Opinion

Give thanks for schools’ progress and people

Thanksgiving is a good time to reflect on our progress and give thanks to those who give tirelessly of themselves to enhance the education of our students and contribute to making the schools run smoothly and efficiently.

I salute our bus drivers, our cafeteria workers and our maintenance staff who put our students and their health and safety above everything else. I am grateful to our vibrant network of hard-working parent and community volunteers, who support the efforts of our dedicated classroom teachers and administrators to help every child learn and reach his or her potential.

We are also blessed to have a school board of committed public servants who reflect our community’s values and aspirations and give of their time and talents to ensure continuous improvement in teaching and learning, strong financial management, responsible facility maintenance and development, and the long-term health of the schools. My thanks to these community leaders for their work and their diligence in carrying out these often challenging tasks.

 

Learning Opportunities

As a result of our well-coordinated learning teams, we are making great progress in several program areas. The introduction of the Spanish immersion kindergarten program is one of several program improvements this year. Thirty-seven kindergarteners spend half of their day learning Spanish through music, art and early literacy skill building. The elementary science program is employing a variety of applied learning opportunities in Chautauqua’s outdoor pond, forest and garden. Washington STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) has provided a $20,000 grant to support applied learning experiences related to our high school construction project.

Middle school students are working with architects and contractors to use math and science to solve actual design and construction problems in the field.

All K-12 math teachers are working with the University of Washington’s Mathematics Project to learn and implement new research-based instruction. Throughout our schools, teachers are employing the 16 “Habits of Mind” for successful learning and life such as persistence, empathy, flexible thinking and taking responsible risks.

 

School Facilities

I am grateful to the citizens of this community for their support of levy funds, which enable us to maintain and enhance the physical plant in a timely way.

Our Technology and Capital Maintenance Levy (renewed for four years last February) provides $900,000 annually to perform major maintenance and to implement the district’s technology program. Major upgrades have been made to athletic facilities, including middle and high school field lighting replacement, installation of new baseball and fast-pitch scoreboards, renewed cinder surface on the Vashon High School track and new wrestling mats.

We are also conducting a survey of all existing buildings to determine five- to 10-year maintenance and system replacements needs.

 

Advances in Technology

Advances in our technology program, also funded by the levy, can be found on our web page www.vashonsd.org/tech. This year we hired three part-time technology integration specialists who provide on-site, classroom-based assistance to teachers and students to use technology and provide tailored staff development to advance proficiency and application of technology.

Other highlights are the introduction of iPads as assistive technology in our special education and remedial programs to provide individualized assistance and support. New technology being deployed at Chautauqua Elementary includes interactive projectors and computer upgrades.  Bond funds were used to upgrade the district’s wide area network to increase bandwidth and connectivity throughout the district.

 

VHS Building Progress

Last, but certainly not least, I give thanks to the Vashon Island community for their support of the bond that enables us to build a new high school and make several needed repairs on our campus. We are making great progress. The foundation footings are nearing completion; the finished floor concrete is under way; the underground utility systems are largely complete (power, water, storm water, septic/sewer, telephone and data networks); the steel framework for the theater is on site, and installation will begin in late November.

Reflecting community values for sustainability, the board has approved the following features to conserve resources and reduce operating costs: increased insulation, rainwater harvesting to operate toilets, an air/water heat pump for heating and cooling and durable, low-maintenance siding.

In September, the new district offices were opened on the third floor of Chautauqua, providing security, improved work spaces, and a district conference/meeting room for school and community use.

 

Planning the Future

This winter and spring our board will be engaging our learning community of faculty, students, parents and members of the community in a broad discussion about the future our students will face and plan for the changes our schools will need to make to continue to prepare them for success.  We know that the world changes constantly, and we must plan forward to meet the future and adapt to those changes. Please join us for this discussion.

Thanks to all of you for your help and interest in the Vashon Island Schools.

Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday.

 

— Michael Soltman is the superintendent of Vashon’s public schools.

 

 

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