Edmonds School Board learns more about efforts to put students on college track

By Eileen Kelliher

“No Ds or Fs!” The nitty-gritty of how to put students on a college track was spelled out for the Edmonds School District Board during its March 12 meeting by Jan Link, owner of the South Snohomish County nonprofit Academic Link Outreach. (And yes, this is a stellar example of a person whose career matches her last name!)

A 50-year veteran of education, now retired, Link is running a grant-funded program at Alderwood Middle School called “Path to College Success.” This is Link’s personal battle to improve Washington State’s poor high school graduation rate: The state come in 42nd in the nation at 68 percent.

Middle school is her focus as students have a hard time taking academics seriously at that point, but she also has a cohort of ninth graders. All come through referrals from teachers and counselors.  Link works with students, many of whom come from low-income families, from 2 p.m. until as late as 8:30 p.m. and on weekends. She finds the monthly meetings with students and parents are most effective.  Goals she lays out for the students include: Earn a 3.0 or better grade point average, attain a working knowledge of college, and understand why one has to go to school.  She also teaches them self-advocacy and resilience.

The report card for her recent ninth grade group was: 11 students received all As and six received As plus one other grade.  Of 290 grades total for this group, 161 of them were As and 95 of them were Bs.

While school board member Diana White exclaimed, “I think we should just clone you!” Link stated that it is the coordinated effort of students, parents, teachers, and administrators that makes “Path to College” work.  Assistant Superintendent of Student Learning Tony Byrd said that the students credit Link’s persistence in their success.  Superintendent Nick Brossoit encouraged those present at the meeting to consider ways to apply Link’s approach in other areas of the district, so that more students could be reached, and “move it from 40 to 400.”  He spoke of working in coordination with the College and Career Readiness counselors at the middle schools, where 40 to 50 percent of the students have no close family members who are college graduates.

Also during the meeting, Byrd brought the board up to speed on the district’s efforts to plan for the state-mandated Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project. Brossoit added that while this was a great opportunity, it was also a huge unfunded mandate. The Edmonds School District is using the Danielson Framework for Enhancing Professional Practice to meet the state requirement, and Bryd said his primary goal right now is to calibrate the principals so that when they evaluate a teacher there is commonality in assessment. Through the summer and fall they did this with videos and conversation. Now principals are actually walking through classrooms to put their evaluation skills to the test and compare notes.

This week, the district is interviewing principal coaches at the elementary and secondary levels who will receive additional training and be a resource for their peers. These two principals will have interim principals fill their roles next year while they help implement the evaluation project. Brossoit added that in the “spirit of improvement” that accompanies implementation of this evaluation structure, the District will also train teacher coaches in the future.

Byrd said that the Edmonds School District is ahead of the curve on responding to the state mandate and is benefiting from working ahead of the state’s timeline. In response to Board member Gary Noble’s questions about the Edmonds Education Association’s receptivity to the evaluation process, Byrd noted that the district’s teachers union has been supportive and he was most appreciative.

Byrd also briefed the board on the district’s efforts to implement the national-level Common Core Standards to secure “Race to the Top” funds.  Washington state’s history of rigorous standards will make it an easier transition than for some states, he explained.  Adaptation to the national standards will result in changes in how core subjects are taught: In reading, the shift will be to  informational text, literacy across curriculum areas, complexity, and synthesizing information. In math, the focus will move toward more application, more discourse and more of a STEM-like (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) classroom.

The district is not going “full bore” at this time implementing the Common Core, Byrd said, until the teacher evaluation process is established. These new standards will naturally link with the new evaluation system, he added, and the plan is to train teacher leaders, principals and — eventually — all instructors on implementation.

Students will be tested on core standards the year after next and this might have implications on graduation rates, he noted, adding that some states that adopted the standards earlier saw only 30- to 40-percent passing rates. You can find more information on the Common Core Standards on the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction website.

In other board action:

– Capital Projects Director Edward Peters presented as new business a resolution that would formalize the completion of the new Meadowdale Middle School construction contract. He also put forth as new business authorization to spend $200,000 for final design of traffic and pedestrian safety projects at Hilltop, Martha Lake and Spruce elementary schools. The total allocated from the 2012 Levy is $1.8 million. The board unanimously approved both motions.

– The board unanimously approve clarifications in the Purchasing Card (district-managed credit card) Policies and Procedures that had been outlined by Executive Director of Business and Operations Stewart Mhyre at the previous meeting.

– Following a single reading, it unanimously approved seven different field trips, ranging from a Key Club Convention in Seattle to a Jazz Festival in Pasco to a Thespian Conference at Western Washington University.

The board next meets on April 16 at 6:30 pm at the district’s Educational Services Center, 20420 68th Ave W, Lynnwood.

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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