Messages from Vancouver Public Schools in Vancouver, Washington, U.S.A.
Messages from Vancouver Public Schools in Vancouver, Washington, U.S.A.
Oh, the places she's gone
The year was 1995. A new search engine called Yahoo! had recently launched. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers in the Super Bowl, and Forrest Gump took home the Academy Award for Best Picture.
That year, Vancouver Public Schools’ board of directors gained a gracious, humble and joyful advocate in Mari Greves. A longtime volunteer in her children’s schools, Mari brought to the board a keen sense of equity and an appetite for making VPS a better place. Perhaps no one has seen those traits displayed more often than her fellow board members. Here’s Vice President Edri Geiger.
She’s always interested in how we serve all children, not just a specific group of children. And she brings with that passion and critical questions, and she’s always sharing.
Thanks to Mari’s leadership and the hard work of the VPS staff, the district’s progress during her tenure has been transformative, says President Mark Stoker:
I think she leaves behind a legacy of some real, intentional, deliberate, transformational change for our school district, really bringing it into the 21st century and leaving it in very good hands going forward.
What we—the board, staff, students, parents and community—have accomplished during the last 20 years is an incredible story that includes:
Maintaining a 50-year history of voter support for local maintenance and operations levies, a record unmatched in the state as far as we know
Thirty school construction and renovation projects
More than $3 million in assets for the Foundation for VPS
Programs of choice at all grade levels
Digital technology in classrooms and schools, including the early stages of a community-approved digital transformation that will bring one-to-one technology to all students in grades three through 12
Enhanced instructional quality through a long-term commitment to cultivating a highly professional, dedicated workforce
Award-winning Family-Community Resource Centers in 13 poverty-impacted schools
Magna Award–winning Kindergarten Jump Start and full-day kindergarten in all 21 elementary schools
Educational policies that address the needs of all children, not just those who come from advantaged backgrounds
A track record of managing the district through the Great Recession in a fiscally responsible manner so that VPS was able to preserve its core mission and continue to pursue its strategic vision
And two Board of the Year titles from the Washington State School Directors’ Association, five Board of Distinction recognitions and a Special Merit Award
But now Mari is beginning a new chapter—retirement. Recently she reflected on her school board career:
I am in awe of the talent that is in this district, the people who care so deeply about kids, our students, and make a difference all the time.
I’ve learned from each one of my fellow board members. I’ve had great opportunities to work with some of the best minds you could ever be around.
For me, working with Mari has been one of the highlights of my career, and I know many others feel similarly. So thank you, Mari, for everything.
I’ll close with a poem inspired by one of Mari’s favorite books: Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, by Dr. Seuss.
Oh, the places you will go, Mari Greves!
Compassion Strengthens District
Of all the lessons we teach our students, compassion may be one of the most difficult. How do you teach a child to care about another person? How do you know when the lesson has been learned?
Our safe and supportive schools initiative, which recently was awarded a nearly $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, is one way. Schools that have implemented Response to Intervention and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports are displaying cultural changes. Students are learning how to be responsible and how to respect one another, which is perhaps the first step toward compassion.
Our students also see compassion modeled in our Family-Community Resource Centers, which recently received a District of Distinction award from District Administration magazine. Every day our FCRCs come to the aid of families who need food, clothing and other basic items. They provide assistance navigating the complex web of resources available for housing, medical care and other services. Recently they facilitated an informational meeting for a large number of families that may soon be displaced from their homes.
Lessons about compassion may be most poignant during the holidays, when many VPS schools are involved, in one way or another, in efforts to give back. Some of the most vulnerable students and their families receive gifts and assistance from our many community partners. For example, 30 families will receive food boxes and gifts this holiday season courtesy of the Hazel Dell Lions Club.
Many schools also hold food and clothing drives to assist their friends, neighbors and classmates. Just one instance of this can be found at Alki Middle School, where the annual Sharing and Caring project is a community-wide study in compassion, involving staff, students and the PTSA. The school has adopted 17 families from around our district. The families will receive clothes, gift cards, shoes, toys, stockings, cards and other donated gifts.
“When they first mentioned the Sharing and Caring program, I decided right then and there I’m going to do jobs for people to go and get money to do it.”
That’s sixth-grader Tess Raz, who, like many other students, was eager to participate, realizing the importance of the smallest item. Said Alki sixth-grader Lillian Anderson:
“We have all these necessities, and we take them for granted, but a lot of people don’t.”
And even though they may never even know the names of the families, much less meet them, there’s still something to be gained from the act of putting time and effort into recognizing another’s needs and working to meet them. Said longtime VPS educator Linda Meade:
“It’s just a great way to help other people in our community, and it’s probably just as important as any subject matter they’re studying, to learn to reach out to others.”
No matter where we work or go to school, we all take time to share and care and practice compassion. And that’s what makes ourdistrict so strong.
I hope that your holidays are full of compassion, relaxation, reflection and time with family and friends.
See you in 2015!
Jumping over achievement gaps
Jumping over achievement gaps
Visit a VPS kindergarten classroom on the very first day of school and you might be surprised. Among the colorful rugs and signs with letters of the alphabet, you’d see brand-new kindergarteners raising their hands before they speak and calmly lining up for recess. You’d see confidence and very few tears as they say goodbye to their parents. You’d probably be impressed with their playground behavior and ability to follow directions, too. Before the end of the day, you might ask, how do they know this?
The transition looks effortless because before school even started, many kindergarteners already had acclimated to school routines thanks to the Jump Start program, one of our Design II priorities and a National School Boards Association Magna Award winner.
This summer, for the first time, Jump Start was offered as a 17-, 10- or five-day program at all 21 elementary schools. Those extra days and weeks might not sound significant, but they are impactful.
Jump Start students spend two-and-a-half hours each day getting to know their school, their peers and their teachers—84 percent of whom teach Jump Start in the same school as their regular kindergarten assignment. Meanwhile, students prepare for the upcoming 180 days of instruction and work toward benchmarks through standards-based learning activities.
Parents are supported, too. Conferences build relationships that enable them to engage in their children’s education from the very beginning. And with the help of Family-Community Resource Center coordinators, parents become familiar with school operations, including lunches and buses.
We’ve invested in Jump Start for all these reasons, but also because Jump Start can be a bridge over achievement gaps for low-income students and English language learners. Half of the incoming kindergarteners enrolled in the 17-day program last summer were low income, and 34 percent were English language learners.
The students from these two groups who fully participated in the program skirted the proverbial gap. More of these students entered kindergarten ready for benchmark-level instruction compared to their peers who didn’t fully participate. Fewer have required intensive interventions.
Jump Start students also went on to have better attendance rates than their non–Jump Start peers. A recent study by the Baltimore Education Research Consortium tells us that poor attendance in the first month of school can predict chronic absenteeism for the entire year. Jump Start students, on average, have had lower chronic absenteeism rates and higher satisfactory attendance rates.
But if you ask the students themselves, here’s what they might tell you about Jump Start:
At Jump Start we learned calendar.
My favorite part of Jump Start was learning letters and sounds.
At Jump Start I met new friends.
In those voices you can hear the joy for learning and for being in school—and those too will propel students forward.
As one chapter ends, another begins
Once again it's graduation season, and once again we say goodbye to our seniors. This year's graduating class is a remarkable group that includes four National Merit Scholars, two Washington Scholars, one Scholar Alternate, and 40 students who will simultaneously earn both high school diplomas and associate degrees. The seniors also earned an impressive $19 million in scholarships.
Among the more than 1,300 graduates are many talented, hardworking students. Today I want to tell you about one of them: a young man named Jose Scott. Jose has been a force for good at Fort Vancouver High School. During his four years there, he's spoken out against bullying and made it his mission to help his peers, particularly minority students and the homeless. He is humble, organized, and passionate about service. We can learn a lot from Jose about how to treat and inspire one another.
But life hasn't always been easy for him. Two years ago his mother passed away, leaving behind a husband and four children. Jose was only 16…
He will tell you that his participation in AVID helped him stay focused on his future. Thanks in large part to AVID and the support it provided, he applied and was accepted to five colleges. He also received the prestigious George C. Marshall Youth Leadership Award. His success is testament to the power of hard work and community. Congratulations to him and the entire VPS class of 2014.
As Jose and our seniors close out the high school chapter of their lives and begin new ones, we too are closing out what has been an exciting, challenging, rewarding year, in which we saw the following:
All 21 elementary schools offered free full-day kindergarten.
Kindergarten Jump Start was selected to receive a Magna Award.
Lewis and Clark High School adopted a blended learning model.
VPS' digital transformation earned a national award.
We launched a mobile app for parents, students, and staff members.
New Family-Community Resource Centers debuted at Hudson's Bay and Fort Vancouver high schools. This initiative was named a national finalist by the Data Quality Campaign for its results focus and outcomes.
Fort received a $50,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote attendance.
The district's environment-friendly practices earned us one of nine U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School District Sustainability Awards.
Five schools earned Washington Achievement Awards.
This year we also undertook the significant task of refreshing Design II and extending our vision to the year 2020. Stakeholders from our community, student body, parents, and staff members spent months developing and refining goals. With the board's adoption of the plan on June 10, Design II, Chapter 2 has begun.
All I really need to know
You may not learn everything you need to know in kindergarten, but you certainly do learn a lot. That was the case for me a few weeks ago, when I visited Chinook Elementary.
Every year I spend a few days on the job with different staff members, doing the same work they do, to understand their challenges and their contributions on behalf of our students and families. At Chinook, I taught kindergarten for a morning with April Leonard.
(Nats of kids working at desks or puppets.)
My new kindergarten friends and I spent the morning working on numeracy, geometric sense, phonemes, and blended sounds. Later, we practiced ways to calm down when we’re frustrated.
You can think back to when you were in kindergarten, but that memory is definitely different than being in a teaching role with kindergarten and just seeing how much it changes and how much there is that goes into every moment, every day.
What April says is true. I taught high school social studies and English before becoming an administrator. As a high school teacher, you can expect a degree of self-sufficiency and self-direction from your students. That’s not always so in kindergarten. Planning for every minute becomes very important.
That day I saw firsthand how VPS’ kindergarten teachers are doing a great job preparing their students for first grade and beyond. It’s true that we’ve elevated the standards that students are expected to meet by the end of the year. But we haven’t done so at the expense of joyful, interactive learning experiences. And thanks to free full-day kindergarten in all 21 elementary schools this year, our students have more time for both.
It appears that the extra time is paying off. The number of kindergarten students at benchmark in math has risen 2 percentage points since May 2013. At the same time, the number of kids in the intensive range has been cut in half.
The benefits of full-day kindergarten aren’t all tied to assessment, however. Parents say it helps their students develop deeper relationships with their peers and school. Teachers have pointed out that it provides more opportunities for their students to prepare for the rigors of Common Core. English language learners gain time to practice their communication. Our students also have more time to build the critical executive function and self-regulation skills that are essential for academic and professional success.
We made the commitment to free full-day kindergarten because it’s an issue of equity—and now all our kindergarteners have equal opportunity to learn and grow.
(Nats of kids singing calendar song.)
Success stories draw governor, mayor
“Everyone was really excited just knowing that the governor was coming to our school.”
That was the mood at McLoughlin Middle School and Fort Vancouver High School on a soggy morning last March. As you just heard Fort senior Jose Scott describe, spirits were high for Washington Governor Jay Inslee's first official visit.
At McLoughlin, the governor and his wife, Trudi, visited classrooms and saw how one-to-one technology is transforming our district. They also learned about how our teacher mentor program helps retain new VPS educators and gives them tools to develop strong instructional practices.
Here's what McLoughlin physical science teacher Katie James had to say about her experiences working with Denise Bekkedahl, a full-time teacher mentor who helped James recognize both areas for improvement and strengths:
“She sees techniques I'm using and interactions with kids that are good, powerful teaching strategies that maybe I don't realize I'm using.”
The governor was impressed by the support our new teachers receive:
“Improving and helping teachers with programs like the mentoring program here that's going on in this district can make a huge impact on students, and I've known that because when you have a quality teacher, you have magic in the classroom.”
Later in the day, he visited Fort, a school where nearly 73 percent of students receive free or reduced-price meals—a higher percentage than at any other high school in Clark County. As a former child of generational poverty, I know that growing up poor can create many barriers to learning. But at Fort, the school is committed to giving its students a way through those obstacles.
“I think that we're headed in the right direction as a school to get our on-time graduation rates up.”
That's Principal Scott Parker speaking about the school's efforts to increase its number of on-time graduates. Programs like the Freshman and Success academies, Pyramid Response to Intervention, and Advancement Via Individual Determination are lowering course failure rates; keeping kids enrolled and engaged in school; and helping prepare students for college, careers, and life.
Governor Inslee complimented the work:
“This is dynamite because these students are getting something that I never had, which is training and teambuilding and consensus-building and leadership. These are so fundamental. It doesn't matter where you work, doesn't matter what endeavor you have in life. … I'm very intrigued by this progress.”
And it's not only at Fort that we're making progress. The district's on-time graduation rate increased from 64 percent in 2010 to 73 percent in 2013. Our extended graduation rate went from 69 percent to 77 percent during the same period.
Additionally, the extended graduation rate for Hispanic students jumped from nearly 55 percent in 2011-2012 to nearly 70 percent in 2012-2013, and the extended graduation rate for African-American students…