Outreach to diverse populations, dropout plan discussed by Edmonds School Board

By Eileen Kelliher

The Edmonds School Board opened its Feb. 12 meeting on a high note, following a performance by Lynnwood High School’s Jazz One and an award ceremony for 19 honors music students.

Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Ellen Kahan reported on two EAACH (Equity Alliance for Achievement) committee meetings. EAACH is a parent advisory group works to strengthen schools by making them more inclusive and welcoming for diverse populations. Kahan stated that the February meeting aimed to encourage school representatives to make connections with others within their district quadrant as that will help them “work together effectively.”  According to Kahan, a side benefit of this new group is the increased connection with staff at the schools as principals and assistant principals regularly attend EAACH meetings.  Middle schools will benefit the most from increasing guardian connection to school as their two-year structure is not conducive to community-building.

In March, EAACH will address discipline policies and procedures. While these are ideally viewed as a learning opportunity, according to Kahan, sometimes educators’ jargon can be an impediment or in some cases translators need to be on hand for effective communication with students and guardians. The advisory group will also be looking at the school district’s new evaluation system to see that it addresses inclusivity, equity, closing the achievement gap and responsive schools.

Secondary school counselors came to talk at EAACH’s January meeting about building bridges for diverse student populations, said Patrick Murphy, assistant superintendent of secondary schools. He added that the counselors were “incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunity.” An example of an item discussed was the need to customize communication for these families as methods that are commonly used, such as email and student-delivered mail, may not get the message to the guardian.

Also during the meeting:
- Murphy also reported on the “No Dropouts” plan that the district is considering using provided by private company TAA. According to the TAA representative present, students drop out for a number of reasons including the need to work, disciplinary issues, and fear of bullying. Superintendent Nick Brossoit noted that the district currently does not have the funds or the staffing to track down students in this situation; possibly 40 to 80 students over the last five years. TAA would find these students and try to persuade them to return to a diploma pursuit, either directly with the district again or within the online structure that TAA has created.

In response to board questions, TAA stated that staff to support the on-line students include an academic coach, a local advocate, an online tutor, and lastly, highly-qualified Washington state teachers. When Board member Gary Noble questioned the appropriateness of state funds (in the form of FTEs, or Full-Time Equivalents) going to a private firm, the representative explained that they are a Washington State approved on-line learning company and adhere to state standards. That said, he conceded that students’ best chances to achieve a diploma were to remain in the classroom.

- School Board member Susan Phillips honored on the board’s behalf Edmonds-Woodway High School science teacher Wendy Priest, who has been advisor to Key Club, a community service club, for 20 plus years. Priest also advises the Hip Hop Club at the high school. As the dozen students representing Key Club that evening presented her with a bouquet, they told her that not only did they “adore her passion,” but she would “forever stay in our hearts.”  Priest, approaching retirement, thanked the parents for sharing their children’s’ time with her and spoke of how she would miss working with them.

- Assistant Superintendent Murphy also updated the board on the addition of College and Career Specialists at each middle school. Currently the positions are for 15 hours/week, the hope is to grow that to 30. These staff members are identifying and supporting first-generation college-bound students and campaigning school-wide to promote college and career planning. At the middle school level, he mentioned district’s change from having students “opt in” to challenging classes. Now, students and parents will have to “opt out” of the placement that the child gets when they enter from elementary school.

- Board member Phillips honored on the board’s behalf Edmonds-Woodway High School science teacher Wendy Priest who has been advisor to Key Club, a community service club, for 20 plus years. Priest also advises the Hip Hop Club at the high school. As the dozen students representing Key Club that evening presented her with a bouquet, they told her that not only did they “adore her passion,” but she would “forever stay in our hearts.”  Ms. Priest, approaching retirement, thanked the parents for sharing their children’s’ time with her and spoke of how she would miss working with them.

- Patrick Murphy also updated the board on the addition of College and Career Specialists at each middle school. Currently the positions are for 15 hours/week, the hope is to grow that to 30.  hese staff members are identifying and supporting first-generation college-bound students and campaigning school-wide to promote college and career planning. At the middle school level, he mentioned district’s change from having students “opt in” to challenging classes. Now, students and parents will have to “opt out” of the placement that the child gets when they enter from elementary school.

- Teachers Jenny Hershey and Jenny McCloud gave an update on Move 60!’s second year. The two coordinators of the health and wellness before/after school program presented a PowerPoint with video of jogging, bouncing and laughing students showing its successful implementation. They explained to the board that they gather measurable data both for the underwriter Verdant Health Commission and for the district.  School staff suggests students for the activity based on health or economic needs. There are three 10-week sessions; each day has a different theme, for example, jump rope or basketball. Move60! is available Monday through Thursday and is run ideally by a certificated staff member with a supporting para-educator. Currently 16 elementary schools host the program and are maxed out at 50 students each, and it is hoped that the last six elementary schools will be added soon. Seven of the 16 schools have transportation for students taking part.

-Assistant Superintendent of Student Learning Tony Byrd then addressed next year’s implementation of a new Danielson Framework for Enhancing Professional Practice. District administration is currently training principals on how the implement the assessment plan in their buildings and it is in conversations with teachers and the union. He stated that the evaluation system is being adopted in the spirit of encouraging professional growth and that the district is working to address anxieties that teachers might have.

-Stewart Mhyre, Executive Director of Business and Operations, recounted recent visits with high school ASB student leadership, advisors, and bookkeepers to go over their financials. He was very impressed with the student officers and found them very engaged. The district advises the ASBs to have about 10 to 15 percent in reserve from year to year, but there are no hard guidelines. Concerning the perception that ASB holds on to more funds than necessary, Mhyre found the high schools like to keep a buffer in case they need to purchase something. For example, at Meadowdale High School, a van needs to be replaced. Most of ASB budgets are locked up in allocations to clubs, sports, music programs, and grade level accounts. Closing on a bright note, he reported that district food service revenue got a boost from the federal government to the tune of .06 a meal as it was ahead in meeting the USDA’s new compliance standards.

School board contributing writer Eileen Kelliher served as a parent volunteer while her three children went through Seaview Elementary, Meadowdale Middle School, and Edmonds-Woodway High School.  She works occasionally as a substitute classified employee for the Edmonds School District.

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