition of throwing those graduation caps skyward after the turning of the tassel. Principal Julie Hunter assured me that this graduating class would do no such thing, but there's something irrepressible about the aerodynamics of a flat hat. Time to pay up, Julie. In all seriousness, Mount Rainier's ceremony struck a perfect balance of formality and character. It had the most music of all the graduations, with a knockout vocal performance of "Hero" by Zhane, a quartet singing "(I hope you had the) Time of Your Life", and a beautiful performance by the choir. The student speakers, D.J. and Kory, were upbeat, charismatic, and thoughtful as well. Board director Michael Spear delivered a speech displaying deep preparation that touched on many themes. It particularly resonated on the theme of love, as he urged the graduates to love their fellow classmates and to continue to develop a love of learning. Thanks to everybody at Mount Rainier who paid attention to every last detail of this flawless event.

Big Picture High School

Big Picture's ceremony blended the formal touches with a personal and progressive approach

This was the one graduation I didn't get my camera out for. I was sitting right next to the podium, and I didn't want to distract from this beautiful event. This one got off to a captivating start as graduating student Dallas played a Jimi Hendrix style rendition of The Star Spangled Banner on electric guitar. Wow, he is talented, and the audience was boisterous in their applause. Co-principals Jeff Petty and Loren Demeroutis delivered incredibly thoughtful remarks, setting a high bar for me, in my lone commencement address. Like my predecessor John Welch, I deferred to board members speaking and limited my role to accepting the class, reading the script shown at the top of this post. But at Big Picture, I got to pinch hit and spoke to the class on the themes of "be yourself, develop yourself, and believe in yourself." Having known the school since its creation, I enjoyed being able to celebrate their history and acknowledge just how well Big Picture students are prepared to follow that advice. Honestly, if there's one school that didn't need to be told to be themselves, it's the interested based, applied curriculum of Big Picture. But it seemed to fit, and I was relieved to share some extemporaneous thoughts without bring down the quality of the proceedings. Whew.

Global Connections High School

Every student was afforded the opportunity to speak briefly at Global's graduation

This year, Global Connections asked to try something new, holding commencement in the gym on the Tyee campus and changing the format to a highly personalized approach. We processed to herald trumpets (the long ones you might see announcing the arrival of royalty) and Pomp and Circumstance being played by remarkable Global Connections band. A set of risers in the middle of the gym created a stage, set before nearly 900 parents, friends, and family members seated in chairs on the gym floor and in the bleachers. Each individual graduate was spoken about for a minute or so by their advisor, and offered an opportunity to say a few words. At the same time, their name and a professional quality picture appeared on a large screen behind the graduates. At a hair over two hours, this was the longest of the twelve graduations, but it never seemed to drag on. Director Bernie Dorsey sensed the need for brevity and delivered his remarks not from a prepared speech, but speaking directly to the students as he imagined their parents might do if they had the chance to be up there. Principal Rick Harwood joked that he had a 45 minute speech prepared, but likewise he took three minutes to personally salute and advise the class. The group then adjourned to a reception in the cafeteria to continue the celebration. We have some limitations in how we schedule our twelve graduation ceremonies, but Global's break from tradition provided many benefits in terms of personalization and honoring students that we should consider continuing in future years.

New Start High School and Highline CHOICE Academy

Student speaker Tremelle, as Mike Sita, Tyrone Curry, and Bev Mowrer look on

Principal Mike Sita did a great job joining two schools in one graduation. New Start, a school that helps students recover credits and finish high school, and CHOICE Academy, a small, tightly-knit learning community shared the Performing Arts Center to celebrate their accomplishments. Both schools elected student speakers and shared in recognition. School board director Tyrone Curry made the first of his four graduation speeches, noting that this was their parents' graduation, too, and encouraging students to pursue their goals. This graduation was bittersweet for teacher Bev Mowrer, our 2011 Teacher of the Year, who is graduating along with the students, finally moving to be close to her husband again. She told students, "You've made an incredible difference in me," and advised students that happiness is about more than money and not to become a passive victim of life, but to choose to be an active hero in their own lives.

Odyssey High School

School board director Susan Goding addresses Odyssey seniors

Odyssey has become a school of choice in Highline, a perfect example of the tired cliche, "building the plane while flying it." Unsatisfied with the limitations of traditional approaches to meeting all students, Odyssey is rebuilding their program around competencies and technology, while continuing with students who started when Odyssey was a feeder pattern school. The Class of 2012 has been right in the middle of that transition and I echo the words of pride and appreciation they received from Principal Joan Ferrigno. Kate, a student speaker, shared a recent experience when seniors ran through the fountain at Seattle Center as a metaphor for making a splash in the world. And the faculty speakers were among the most compelling all week. Brian Overhalser debunked the myth that students today are difficult to teach, stating that this diverse group of students have enriched him. Timothy Chang recommended that students go through life asking questions, sharing that he had learned more about by listening to cab drivers and custodians than they could ever imagine.

Arts and Academics Academy (AAA)

Victoria sings the Star Spangled Banner as the AAA Class of 2012 looks on

Rookie principal Norma Barrineau made sure everything was just right for the AAA ceremony, arriving at 10:00 for a 1:00 showtime. I really appreciated her attention to detail. Tyrone Curry again spoke, eschewing his written speech for an informal conversation that certainly was boosted by having worked on the Evergreen campus for most of the Class of 2012's time in high school. He thanked the students for already doing things to strengthen their community, which he said is what we need. Student speaker Kurbin reminded many of us how old we are with pop culture references to Vanilla Ice and Soldier Boy. The AAA graduation started two traditions, I hope. First, they showed a video of each graduate sharing their favorite high school memory and what their next step would be. Second, Principal Barrineau personally arranged for every graduate to receive a flower lai. It was a great expression of support for the graduates.

Health Sciences Human Services High School (HS3)

With former student Jordan

One of the things I have enjoyed about being in Highline for 18 years is seeing former students from when I was a teacher or principal in schools or around the community. During my visit to HS3 this fall, I recognized a student who was in second grade the last time I saw her. She just graduated from HS3! Other than making me feel old, this was a great celebration. By happenstance, I was next to principal Jenni MacDonald as she greeted processing graduates on the "stage right" side. Each got a sincere expression of her pride and happiness in their last moment before ascending to the stage, capturing perfectly the connection between students and staff on this magical day. There was lots of emotion present in the HS3 ceremony, including a student singer who broke down in the middle of a Miley Cyrus tune and couldn't finish, only to be embraced by offerings of support from around the auditorium. The speakers were equally connected. Felix, a UW senior from the Dream Project, urged students to "inspire others as you've inspired me." Student speaker Jasmine found a useful analogy in old-school popcorn popping, with the students as blossoming kernels and their teachers adding flavor. "May your lives be filled with buttery goodness," she concluded. And faculty speaker Dan Noyes riffed on the theme "inconceivable," noting the aspects of the class that met that criteria and ending that it was inconceivable to image the school without the Class of 2012.

Technology, Engineering, and Communications High School (TEC)

Teacher Sarah Grant gives board speaker Tyrone Curry a little flowery bling

Graduations are always an interesting mix of longstanding traditions and new wrinkles. Many parts barely change: the entry music, speeches from what I call the "graduation genre", the diploma picture, the turning of the tassel, etc.. TEC's graduation reminded me of the subtle changes with the times. I was close enough to the podium to notice that the national anthem vocal cue came not from a pitch pipe, but a pitch pipe app on the singer's phone. The valedictorian read not from a printed speech, but from an iPhone. And while the processional was the traditional "Pomp and Circumstance," the recessional was "Don't Stop Believing." Principal Kelly Raymond did a great job of pulling it all together, and beamed with pride that of sixty some graduates, 18 had been accepted to the University of Washington. Of course, the school is proud of all of its grads, and expressed this by reading three things about each one right after calling their name: a school activity they participated in, their future plans, and who they wanted to thank. It was a very efficient and classy touch that would play well at any small school graduation. A final highlight was the address by teacher Lindsey Duerre, who spoke directly to the students. "My heart is breaking, but into enough pieces that each of you can take one with you." She gave practical advice about not burning bridges in life and challenged these young TEC school graduates to "make nerds cool!"

Academy of Citizenship and Empowerment (ACE)

Board president Angelica Alvarez (left) and principal Janae Landis distribute diplomas

Three things struck me at the Academy of Citizenship and Empowerment graduation. One is that they have lived "the show must go on," with principal Janae Landis acknowledging that some of the graduating seniors had known four principals in their time at ACE. The show really did go on, with yet another outstanding graduation ceremony. Second is the sense of stability amidst the change. There were at least two tangible displays of this - the sign language interpreter at the front of the stage, and faculty speaker Gail Korakis. Sign language has long been a staple of ACE, and Tyee before it, with the regional Deaf and Hard of Hearing program on-site, and ACE's popular American Sign Language elective. Likewise, Gail Korakis was at Tyee and has been at ACE as the office manager since the beginning. Gail praised the Class of 2012 for being "the most respectful class" and led the students in an exuberant cheer. Third, a theme of the day was progress, expressed in the most personal terms. Board president Angelica Alvarez spoke of her journey growing up in a family of migrant farm workers, stating, "I stand before you as proof of the possibilities...Set your goals high, and don't be afraid to change them." Student speaker Fatima sounded a similar chord, marveling that, "our ancestors never would have believed that we would be here today, but we are living proof." She ended on a forward looking note. "Just as our parents had a dream, it is up to us to rid the world of poverty and hunger." If Fatima is at all representative of her classmates, I think these kids get the whole "citizenship and empowerment" thing.

Aviation High School

Jenny and Karan address the Aviation H.S. Class of 2012

It came as no surprise to me that this Reba Gilman production was impeccably prepared and executed. It started beforehand, as Reba updated her script even twenty minutes before the processional, capturing the smallest nuances, and polishing a speech that accentuated the amazing volunteerism of the AHS Class of 2012. But it wasn't just Reba. Senior Salina sang the Star Spangled Banner in perfect harmony with her EriAm Sisters vocal trio, and returned later to belt out "Today My Life Begins." Board member Bernie Dorsey honored all partners in the educational journey, recalling a first grade teacher who told him that education is a partnership that is one-third the responsibility of the teacher, one-third the parent, and one-third the student. As students have grown, they have taken on more and more of the pie, but it has taken all three partners to get to this day. While I enjoyed my last turn accepting the Class of 2012, and some kind words by Principal Gilman, two featured acts really stole the show. First was the student speaker duo of Jenny and Karan, who between them probably were admitted to just about every prestigious college in America. Those are two sharp kids. But just as impressive, they were funny! Their dialogue was crisp and witty, like an Aaron Sorkin script, and they reminded me of my high school English teacher who opined, "You have to know the rules before you can break them." Jenny and Karan knew the rules of graduation speeches, then proceeded to flaunt them and occasionally roast them. While most student graduation addresses are as careful as they are thoughtful, Jenny and Karan moved effortlessly between nostalgia, sincerity, and irreverent humor. Bravo! Faculty speaker Marcie Wombold exhibited equally strong command of the moment, with a sober address that was both hard-headed and humane. She skipped the platitudes and used the backdrop of her own twentieth high school graduation as a canvas for her advice to "allow for variables." Her message, if I'm smart enough to summarize it in this space, was to not put all of your eggs in one basket. A lot of life is how you react to it, and the more invested you are in a single, focused, defined vision of your future, the more likely you are to have difficulty with the challenges life will almost inevitably hurl in your direction, and the less likely you are take take advantage of the true opportunities life brings your way. Be a pilot and a politician. Be a dentist and a sculptor. Be career driven and have a life. When a  major "variable" affects your life - illness, loss of job, etc. - having more than one passion that defines you will serve you well. I can't do justice to Marcie's speech, but for fifteen minutes you could have heard a pin drop in the Performing Arts Center. In a week full of profound moments, the engaged silence of this moment spoke the loudest.

My best wishes to the Highline Public Schools Class of 2012! Your future, like the future of the school district, is bright. One final time, thank you for having me as your superintendent.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Last Day of School

Educators will tell you there's a cyclical nature to the school year. Every year has a first day, and a last. Rituals precede the first day (professional development and staff meetings, preparing schools and classrooms) and rituals follow the last (turning in grade books, planning for next year, checking out). But those actual first and last days are magical.

I make a point of visiting schools on the first day. Partly it's to be supportive. Honestly, in large part, I visit schools on the first day because it recharges me to see all of those bright, enthusiastic faces. Friday, I reversed the trend and went to the last day at three schools. What I observed was true affection between students and staff as they said goodbye for the summer.

McMicken Heights Elementary

I started at McMicken because we had advance notice that Darcy Smith would be honored as the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD) Teacher of the Year. The PSESD is an organization that exists between the state and local districts. PSESD covers the 35 districts in King and Piece counties, representing almost half of all students in the state. Ms. Smith, a sixth grade teacher, was teacher of the year in Highline as well. Her family snuck in for her recognition at McMicken's last day of school assembly, and her students went berserk when her name was called. Ms. Smith was ever gracious and humble in receiving the award, thanking her students and colleagues.

I got to see a little more of the assembly, including many student recognitions. The highlight was when the whole faculty performed to Taio Cruz's "Dynamite." Three talented staff members came forward to sing and the students threw their hands up in the air sometimes. A minute later, the whole staff, including principal Karin Jones, came up on stage to dance-dance-dance-dance. The staff really lit it up like it's dynamite. I loved the spirit and community building!

(L to R) Susanne Jerde, Carla Jackson, Darcy Smith, me, and Terese Emry from PSESD (Mel Ponder Photography)
Students watch as McMicken staff members perform "Dynamite"

Highline High School

I zipped over from McMicken to Highline High School, just in time for dismissal. It was fun and orderly. Kids were in great spirits. Staff was enjoying signing yearbooks and wishing their students well for the summer. After the rush cleared, I wandered over by the cafeteria, where principal Damon Hunter was grilling up burgers and hot dogs for the staff's end of the year lunch. Again, there were many positive vibes, and the morale building will help the school launch positively into next year.

Highline H.S. students display their school spirit one last time
Grillmaster (and principal) Damon Hunter, cooking up lunch for staff

Sylvester Middle School

After Highline, I made the short drive to Sylvester Middle School and again shared dismissal with staff and students. Encouraged by staff to celebrate appropriately, kids found out how rewarding it is to exchange smiles and hugs with their friends on the way out the door for the final time. I had a quick word with Principal Vicki Fisher as she stopped to wish students well for the summer. The buses lined up almost ceremonially for their final delivery. Staff obliged by waiving goodbye from the sideawalk. And summer was officially underway!

Buses line up to take students home one final time this year
Staff wave to students as they leave for summer vacation

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Thank You Post

We're down to the last day of school, and while technically I will be interim superintendent through June 30th, I started on the first day of school and it feels like I am ending tomorrow. What a ride it has been!

This week, with the help of our communications department, I shared a video with staff that recaps the school year. You can view it from this link on most computers.

iPads in Dee Miller's class at Cedarhurst
 This year I joined with the school board to emphasize four goals for our work:
  1. Champion equity
  2. Lead for innovation
  3. Enhance teaching and learning
  4. Engage staff and community
I am very proud of our accomplishments this year. The equity assessment we commissioned from an outside group has provided intense, but valuable feedback on how our current reality compares to the ideals we aspire to in our equity policy. This feedback is making us reexamine how we do everything from professional development to assessment, and from human resources to community engagement. We have had three schools named as "Innovation Schools" by the state, and greatly expanded adaptive technology. Just last week at Cedarhurst Elementary, I toured our first classroom deployment of iPads for instructional use, providing videos and non-fiction text in support of science education. This spring we have created a process to expand our dual language program and worked to launch our new instructional framework. And on a personal note, I have visited and blogged about 63 schools, work sites, and community organizations in Highline.

Yet the work is humbling. We still have far too many students completing school without a diploma or less than fully prepared for college. Our achievement gaps are too large. We have made incremental progress providing opportunities in the arts, but we want students to have many more opportunities in all subject areas over time. We can improve our systems and our culture. Much work lies ahead.

And now to those thank yous...

You'll notice in listing our accomplishments above, I used "we." The truth is, the superintendent cannot do much without the help of many others. Every time the district looks good, and every time I have looked good, it's due to the work of others.

With Jan, Executive Assistant to the Superintendent
Thank you to Jan, the superintendent's assistant. This office would not run without her. Period. Jan is beloved by thousands of staff and patrons, and I will always treasure our year working together.

Thank you to our students. You have no idea how many times I have been inspired by their achievement, hope, and compassion.

Thank you to our principals, whose job is more complex than you could possibly imagine. No group of employees collectively put in more hours or accomplish more for our students than our principals.

Thank you to our teachers and all staff who work directly with students. There is no more important role on earth than yours. All that we celebrate as a country is due in large part to what you do every day.

Thank you to our support staff and administrators. I never had to schedule a bus run, resource a construction project, repair our facilities, design our website, assemble a lunch menu, call home on absent students, or write curriculum frameworks. But I tried to never take for granted that the district wouldn't run without the people who do these and many other invaluable services.

Thank you to our community. Our community support has never wavered, from parents and community members to formal organizations. My job would have been been immensely more difficult without their support.

Thank you to the Senior Leadership Team. You are a talented group of individuals. Your work has made all the difference in me being able to slide in and lead this year without skipping a beat. Particular thanks to my deputy superintendent Dr. Carla Jackson, whose grace, integrity and work ethic know no bounds.

Thank you to the Highline School Board, for giving me the amazing privilege of being your superintendent for the past year. I have gotten to work with two great board presidents, Sili Savusa and Angelica Alvarez, and I can truly say that all five of our board members are motivated by nothing other than the best interests of our students and community.

Thank you to my family. My wife Shannon and two sons have shared me very generously and supported me fully. Although I will miss being superintendent, I am just as glad to be able to spend more time with them. Thanks also to my parents, who provided me the broad base of experiences that have led me on my path in life.

I'll close by wishing my successor, Dr. Susan Enfield, the very best. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with her during the transition. Over the past several weeks she has taken time to begin learning our culture and to share with us her student centered approach to school systems. During her interview process, Dr. Enfield stated that Highline is poised to go from good to great. I couldn't agree more. Good luck Dr. Enfield!

I'll be back for one final post, celebrating our amazing run of student graduations.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Superintendent's Visit to Camp Waskowitz

The first thing you see upon arrival at Highline's beloved Camp Waskowitz is the sign:


The name on top - and I'm sure many of you know this - is that of Carl Jensen, Highline's second superintendent, from 1953 to 1971. Jensen was instrumental in arranging for a loan for the district to purchase the Depression-era "Camp North Bend" in 1957. Jensen passed away a few years ago and I am honored to have met him as in his 90's, sharp as ever. No doubt every superintendent since has spent time at Camp Waskowitz. And although I have been many times myself in previous years, I had to make the drive up during my last week of school as superintendent, perhaps like a president visiting his 50th state days before leaving office.

Camp Waskowitz is named after UW football captain Fritz Waskowitz, who died over the Pacific as a World War II fighter pilot. The camp is steeped in history, with many buildings that are historically protected. Every time I visit the camp, I am amazed by how little it has changed. New additions, like the kitchen on the backside of the historic dining hall, blend in seamlessly. At the same time, new wrinkles appear every time I visit as well. This year, it was the totem poles straddling the gate to the river, pictured below. (As an aside, I helped erect the gateway arch leading to the river during a team building exercise in 1999, my small contribution to camp.) 

I'm sorry to have missed our students at Camp. All Highline sixth graders go to Waskowitz for a week, a memory that has been on the tip of our graduates' tongues for generations. In some families, you'll find three generations that have attended camp, recalling the hikes and campfire skits. These days, our high school program has grown to be another important part of the Waskowitz experience. In addition to high school students who join their old elementary school for a week, some students now experience the transformational opportunity of spending a semester engaged with camp staff. Some of camp director Roberta McFarland's greatest pride pours out recalling off-track high school students who found themselves in the solitude of the outdoor experience.

While I missed the kids, I was glad to connect with staff. This is an upbeat, proud group who provides students with experiences they might never otherwise get. I particularly enjoyed learning that a former student of mine, Ashley Schindel, has played a major role in the program at camp. I also learned that a school district in Colorado is opening a camp based on Waskowitz. That's a wonderful tribute to a wonderfully unique asset to Highline, our very own Camp Waskowitz.

Camp staff (note: Sasquatch is not on the payroll)

My former student Ashley Schindel is a rising star in camp management

Roberta McFarland shows off the new totem poles

Plaques detail the history of the old CCC camp

The historic dining hall is joined to a rebuilt kitchen

The dorms are well kept and the art around campus feels comfortable

The field allows for many outside activities
Don't leave Waskowitz without visiting the Snoqualmie River!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Highline Council PTSA Awards

Colleen Thomas-Reitsma (left) is recognized by HCPTSA's Jill Wunch

 We're to the last week of school, and it's a wonderful time of year. While it's a time of reflection and anticipation for students of every grade level, that's especially true for our graduating seniors. I'm going to finish out the year with posts during the last five days of school, and I'll begin and end by celebrating our graduating seniors.

I recently had the honor of attending the Highline Council PTSA awards ceremony at The Cove in Normandy Park. HCPTSA is a group that does great work for our kids. They are an umbrella organization for our PTSA chapters across the district. Jill Wunch has stepped up as HCPTSA president for the third time (she says it'll be the last, but she's probably said that before!) Many other parents are active leaders in the organization, including Debbie Thoma, who provided the picture below.

The awards night was a celebration of much of the goodness that is Highline. Dozens of parents and staff members received recognition for the work they do on behalf of kids. They were well deserving of awards such as the Golden Acorn, but I think all attendees would agree the most inspiring part was the recognition of the five PTSA scholarship award winners.

HCPTSA Scholarship Winners Alexis, Cong, Alba, and Laura (L to R)

When I was entering the interim superintendency last year, I interviewed a graduating senior from every high school. It was a transformational experience for me to hear about the accomplishments of our students, many of whom had overcome an obstacle in the course of their lives.

The Highline Council did a great job of sharing the accomplishments of the award recipients. Rather than me paraphrasing their bios, please treat yourself to a reading of their amazing stories!

Laura Jimenez Guerra from Big Picture HS: Laura works within her community as part of her education.  She has tutored music students at Cascade Middle School, led students in 8th grade science, worked with the Port of Seattle and currently with Seattle Theater Group as a production assistant.  She is a translator, facilitator, leader and coach.  The principal of her school wrote, "To me, Laura's most striking qualities are her sense of justice, her drive for authentic and rigorous learning experiences, and her humility and groundedness as a person.  I am as confident as can be of her intent and capacity to make substantive contributions to whatever college she chooses and to the communities she serves." Laura wrote about her volunteer experience through Big Picture saying, "I used to think that I was only ever going to do what I was told to do: I  was not special.  The people and volunteer opportunities at Big Picture helped me realize that the world is bigger than a GPA.  More than just a student, I am a woman, daughter, Chicana, Zapatista, and a leader.  I can achieve anything. That may not be enough for some college admissions directors, but it is enough for me.  It is everything."  Laura is going on to college at Cornish College of the Arts.

Cong Nguyen from Technology, Engineering and Communications HS: Cong volunteers through many organizations including Van Lang Vietnamese school, White Center food bank, Relay for Life, Kiwanis, his church and his school tennis team, all while maintaining a 3.95 GPA. He is a teacher, mentor, president, athlete, fundraiser and community leader.  One of his teachers wrote about him, "Cong is the most promising student to come out of our high school in the four years I've taught here... a couple things distinguish Cong: his heart, his leadership, his appetite for life and a desire to make things better.  He's also been a full-time language tutor for local Vietnamese children.  He has told me of the need for those kids to connect with their parents and the experience of their homeland. Cong has a genuine heart." Cong wrote about himself, telling us, "I have a passion for assisting youth in the Asian American community to learn about their heritage. Every Friday, I have been volunteering at Van Lang school to teach children how to speak, read and write in Vietnamese, and for four years I have instructed these children about where their families came from.  It's amazing to then see 8 year olds have a conversation in Vietnamese, about how each of their parents immigrated to America and went through endless hardships in order to give their kids a better future.  I want to make a change in my world and be somebody that kids can depend on.  I believe if I can change the lives of at least one person, I can start a domino effect that will change the world." Cong will be attending college at the University of Washington.

Alba Cruz-Lopez from Technology, Engineering and Communications HS: Alba works within her school and community as a leader, mentor and as a volunteer at Cascade Middle School helping 7th & 8th graders who are struggling in school.  She is the ASB executive board president, an athlete, a student of theology at her church and is determined to reach the goals she has set for herself.  One of her teachers wrote, "Alba stood out as a leader by helping form the identity of our school.  She took pride in our community of students and exemplifies the core values of what it means to be a TEC student; respect, responsibility, resilience and integrity.  Alba not only represents her high school here on campus, she has spoken at school board meetings representing the TEC student body, coordinated fundraising open house nights and community spaghetti dinners for our school.  Alba is dependable, organized and has drive and determination."  Alba has future goals to major in Criminal Justice or Psychology, to work in a police station, go to graduate school and earn a Ph.D.--all in the hopes of becoming a CIA agent one day.  She writes, "Every day when I walk to school I feel the cold and refreshing wind on my face, I see a peaceful sky and a welcoming city.  I love my community for its beauty and diversity but also because there are many programs that help the less fortunate. I am really grateful that my community reinforces the value of helping others and making a change in people's lives.  I have been a part of a ministry here in White Center called "Agape" and our mission is to assist homeless people to get off of the street, to get reliable jobs and get their life back together.  Programs like this motivate me to do more meaningful things with my time.  It inspires me to help people and motivate them to do something helpful for others."  Alba is starting her college journey at Washington State University.

Alexis Gregerson from Mount Rainier HS: Alexis volunteers through community events in the city of SeaTac such as Teen Night Out and in Seattle with Operation Nightwatch, as president of her high school leadership program and as a student leader of YoungLife, along with being an star athlete and completing 2 years of college classes during high school through Running Start at Highline Community College. Her YoungLife area director wrote, "Alexis stands out as a natural in the area of leadership.  She has a passion and zeal for life that is contagious and quite amazing.  Alexis has shown the ability to establish an excellent rapport with many different people in YoungLife and her community, including younger students, adult volunteers and parents.  She is a woman of quality and integrity."  Alexis has given her time to many organizations and she writes this about her experiences, "Working in a community that is so rich in diversity is something that has opened my eyes to developing a stronger understanding of the vast opportunity and culture I strive to learn about. During Operation Nightwatch, where we make and serve meals to the homeless, I have learned both empathy and responsibility.Responsibility comes from knowing the food we are providing is one of the main sources of  nourishment all day for the homeless. I am grateful for this volunteer opportunity because I have seen first hand how this blessed both those serving and those receiving. Being a YoungLife leader has taught me how influential I can be in someone's life... and how relationships are so important and will always be so valuable." Alexis will be attending college at the University of Washington.

Kory Hollingsworth from Mount Rainier HS: Kory volunteers within the community through Boy Scouts, his church and his school.  He is a leader, an artist, a stellar student with a 3.9 GPA in the International Baccalaureate Program, and judging from his Eagle Scout service projects--an excellent builder as well.  Kory's art teacher wrote, "Kory has an extensive list of academic and community leader accomplishments.  Most impressive to me as a teacher, however, is who Kory is as a person.  He is everything a teacher hopes a student will be: reliable, sincere, curious, determined and excited to learn.  Persistence and  a cheerful attitude have enabled him to methodically work through problems and create remarkable works of art in metal, clay and paint.  In these works, I am constantly impressed with his creativity and craftsmanship."  Kory has goals of working in the film industry and hopes to be a film director in the future.  He knows it will take leadership and responsibility to achieve this and he writes, "Through Boy Scouting, I understood the importance of hard work and building bonds with my fellow scouts.  Earlier in my senior year, I began work on my own Eagle Project, building dog beds for the King County regional animal services.  Through this experience I have learned the importance of organization and communication. The slogan of the scouting organization instructs us to 'do a good turn daily.' A simple but powerful statement that can drastically influence our society; the concept of 'paying it forward' can change how society works and thinks. With this in mind,when I pay things forward, I think of my future."  Kory will begin his college journey at Central Washington University.