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!