COMMENTARY: Outgoing superintendent looks back, ahead to new district challenges

  • Monday, July 2, 2018 11:52am
  • Opinion
Michael Soltman (Courtesy Photo)

Michael Soltman (Courtesy Photo)

As I think about my past nine years as Vashon Island’s superintendent of schools, I am incredibly grateful to so many people for making the experience richly rewarding.

First and foremost, I have to recognize our teachers. We are so fortunate to have a dedicated instructional staff — teachers, principals and para-educators who guide each student through challenging learning experiences from preschool to graduation. I am also extremely proud of our seniors, who have achieved a graduation rate of 97 percent. Most will continue their education in prestigious institutions across the nation on their way to becoming good global citizens.

Together we have created greater equity and opportunity for every student and family in our community. We launched the ECEAP preschool for families with children who otherwise would not have the financial resources to access this crucial early learning experience. Our board adopted a policy with a commitment to differentially allocate resources in order to eliminate barriers and ensure racial equity. Our students proposed, and the board approved, a policy of commitment to equity for transgender students, and allocated resources to provide all-gender restrooms. Our faculty, staff and administration are committed to developing an “equity lens” with respect to our instructional practices and our culture so that all students have equal access and an opportunity for success.

Our facilities and maintenance practices have improved significantly.

A warm thank you to our service folks who staff our offices, clean and maintain our schools and provide safe transportation daily. Together we have built a new high school and upgraded each facility. I look forward to seeing students and community members playing and practicing on our new all-weather field this fall.

A few years ago our community was overwhelmed by the tragic deaths of over 20 young people within a two-year period due to accidents and suicide. Our partner, Vashon Schools Foundation, answered our call to provide resources to build a stronger culture of care and compassion for every student. We increased our own counseling resources by 100 percent, instituted a social/mental health curriculum in every grade, and formed close partnerships with community mental health providers to form a safety net for our students and families.

We met with Dow Constantine in 2014 and asserted that the county had a duty to significantly increase mental health resources to our schools and community. As a result, our schools have received the benefit of over $1.5 million in county funds for mental and physical health within the past three years. Our rich and thriving partnerships with Neighborcare, DOVE, Consejo Counseling Services and VYFS now make available mental health, medical and dental services to all students and families right here on our campus. I couldn’t be prouder of our commitment and dedication to these efforts to provide preventive care and a safety net for our students.

I am deeply grateful to our donors who answered our call in the depth of a national recession and whose generosity enabled us to preserve our teaching positions, update our curriculum, and then create the Vashon Schools Foundation to provide financial stability for the quality programs and services our community expects. Together we have raised more than $2 million during the past nine years. Thanks to our steadfast partners, including Partners in Education, Vashon Center for the Arts, PTSA, and the Vashon Nature Center for their significant contributions to the arts and science experiences of our students.

I am deeply grateful to have served under a board of directors that has been a model of excellence in governance by welcoming public involvement, developing transparency in decision-making and keeping promises to serve the best interests of students and families in our community. I want to thank all board members, past and present, for their trust, their time and support, and their confidence in my leadership over the past nine years.

I wish I could report that our school funding issues have been solved, but I regret that I cannot. There are some significant challenges ahead for our board and new superintendent. The Legislature’s school funding fix has left Vashon’s schools $600,000 short of funding to be competitive in salaries with neighboring districts. We must advocate strongly to our state senator and representatives to fix the “regionalization factor” for Vashon schools in the next biennium. Without that, our district will suffer significant program and staff reductions. We can also create better vocational options for students looking for opportunity other than a four- year college track.

Finding the resources and program options for our disabled students will continue to be both a challenge and a priority.

I want to thank you, the Vashon community, for the opportunity to serve you. As I anticipate the next phase of my life, I will take satisfaction in the relationships we have formed and the programs and improvements we have accomplished together in the interest of our children and the future.

Thank you, and my very best wishes to Slade McSheehy, our faculty and staff, and the continued success of the Vashon Island schools.

— Michael Soltman ended his tenure as the school superintendent on Friday, June 29.

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