The Sequim School District board of directors and a number of students from Sequim High School — including the board’s student representatives Payton Sturm and Olivia Preston — visited the Washington State legislature in Olympia in early February, a visit that was repeatedly mentioned as a positive experience during the board’s official meeting on Feb. 18.
As part of the experience, the group got to meet with Governor Jay Inslee, State Representatives Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) and Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend) and State Senator Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) and had time to talk to their legislative representatives about their current session.
“I was blown away by how the students handled that meeting,” said board director Larry Jeffryes in his report to the board. “They held (the legislators’) feet to the fire. They spoke up and spoke well.”
Sturm and Preston said that they challenged their local legislators on the issue of how teaching positions are classified and compensated, something they know is important to their teachers but said didn’t seem to be on the legislators’ radars.
“They got really quiet after we pushed on that,” Preston said. “They said they didn’t really know much about it, but we tried to push it as a major problem to be addressed.”
Both Sturm and Preston said that they learned a lot on the trip and that it was very valuable for them as students. Preston added that the experience visiting the state capitol and see the legislative process made her consider adding politics to her career path after going to law school.
“It’s kind of empowering to think about,” Preston said. “You can help make decisions that matter.”
Planning for Haller
The Feb. 18 board meeting, held in the Helen Haller Elementary School library, also featured the presentation of the Helen Haller Elementary School Improvement Plan, outlining strategic goals for the school to improve results and educational experience for the school’s students.
Principal Becky Stanton’s presentation was heavily focused on data-driven information and practices. A major portion of the plan centers around the school’s 95 percent reaching intervention program, which is focused on raising the reading comprehension levels of students across the school.
The program uses 10, two-to-three week “cycles” throughout the school year to teach and assess specific elements of reading to help improve the students’ abilities. Each cycle ends with an assessment; improvement in those assessments are tracked throughout the academic year.
In an example given by Stanton, 80 of the school’s 97 second grade students were at or below grade level in reading after the first cycle in September. By the end of the fifth cycle, completed Jan. 30, 84 of 93 assessed second graders were considered above grade level, 50 of which were at the highest two levels of the assessment versus just eight at those levels after the first cycle.
The 95 percent reading intervention program is only in place in the second grade right now as a trial, but Stanton said that they’re planning on expanding the program.
Stanton also lauded the school’s efforts with implementing fifth-grade learning clusters, which have helped not only improve the educational opportunities in the district, but to also help reduce behavioral incidents. Behavioral incident referrals at the fifth grade level dropped from 151 last school year to 45 so far this year.
The school board appreciated the data-centric approach to the presentation and planning involved, and complimented Stanton for the focus and positive results on reading improvement.
“Reading is the gateway to everything else,” Stanton said. “I wasn’t happy with the results we had before; we had to improve on that.”
Contracts, state trust lands
A new contract for the district’s agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers union was ratified in the meeting, including annual wage increases that the district’s hired negotiator Lorraine Wilson said will keep them ahead of the curve for cost of living increases for the duration of the deal that runs until Aug. 31, 2022.
District employees covered by the contract will see their pay increases reflected in retroactive pay back to the start of the school year, as they’ve been working under an expired contract.
Clark also noted that the employees will be receiving a ratification bonus that is “not something we usually do,” but he and Wilson wanted to help the UFCW workers with the extra costs of changing to a new health plan, as they had to move to a School Employee Benefits health plan from the more financially advantageous union trust plan they previously used.
School board directors had another discussion about lawsuits against the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regarding management of state trust lands that help fund school districts.
Board director Brian Kuh advised seeking more information about the specific details of the situation to gauge the merits of joining one of the lawsuits as a plaintiff, while director Jim Stoffer — who also serves on the trust lands advisory committee — said that the focus needs to be on preventing another “clawback” of the trust lands funding.
Such “clawbacks,” where the state would reduce school districts’ funding by the amount they receive from trust lands funding, was standard practice until 2018, when the current state school superintendent reversed that policy.
Now, the state legislature is considering a bill that would re-start that practice with the backing of law behind it. The board agreed that this needs to be a focus, but Kuh officially requested a presentation in the next 60 days from “professionals” as to the merit of the lawsuits being levied against the DNR.