School Board Considers Full Docket in April Meeting

Hybrid education, staff raises on the table at April 22 school board meeting.

A report on the return of students for hybrid education, a decision on raises for top school staffers and the district’s superintendent and the end of the district’s 29-year relationship with Camp Waskowitz were all on the table during a school board meeting on April 22.

End of an era at Camp Waskowitz?

The meeting began with a statement from the district’s fifth-grade teaching team expressing opposition to a plan to move a longstanding 5th-grade outdoor learning program from Camp Waskowitz, in North Bend, to Camp Sealth, on Vashon.

Signed by teachers Jen Lindsey, Nancy Jones, Layla Tanner and Allison Reynolds, the statement said that the switch in locales would be an enormous loss to district students.

The teachers called the Waskowitz program a diversity-rich learning experience that allowed Vashon students to interact with a racially diverse group of high school-aged mentors recruited by the WELS program, run by the Highline School District.

“Time at Camp Waskowitz provides 5th-grade students an opportunity to foster relationships with people who are racially and ethnically different from themselves,” the teachers wrote. “This is imperative to the development of young people and ultimately, to the adults they will become.”

But Chautauqua Elementary School Principal Rebecca Goertzel, later in the meeting, also cited equity considerations as the motivation to shift locations.

A move to Camp Sealth, she said, would make the program more accessible to students who had not attended in the past. These included special education, neuro-diverse and gender diverse students, as well as students whose families had cultural norms that made them uncomfortable with the idea of their students staying overnight at a camp far from home.

Camp Sealth also has a commitment to hiring a racially diverse staff, she said. Moving the outdoor learning experience closer to home would also allow local high school students to serve as mentors.

It was also possible, she said, that Vashon students could attend the camp at the same time as other school groups, providing the diversity-rich atmosphere the teachers had championed as part of the Waskowitz experience. Moreover, a partnership between VISD and Camp Sealth, she said, could be expanded throughout the school year to encompass other experiences for students.

Goertzel acknowledged the concerns of the 5th-grade teaching team in ending such a longstanding relationship with Camp Waskowitz. But the time had come, she said, to make a change. The board will vote on the proposal on May 13.

Return to hybrid education

At the board meeting, Vashon High School Principal Danny Rock and McMurray Middle School Principal Greg Allison spoke about the return to hybrid education at VHS and McMurray.

“We’ve done a great job of over-preparing,” said Rock, adding that logistics around entry and exit from school, lunches, and other aspects of the school day had all run very smoothly.

Students, he said, had been diligent in keeping their masks on and maintaining social distance.

He added that he had received positive feedback from students who said that school was working well for them — though many had also said they were tired from their sudden interaction with so many other students.

Teachers, he said, had also told him they were tired from the change in routine and location but were happy to again be working with students in person.

Some students who had not participated at all in online school had suddenly returned for in-person education, he said.

But in response to a question from board member Rheagan Sparks, Rock said that special education students with Individualized Learning Plans (IEPs) were underrepresented in the return to hybrid learning.

He added that his staff met frequently to arrange interventions for these students and that VHS’s summer programs would specifically target them as well.

Allison echoed many of Rock’s comments, saying in-person classes at McMurray had gone well and that strong preparation by his team had de-stressed the return to hybrid education at the middle school.

The board also discussed a vaccination clinic to be presented at the school the following week. (See EOC Report, page 8)

Sports Quarantines

At the meeting, the board did not discuss a spate of student quarantines due to exposures through participation in sports activities, or recent policy changes regarding procedures following COVID exposures are handled in the district.

In the past five weeks, almost two dozen students involved in sports have been ordered to quarantine, though the largest number of exposures — 12 JV soccer players exposed to a COVID-positive student on an opposing team — was not known by the administration until the morning following the board meeting.

In late March, the district announced changes to its policies, after an incident in which Supertintent Slade McSheehy declined to accept follow-up actions recommended by Vashon’s Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) after an incident in which some students participating in sports were exposed to COVID-positive classmates. The positive cases had all attended a non-school-related gathering.

It was decided after that incident that McSheehy would no longer have a decision-making role in determining actions to be taken in cases affecting the district; Public Health Seattle King County (PHSKC) now determines those measures.

In an email to The Beachcomber, board president Zabette Macomber reiterated the many protocols in place in the district to protect students involved in sports, but also expressed concern.

“I agree with Dr. Miller and Dr. Bristow [of Vashon’s MRC] that much like adults who are very careful at work but then lower their guard on weekends when seeing friends and family, oftentimes students and families let their guard down on the sidelines or on the way to an event,” she said.

In a phone call, McSheehy also re-affirmed VISD’s commitment to keeping students at sports practices safe through masking, distancing and hand-washing, and said the district would adhere to recommendations from PHSKC in future cases of possible exposure. Additionally, on Tuesday morning, McSheehy alerted district parents about new upcoming pool testing programs as well as vaccination clinics at McMurray Middle School, due to the approval of the Pfizer vaccine for ages 12 and older. He also reiterated that masks were still required at all times on school grounds, including by spectators at sporting events.

Superintendent and other district office staff get raises

At the meeting, the board voted to give pay raises to the district’s directors for business and operation, finances, food service, human resources, facilities, technology and alternative education.

The raises, which will come at a cost of $51,000 to the district, include a 15% raise for the director of food services, a 10% increase for the director of alternative education, and 7% increases each for the director of facilities, technology, and business and operations. The position of finance director for the distance would receive a raise of 2.7%.

McSheehy said the raises were necessary to make these staffers’ salaries align more closely with those offered in comparable districts.

In casting the only “no” vote to the measure, Bob Hennessey said there was no question that the employees in question deserved raises.

Rather, he said he was voting to preserve district funds, citing decreasing enrollments and costs to be incurred in the wake of COVID for social-emotional learning, early childhood education, tutoring programs and other expenses.

“For me, the decision is a zero-sum proposition — budgets fund one thing at the expense of another, we have to balance paying staff what they are worth with other values we want to achieve,” Hennessey said.

The board also voted unanimously to approve an addendum to McSheehy contract that will raise his base pay from $175,000 to $180,000, as well as increase by 1% an annual amount of his salary paid to him to invest in retirement funds. His contract was also extended by one additional year.

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