EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part interview with Sequim School District Bill Bentley, who offers his thoughts on the start of the upcoming school year, the state of public education and what challenges lie ahead for Sequim students, parents and teachers.
Sequim Gazette - What are some changes Sequim students and parents will see when they go back to school?
Bill Bentley - Our goal when we worked through that (budget) process was to have as little impact directly on students as it could. I think we worked very hard to try to achieve that goal.
Everything we had before we started that massive reduction was important or necessary or it wouldn't have been there. I think some of the immediate impacts some of the students and parents will see is that our class sizes are going to increase. We will have classes that have larger numbers.
We've tried to keep from eliminating entire programs. Support services have been reduced. We made a lot of reductions in staffing (hours) - that's going to have an impact.
It's not something people necessarily see immediately. For example, we cut hundreds of hours out of our custodial maintenance time. Will people see the impact of that immediately? Probably not. Will they see that in time? Absolutely.
We put in a pay-to-participate fee, so student fees have all gone up. (It's) not what we wanted to do (and) a very difficult decision because we believe those kinds of activities give kids the support that they need and create opportunities. Every child, every parent is going to see that right away.
SG - What will be the biggest challenge for
Sequim students in the coming years?
BB - Staying in school. The majority of our students are going to stay in school. But there are some students that we know who, for whatever reason, feel that they need to make a decision to do something else.
That's a concern for us. It's a concern for every school district in the country.
We do very well with most of our kids, we really do. The education that they want and are willing to work for can be an excellent education; they can open just about any door they want open in this country. But we also have students that are not able to connect
always and I think that's a real challenge for us. We've got to serve all of our students and we have to constantly be thinking about how we are going to serve those students who have either fallen behind or are not as motivated or as encouraged as we want them to be.
SG - What's your feeling about the health of public schools?
BB - I'm very optimistic about our public school system. The public school system in our state is a very good school system. It provides opportunities for students to do all the things that are really important in life after school. The doors that are open to people as a result of their experiences in public schools are so remarkable. It's a testament to the kind of quality of education that kids can get in a country that says, "We will provide it for free. Not only that, we'll provide it for everybody." This is a challenge that no one in the world attempts to undertake the way we do. It's encouraging to me.
SG - You've been here since 2007. After two years, what has impressed you about Sequim schools and this community?
BB - I have two words that come to mind: caring and commitment. I've said that ... many times. I think we have the right people here, I really do. The team of people that are in place in the Sequim School District want to do the right thing. When you have caring, committed, dedicated people, you're going to have good results.
We also have great students. When you look across the board at our kids, it's beyond the vast majority ... that are really great kids. Our challenge is, we've got to find a way to meet their needs and challenge them. I believe that our community really understands the value of what education can do for someone.
SG - How is the Sequim school board doing?
BB - When I came here, I heard a pretty clear message from the school board: we want to come together as a team, not only as a board team but as a school district community. I believe we're making real progress in that area.
We are very fortunate to have stability (on the board). They really do care about what happens with our kids. I believe they care about this community. And I believe they really care about getting better every day.
In this district, is every student where we want them to be? Absolutely not. And is every teacher where we hope they would be? No, because every year I think we want to be a little bit better. But I'm encouraged that the board has really committed to making this not just a school district but a great school district. It's pretty clear to me, that's what we're attempting to do here.
NEXT WEEK: Bill Bentley answers, "What can parents do to make their children's schools better?"
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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