Islanders show quality education matters

You did it! You understood the importance of having school buildings that are warm in the winter, classrooms large enough for students to work in teams and space for teachers to prepare for classes. We are very grateful. We will continue to earn your trust by closely monitoring expenditures to be sure the work is done well, on time and on budget. The federal award of $17.5 million will save Island taxpayers approximately $8 million in interest payments over the life of the bond.

I share the concerns of those who voted “No” because some members of our community are struggling financially. Hopefully, the amount this bond will increase property taxes — about $12 a month on a home of average value — will not be too much to bear. We all need to look out for each other. That’s why I donate to Island groups that help people with rent, utilities and food. (See sidebar for contact information.) There is also a little-known state law that allows people who qualify as low income, regardless of their age, to defer their property taxes; another program allows low-income seniors to receive a tax exemption. Islander Hilary Emmer volunteers her time and expertise to help fill out the paperwork.

We are thrilled Vashon students will have facilities that will help them learn. We are equally excited about advances in our educational programs. A new hands-on science curriculum gets students asking questions and testing possible answers. Twice each year, Response to Intervention checks how each and every student in kindergarten through fifth grade is doing in reading and how middle school students are doing in math. For those who are below grade level, a team designs strategies to fit the individual student.

Another advance is that teachers are mentoring each other to enhance their skills, instead of being isolated in their classrooms. You are making these improvements possible by volunteering in the schools, voting for school levies, supporting PTSA and Partners In Education, welcoming off-Island students and giving to the new Vashon Public Schools Foundation.

The sad reality is that our state doesn’t fund the education our community values. For example, if we relied solely on state funding, graduates from Vashon High School could not get into four-year colleges of any kind, because they would not be able to take courses colleges require. State funding is not enough to provide students opportunities to participate in the arts, music, sports and a variety of electives that let them test their interests and skills. The new Vashon Public Schools Foundation will make it possible, with your help, to continue offering classes necessary for students to get into college and to continue educating the “whole child.” You’ll hear more about the Schools Foundation in the coming weeks.

Another example is the state only provides enough money to update curriculum every 17 years! Thankfully, PTSA raised the money to buy that great hands-on science curriculum, to replace 25-year-old humanities textbooks and to adopt a curriculum for literacy (reading and writing) in the elementary grades. Please attend the PTSA auction on May 14.

You may be thinking, “It wasn’t that way when I was in school — we didn’t have to raise money for teachers and books!” You’re right. Since then, the state has increased school districts’ responsibilities without increasing funding. Small dips in the number of Island children attending our public schools have a large impact on how much money we get from the state. Enrollment fluctuates due to population shifts, attendance at private schools and home schooling by families that choose not to participate in our Family Link program. We are very fortunate that we can fill open places in our schools with off-Island students so we don’t have to cut vital programs.

This election was a wonderful civics lesson — every vote truly counted! What a great community we have, where education is cherished and people care about each other. 

— Laura Wishik is the chair of the Vashon school board.

Organizations that help Islanders in need
Here are a few organizations that help Islanders who are struggling to make ends meet:
The Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness: 463-4776. (Its website, www.vashonifch.com, lists a variety of resources).
St. Vincent de Paul: 767-6449.
Vashon Maury Community Food Bank: 463-3662
Vashon HouseHold:  463-4880
Also, Hilary Emmer will help Islanders fill out the paperwork needed to secure a deferral or exemption of property taxes. Call her at 463-7277.

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