Northwest NEWS

August 20, 2001

Front Page

Task force did homework I-728 funds put to use

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   "I want the community to know how grateful we are to have resources to affect class size, professional development, extended learning and professional mentoring," said Northshore School District's Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, Gail Robbins. "This is what it takes to impact student learning."
   Public support for Initiative 728, aimed at reducing class size and helping students meet tough new academic standards, was solid; the measure passed last November with a 71 percent majority.
   The task force
   Language within the initiative directed that a task force be formed to come up with ways to allocate the money, $3.7 million for the school district this school year. So 20 diverse community members, both lay and professional, joined to do just that.
   They held public meetings where anyone who wanted to, could present their recommendations for how the I-728 money should be spent. Task force members listened and took notes. They did research and came up with a long list of questions for district officials. They studied demographics, reviewed test scores, researched best practices. They even looked at what other school districts were doing.
   Parent representative on the task force Cathy Swanson said, "Working on the task force was a positive experience. There were so many creative thinkers willing to work hard and listen to others, willing to talk through compromises."
   Robbins said, "I am very proud of the task force. They did a fabulous job," citing, again, the group's willingness to participate in community dialog and, well, to do their homework, so to speak. "It was a really difficult job."
   The allotment
   Since the task force felt the initiative was primarily about reducing class size, the lion's share of the $3.7 million will be earmarked for that this year. To address K-4 class-size reduction, the task force allotted $1.4 million.
   Pamela Steele, director of communications for the district, said that with this money Northshore will hire 21.6 certified teachers. To the question which of the 20 district elementary schools will get the new teachers she responded, "That depends on enrollment and the needs of the schools. Some schools are doing well; others may need teachers in second grade and nowhere else."
   For 5-12 class-size reduction, including extended learning [before and after school or special in-school one-on-one or small group instruction] in targeted areas of reading, writing, math and English as a Second Language, $1 million has been recommended. So far the district plans to add nine employees to help meet this goal.
   For a new Junior High Alternative program, $400,000 has been allotted. This program will be exclusively for seventh and eighth graders who are not making it in regular junior high programs. It will be the junior high version of the Secondary Academy for Success (SAS), serving really bright kids and kids who struggle. According to Harry Vanikiotis, executive director of secondary education in the Northshore School District, they're in the process of staffing this new program. They hope to hire three certified teachers and three or four classified employees. The first Junior High Alternative students will come together in October. Until then new staff will visit other school alternative programs in the Metro area and build a curriculum of their own. Dr. Len Fellez, SAS principal and one of the leading experts in the state in alternative education, will be the administrator of record for the program.
   For extended learning for summer school academy, $250,000 has been allotted. In the past, summer school has been fee-based, optional and has provided lots of enrichment opportunities, arts, music, new challenges. Most likely this will continue. But the summer 2002 academy will be expanded to include more students, elementary through senior high. It will be offered at more sites, in each region of the district, explained Robbins. "It will offer focused learning for kids who need a summer boost, for those not performing at their grade level. And it will offer a different instructional approach, something different from the rest of the year. Plans are to waive fees for those who can't pay, and the district is exploring ways to pay for transportation for those who can't afford to get there on their own," said Robbins.
   Under professional development, $250,000 has been allotted for the mentoring of new teachers. The district has hired two people to guide new teachers through the new certification program required by universities. Years ago, once a teacher was hired, that was it. He or she was a teacher. Now new teachers have to meet a professional growth plan. They have to demonstrate the impact they are having on students' learning. The program requires 15 university credits, and participation from the hiring school, the graduating university and the new teacher. Northshore will also provide school-based mentors who will observe classes, help with lesson plans and coach new teachers to meet their professional growth plan.
   In addition to the mentoring programs, $350,000 has been directed toward targeted quality professional development to improve student achievement (K-12) for classified and certified educators working directly with students.
   And finally, $50,000 has been given to the Early Childhood Education Head Start Program. Said Ford Waterstrat, assistant director for special education in charge of early childhood programs, "Last year our program worked with the children of 54 district families, mostly 4- and 5-year-olds. But we have about 40 kids on a waiting list. Conceptually, we'd like to put the focus on families that have children, birth through age three, that exhibit risk factors. We'd like to work with those children and families as a consultant, to connect them to resources [like] parent education, to connect them with early literacy, to do what could benefit the kids so that they're more ready to enter kindergarten."
   The evaluation of impact of I-728 money
   The I-728 legislation requires that the district report how the use of its funds has helped the district increase student achievement. The state has, of course, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) test. But Northshore School District also wants to come up with some locally determined assessments. It already has its own writing assessment and the standardized Gates reading test. It would like to develop some classroom-based assessments that, in their opinion, test better than anything else, how a student is doing.
   This plan for spending is a four-year phase-in of resources, moving from an estimated $3.7 million in 2002 to $8.2 million in 2004. Because the first year funds are just 45 percent of the fourth year total, the task force wanted community members to understand that the first year plan was merely a starting place. Dramatic effects after the first year will be difficult to see.
   Said task force member Swanson, "The community will see bigger differences, bigger impacts [from the I-728 funds] in future years."