Opinion

Vashon superintendent: Improved facilities critical to stronger, safer, better schools

education

Vashon Island School District (VISD) is at a critical juncture. We are in the midst of major changes that will affect student achievement over the next few decades. These changes are inspired by the strategic plan that the school board adopted last fall. This plan provides a roadmap for making Vashon one of the top districts in Washington state.

To support the plan’s mission of ensuring that our students are self-motivated, constant learners with enduring knowledge, skills and values for leading responsible, productive lives, the district is working on three major initiatives:

• Aligning curriculum materials to ensure that all students from K-12 are learning what they need to be successful in the 21st century,

• Implementing a rigorous professional development program to support staff and make sure they are fully able to teach to the newly aligned curriculum, and

• Making our school facilities structurally and educationally sound for the next 30 years.

The last point — improving facilities — is essential for building our future.

Three years ago, VISD began working with an independent team of building professionals to analyze the physical, educational and technology conditions at all three schools and at the district office. I’d like to focus on their findings for Vashon High School (VHS) because that’s where we need to do the most work.

The team conducted three different conditions assessments. The first — which was conducted according to criteria established by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) — was purely about the physical state of our buildings. The second and third studies — which rated the educational environments and technology systems at all three schools — were done by district staff with the help of architectural consultants.

From these reports, we have concluded that the main deficiencies at Vashon High School are:

• poor lighting and air quality,

• inadequate classroom size and number of classrooms,

• lack of space for collaboration between teachers and among students,

• isolation of teachers and inadequate student security due to the wide distribution of classrooms,

• classrooms that are unsuitable for the subjects taught in them, and

• a poor technology infrastructure.

There are many independent studies that show environment can significantly affect student learning and the quality of instruction. For example, there are more than 50 reports about the effect of daylight in the classroom; one concludes that there’s a 20 to 26 percent improvement in test results in classrooms that have natural light. I know, from speaking to VHS teachers, that students often have a hard time concentrating in certain classrooms that lack light or ventilation.

Beyond environmental deficiencies, there are structural issues that need to be fixed immediately. In the OSPI physical conditions study, none of the seven VHS buildings ranked higher than 66 out of a possible 100 points for structural integrity, interior materials and finishes, mechanical/electrical systems and building code compliance.

Building C (where science classes are taught), which was updated in 1994, rated the highest of all. While the classrooms in this building are well suited to teaching science, the roof and internal gutters leak and the exterior canopy is deteriorating. Also, since there is no bathroom, students and teachers need to leave the building to access facilities in the main building.

Right now, the school board is considering two comprehensive options for solving these problems, along with a series of possible stand-alone additions for athletics, theater and technology.

Why do we need to take action now? If we postpone a comprehensive solution for a few years, we will still need to address failing building systems immediately. In that case, we would need to use money either from a capital levy or the general fund for incremental band-aids. Without capital dollars to fund these projects, money would be siphoned from the operating budget, affecting teachers and curriculum. Just to fix the exterior locks hardware and doors at VHS would cost in the neighborhood of $70,000. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on a teacher?

This is an important issue. Please take the time to find out about the condition of VISD facilities and give your feedback to the school board about which option they should choose for improving them.

— Terry Lindquist is superintendent of the Vashon Island School District.

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