A New Approach to Every Day School
Nothing can replace the direct connection between students and their teachers. Technology cannot replace time-honored school activities, friendships, sports, concerts, plays or clubs. The powerful relationships between educators and students form the foundation of our education system.
The statewide school closure has separated our educators from their students and created a new, hopefully short term, set of mandates for schools. I am so proud of our district for how well we have accepted these challenges.
- Food Service: We are serving an average of 1,200 meal bags (breakfast and lunch combined) per day at 8 locations.
- Child Care: We have established, in partnership with Y-Care, a child care option for families of health care workers, first responders grocery and pharmaceutical employees.
- Focus on Seniors: Yelm High School is working tirelessly with seniors to make sure they know what they have to do to meet graduation requirements.
- Keep Staff Employed and Working: Our amazing staff have truly adopted a “what can we do to help?”
The last mandate came two weeks after schools closed, and that was to transition from a maintenance of learning concept to a continuous learning program for all students. Once again our district embraced the challenge. Here is some great data:
- Teachers, counselors and administrators conducted more than 5,100 conferences with students and families in 3 days.
- Students checked out more than 2,800 chromebooks.
- Schools have been working tirelessly to connect with all families. To date, 95% of our families have connected with their schools
- When we return from spring break on April 13, teachers will be posting weekly learning plans and daily lessons. It is our plan and expectation that students are engaging in these lessons every day.
During the school closure, the new definition of school will happen outside the walls of our schools. Yes, we are asking students to connect with their teachers and their learning every day. That connection is online, via email, over the phone, and through paper correspondence if there is no electronic option. Our goal is to get better every day at supporting all students through this shut down. We are also asking families to assist us in transition to new learning platforms. We can never replace the human interactions of school. The relationships are too precious. We will get back to that soon. In the interim, please help each other adapt to the temporary “normal” and seek to learn with us every day.
Student Led Conferences are Powerful and Needed Conversations
Across the district, students and teachers are preparing for conferences on April 1-3. Spring conferences offer a powerful and compelling opportunity to show the extent to which students have grown so far this year and to create new goals for growth in learning. Spring conferences are made even more powerful when students take a leadership role in their own conferences.
At all levels, the focus of conferences should be on growth and achievement. Our youngest learners need to be able to articulate, with assistance from teachers, the progress they have made in reading, math, science and social-emotional learning. Data representing that growth should also be present at conferences. It is a wonderful experience for students to demonstrate their “best works” so far this year. Students grow faster when they are able to explain their own learning.
Our older learners may try to convince their parents not to invest the time engaging in conferencing. I strongly urge parents to take a powerful and productive role in the conversation. At the middle and high school levels, conferences are centered firmly around the course selection and the development of the High School and Beyond Plan. In grades 6-12 there are also critical learning opportunities for families to learn about funding post graduation education through College Bound and the Washington College Grant programs.
As students get older, it is critical that they take the lead in spring conferences. Students should be able to talk about their growth toward learning standards and to clearly work with their family on goal-setting and future planning. Again, our teachers and administrators should be working very hard to provide families with data that supports the conversation.
We look forward to seeing all our parents at spring conferences. They are a fantastic opportunity to show the progress made this year, and at the same time, talk energetically about future possibilities. Our seniors will also be talking with their parents about the last pieces of their high school education and their post graduation plans. It is our future hope that we involve the community at a higher level in our seniors presenting their post graduation dreams and ideas. Exciting stuff!
Graduate Yelm! and Dollars for Scholars a Perfect Match
The Graduate Yelm! initiative continues to thrive and grow. Graduate Yelm! is intended to engage the entire community in supporting students to graduation, into their planned continuing education, and then work. Our goal is that 100% of our students will graduate with a plan for the future. Our initiative is in its second year and the data looks strong. At Yelm High School, the on time graduation rate rose from 86.5% to 92%. The state average is 81%. At Yelm Extension School, the 5 year graduation rate grew 25% last year. We are really proud of our growth. We do, however, know that we can’t rest until we reach our goals.
Since Graduate Yelm! doesn’t focus just on earning the diploma, planning by students and families for continuing education is more critical than ever. The largest barrier that prevents students from moving into their plan is the perception of costs being too high. In our district we celebrate every continuing education pathway including trade schools, the military, apprenticeship programs, along with two and four year colleges. This is why we focus very hard on students completing the FAFSA so they can see how much tuition assistance is available.
No community supports its graduates more than Yelm. Our Dollars for Scholars community program provides scholarships for seniors every year. The volunteers with Dollars for Scholars do amazing work to raise money that is turned into scholarship opportunities for seniors. In a typical year, approximately $130,000 is given to students who have completed the application and the interview process.
Graduate Yelm! asks the community to support our students by creating a “everyone will graduate” mentality, and to help create activities that motivate students to do well in school. Dollars for Scholars offers two great ways for the community to get involved. First, everyone can attend the auction on March 7 starting at 4 p.m. at Yelm High School. Enjoy both the silent and live auction with activities and food throughout the evening. Even if your student is in elementary or middle school, attending the auction is a great way to see the community and students in action. Second, volunteer with Dollars for Scholars. You don’t have to wait until your student is in high school to help make sure the program stays strong for future graduating classes.
If you are interested in becoming a Graduate Yelm! Network Partner, or want to join as a Personal Pledge, please access our Graduate Yelm! link on our website. To get connected with Dollars for Scholars, please check out their website.
2020 Brings Great Excitement, Achievement and Opportunity
Welcome to 2020! The start of a new decade is exciting. I am not sure how I feel knowing that nearly all our students were born after 2000. I am positive, however, that our school district will continue to grow and achieve on behalf of our 5,800 students.
2019 ended on a high note with our school board receiving “Board of Distinction” recognition by the state school directors association. It is well-deserved recognition for a group of volunteers who are highly committed to our district and students. We are eager to see many successes in 2020.
Here is a sampling of the new and exciting projects 2020 will bring for our students, families and community.
- In April, we break ground on the construction of the new Yelm Middle School. We are truly excited about the design of the new facility and the improvements it will bring on and around the campus. Work is nearly done moving the facilities operation from the YMS campus over to our property at Fort Stevens. Demolition of the old facilities buildings will be the first work our community will see.
- On February 11, voters in our district will be asked to renew our expiring levy. The new levy will be smaller than the one it replaces both in rate and total collection. Levies pay for athletics and activities, special education costs, counselors, nurses and safety staff not funded by the state. The McCleary legislation deliberately kept the need for levies as part of school funding. It only decreased the dependence on levies as part of a district’s total budget.
- Our school board has directed an exciting new opportunity to have a student representative serve with the board. This non-voting representative will help meet the board’s goal to increase student voice, and to create a direct conduit with the schools. We want to more deeply understand what our students feel they need to be successful in school and after graduation.
- Graduate Yelm! will continue to grow in community partnerships and personal pledge membership. By June, we will have 150 partners in the Graduate Yelm! Network and at least 100 individuals committed to creating the environment necessary for all our students to graduate with a plan for the future. Come join us!
On behalf of our entire staff and school board, we are excited for what 2020 will bring. Please take time to visit our schools. They are incredibly positive and supportive environments for students. There are many athletic events, concerts, festivals and events that are open to the community. Please come see all the great things our students do on a daily basis. It is a privilege to serve this community.
The Spirit of Kindness and Giving Thrives in our Schools
One of the things I love most about working in education is the spirit of giving and kindness that pervades through our schools. During the holidays, that spirit gains even more energy. Food drives, clothing drives, holiday meal donations, random acts of kindness activities can all be found in our schools in the form of student community service projects.
Every year I am overwhelmed with the data from student community service projects in terms of items collected and donated where needed. Hundreds of meals, tons of food items, massive amounts of coats, blankets and gloves distributed - the total is impressive. It really is amazing to see students and their faculty advisors connect with local service providers to develop successful programs to support families in need.
When our schools connect with community organizations, there is also incredible learning taking place. In addition to the passion it takes to participate in community service, students learn organization, communication skills, leadership and collaboration. Students also learn the scope of need within our community, which develops empathy. Research also tells us that a characteristic of students who successfully complete their post high school education plan is participation in a meaningful community service project during their K-12 experience. Learning how to give back to the community that supported your education is truly meaningful.
The holidays are also times when schools further highlight their spirit of kindness. As you attend school events, concerts or games, please take the time to look around the school to see all the demonstrations of how students are supporting each other as peers. You will see tremendous examples of giving, sharing, friendship and coming together as a school community. I am inspired by what our staff and students are doing to make Yelm a great place.
Happy Holidays from everyone at Yelm Community Schools. It is an honor for us to be connected to this community.
McCleary Didn’t Remove Need for Levy
Nearly four years ago our community voted to renew the Education Programs and Operations levy. That levy will expire December 31, 2020. On November 26, the school board will discuss and take action to ask our community to renew the levy to support programs not fully funded by the state.
Some will ask, “Didn’t we pass a levy last year?” The community passed a construction bond measure to build schools and complete safety upgrades. Bonds build. Levies support learning programs.
Some will also ask, “Didn’t the McLeary decision take levies away?” No. Levies did not go away. Levies now comprise a smaller portion of a district’s total budget, but are still integral for district operations. In fact, every district in Thurston County will ask residents to renew an expiring levy on February 11, 2020.
Some will then ask, “Doesn’t the state fully fund schools now?” Again, the answer is no. The state staffing formulas do not fully support our needs in Yelm. Let me give two examples. The state allocation for nurses provides Yelm the funds for one part time nurse for the entire district - the equivalent of four days per week. To serve Yelm’s 192 square miles, we have four nurses, and they are spread very thin across 10 schools. Levy dollars pays for those additional nurses. The second example involves our wonderful school counselors. If we followed the state formula, our elementary schools would not have full time counselors, only part time. Both our middle and high school counseling staff would have to be reduced. Again, our levy picks up the difference. Those are only two examples. Nearly every category of school programs requires support from the levy. Here are additional areas where levy dollars are needed:
- Special education costs not covered by state and federal allocations
- Our school resource officer is not funded by the state. Only one of our three security staff are funded in the state formula
- Athletics and activity programs are funded by levy dollars and student fees
- Maintenance and technology programs require levy support
The new regulations around levies are different since McCleary. First, the new levy rate is $2.50 per $1,000 assessed value. The expiring levy, when passed, was $3.69 per $1,000. Second, the total amount that can be collected will be smaller than what voters approved 4 years ago.
Our bond campaign stated our goal to keep school property tax rates (levy plus bonds) below the 2018 levels. We will fulfill that goal. We are also committed to keeping the new levy amount smaller than what voters approved four years ago. We take these commitments very seriously.
In the coming months, we will work extremely hard to inform our community about this measure. The levy, if passed, would account for about 12% of our total budget. We ask that you become informed and learn how these funds support our students and community.
Construction and Safety Projects On Schedule, On Budget
The first visible changes stemming from the passage of our construction bond measure eight months ago are happening. We have worked extremely hard on the design phases to replace Yelm Middle School and Southworth Elementary, but also on the safety upgrades for the other schools. In fact, several phases of the safety program will be completed sooner than originally thought. The best news for our community is that the projects are on budget and on schedule.
At the end of September, we added the new facilities office next to our warehouse adjacent to Fort Stevens Elementary. This new office will house our facilities, maintenance and grounds and food services operations. Prior to the end of 2019, the operations of those departments will be moved to that new location. Demolition of the old facilities yard in April will trigger ground-breaking for the new middle school on the North end of that campus. Exciting!
The design phases for the new Southworth building have been accelerated. This month the board will be asked to approve educational specifications documents that include the floorplan and basic elevations. In December, the schematic design of Southworth will come up for board approval. Each time the board approves a design phase, we will post pictures and drawings on our website under the “Construction Facts” tab.
I can say without any doubt that the designs for both new schools are beautiful, practical, safe and capture some of Yelm’s rich history. These are school buildings our community will be proud of and will enjoy using.
Safety upgrades at Mill Pond, Ridgeline, Fort Stevens, Prairie and Yelm High School are nearing the completion of their design phase. The construction work will start when school lets out in June, focusing on front door security, camera systems, lockdown technology and lighting. At Prairie and Fort Stevens, classroom and hallway doors will be installed. We expect this work to be completed by September, with all technical adjustments being completed by October. This is actually ahead of schedule.
Design phases for McKenna and Lackamas are still under way, and work will be completed the following summer.
We are very excited with the progress of the projects! Throughout the planning, we have not lost sight of the incredible trust and responsibility placed upon us with the bond. We are highly committed to meeting and exceeding our community’s expectations of quality and fiscal responsibility.
Learning is Fund and Hard!
With school back in full swing this week, learning becomes our focus and our passion. In our trainings this summer, our principals and teachers spent significant time developing ways to engage students in challenging learning tasks. A concept that came up several times is that learning should push students to new levels of understanding and meaning. Our brains need challenge and that sense of accomplishment when we learn new ideas. The “A-Ha!!” or “I get it!” moments are incredibly important for students.
To embrace challenge also requires that our classrooms are safe places for students to make learning errors. Risk-taking academically should be encouraged and celebrated. Many people use the term “growth mindset” referring to Carol Dweck’s writing. Growth mindset is incredibly important when learning new concepts. Getting students to embrace that new learning is both fun and hard at the same time requires great skill from our educators. It means letting students struggle with new concepts rather than giving them the answers too quickly. It means creating environments where being wrong is simply an opportunity to grow. It means requiring all kids to talk about their own learning and reflect on how they need to improve.
As we work hard to create powerful learning environments for students, we have also infused the Science of Hope to work side by side with a growth mindset. Hope Science is not about being optimistic or simply wishing things will turn out well. Rather, it is an internal sense of self-advocacy. High hope individuals possess four beliefs:
- The future will be better than the present
- We have the power to make it so
- There are many paths to our goals
- Each of these paths will present obstacles
I am really proud of the academic gains we are seeing across the district. It shows that students are being challenged and that learning is being celebrated. Embracing challenge and learning to enjoy the struggle of learning should be goals of educators and families alike. Whether we call it grit, resiliency, work ethic or growth mindset, it is beneficial for students to tackle challenging ideas and tasks. If it is too easy, learning doesn’t take place. But when students get to those magical “A-Ha!” moments, we have to celebrate and make learning a source of pride and accomplishment.
Welcome back everyone!