Edmonds School Board adopts strategic plan, discusses housing development for homeless students

Lynnwood Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Tom White (highlighted in green) speaks to the Edmonds School Board on Nov. 23 about students’ essays.

Aiming to provide access to an equitable education for all students, the Edmonds School District Board of Directors unanimously voted Tuesday night to adopt a strategic plan to guide the district’s learning practices through 2026.

At its Nov. 23 business meeting, the board voted to adopt the 2021-26 strategic plan, which will be used to guide the district in achieving equity, engagement and excellence for all students. The plan outlines specific goals with a focus on students and a commitment to collaborating with staff, families and the larger community.

Due to unknown variables caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Superintendent Gustavo Balderas said the district will begin to implement the plan with a “soft rollout” to better support student performance and staff satisfaction.

“Our number-one goal is to continue to provide the best education services for our (district) families,” he said.

Balderas called the plan a “living document” that would evolve as staff continued to add future items that are not currently included. For instance, Balderas said that some capital projects and the replacement educational programs and operations levy set to appear on the Feb. 8, 2022, ballot are not currently listed in the plan.

While developing the plan over the past few years, the district hosted multiple listening and work sessions with students, staff, families, community members and the school board. However, some felt their voice wasn’t represented in the new plan. During the public comments portion of the meeting, Westgate Elementary School first-grade teacher Chieh Chang suggested that it be more inclusive for teachers of color. Chang said the plan mentions actively recruiting more teachers of color but added that many don’t feel their voices are heard once they’re hired.

“The strategic plan focuses only on recruiting and retaining new educators of color, not on supporting educators of color already working in the district,” she said.

Board Director Nancy Katims said she wanted staff to look into the complaint. Board Director Carin Chase added that she would support the plan with the understanding that there would be time to update it later with more input from teachers and other staff.

“I’m looking at this as the broader overview in thinking that we haven’t had a lot of long-term goals in the district for a while now,” she said.

Balderas said the next steps regarding the plan included identifying additional priorities from staff.

In other business, the board held a first reading for a resolution to lease district property to Everett-based non-profit Housing Hope, which proposes to build an affordable housing complex for homeless students in the district and their families.

In partnership with the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO), Housing Hope intends to develop a 40- to-50-unit affordable housing complex on the 2.2-acre, district-owned Scriber Baseball field, located along 58th Avenue West and adjacent to Cedar Valley Community School in Lynnwood.

According to Balderas, there are approximately 350 students experiencing homelessness in the district currently. He added that the number could be higher and that getting an accurate count has been difficult during the pandemic. Director Chase said she was excited to support the project.

“As we know, when families are housed, they have the opportunity to thrive and live up to their full potential,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to having this support and so grateful that we have this opportunity in the Edmonds School District to help our school district families.”

The board also held a public hearing — during which one person spoke — regarding the proposed agreement. Board President Deborah Kilgore then addressed complaints from people who assumed the development would be a homeless shelter or an encampment.

“For those taxpayers worried about this, you’ll see a return on investment,” she said.

Kilgore also said ensuring students have housing would cost the district less than paying for much of the support it now provides students experiencing homelessness, including transportation to and from school. (Under federal law, school districts are required to support students experiencing homelessness. For example, if a student moves to another school district due to a housing instability, they are able to continue attending school in the Edmonds School District, which must provide transportation to and from school.

For those concerned about kids not being able to use the ballfield, Kilgore pointed out that there are plenty of other fields in the district that can be used instead.

“I’m confident that this is going to be a model community school for the country,” she said.

During his regular superintendent update, Balderas briefed the board on a recent clinics the district held for students ages 5 to 11 who are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. So far, the district has hosted two vaccine clinics and 3,400 students have received their first dose. The clinics were put on in partnership with the Everett and Mukilteo school districts as well as Seattle Visiting Nurses Association. Those students are set to receive their second dose in December, Balderas said.

Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen (top right) briefs the board on vaccine clinics the district has hosted for students 5-11 years old.

Also, the board received an update from Lynnwood Elementary School regarding its school improvement plan. Principal Jacklyn Henly briefed the board on the school’s goals to boost areas like reading, math and student engagement by 5% for all K-6 grade students by 2024. 

“We really were thoughtful about what’s achievable and how we can move his bar in a steady way,” she said.

The board was also joined by Lynnwood Elementary fourth graders who read essays they wrote. For the essays, students had to write a thesis statement, draft an outline, come up with three main points and support them with three pieces of evidence each. For example, fourth grader Tin Nguyen wrote about why he enjoys hiking. Students also presented artwork they created.

Additionally, the board briefly discussed returning to holding meetings in person, which its plans to do at the second meeting in January. Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab said meetings would be open to about 40 people while maintaining 6 feet for social distancing. Meetings will also continue to be streamed online for those who do not want or are unable to attend.

During the meeting’s public comments, one parent said she was concerned that unvaccinated students were being treated unfairly by the district’s rules for close-contact quarantine. According to the complaint, students who are sent home after being exposed to a possible COVID-positive person are unable to access their class assignments or learning instructions during the 10-day quarantine.

In response to questions from Director Katims about what the district could do, Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen pointed out that the district has already switched to the seven-day quarantine per Washington State Department of Health guidelines. According to Geaslen, students are able to return after seven days, provided that they have a negative test between the fifth and seventh day.

“The idea is if you are unvaccinated and you’ve been determined to be in close contact, hopefully by day five you’ll be able to test,” she said. “If you have those (negative) test results (students) can come back.” 

Geaslen also said that students should be able to access their assignments online through their learning management system. However, she said there’s little the district could do to recover lost instruction time because teachers are simultaneously teaching online and in person like last school year.

Additionally, Geaslen said that the district does not set the guidelines for how they respond to reported positive COVID-19 cases, so they are not able to change the number of quarantine days or offer alternative testing options for students to return to class sooner. She said that public health officials are anticipating a spike in reported cases over the holidays and added that as more students get vaccinated those numbers will go down.

“Maybe into the new year that’s when we’ll see the decline,” she said.

–By Cody Sexton

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.