Below are answers to questions posed by the WA State League of Women Voters. Responses were limited to 1000 characters. Please contact me if you would like to read my complete answers.
Of three major issues facing your district, which one is the most urgent?
1. The most urgent issue is adjusting the overall District budget to newly passed state legislation. The new laws impact every element the Districts finances. For the first time in 43 years, there will be no statewide salary schedule. The legislation was specific to teacher and administrator salaries, but all employee groups must be considered and treated fairly as part of an overall new plan for short and long-term financial stability. State school property tax levies and local levies have changed dramatically, leaving major unanswered questions.
2. Determining how Core 24 is going to serve the needs of all graduating students rather than just those high school students who are going to college. For this to happen, the State Board of Education will have to change its Vision, which currently prioritized college readiness above all other options.
3. Improving the confidence of stakeholders in the overall operations of the District including decisions of the Board and administrators.
What is your position on Charter Schools as a part of your public school?
I can envision a charter school application from the Pullman area, one designed to serve students from the Pullman District, and select students from surrounding rural districts. Given the area’s demographics, the applicant would target high-capacity students.
Washington’s charter school law has major flaws; some are still being litigated. Unlike Idaho, WA's charter schools, receive state funds and local levy funds, but are not under the control of local school boards. Instead, charter schools operate under a state commission comprised of advocates of charter schools. Consequently, there are few checks and balances, ones that would come with differing opinions. Each charter school is administered by a non-profit board which is not responsive to local voters.
The professed advantages of charter schools could be duplicated in public schools by giving them the same operational flexibility. WA laws could be amended so that districts could apply to operate "public charter schools."
What is your position on testing of your students?
My personal “position” on a topic like testing is not germane, because the majority of the testing done in the Pullman schools is required by federal or state law. Despite a 50-year career in education, I am not a testing expert. I have a high degree of trust in the District’s highly trained teachers and administrators. One of the Board's yearly responsibilities is to approve the District’s assessment plan. This plan must meet all the legal requirements, but may also include local diagnostic testing to better track individual student progress. When the plan is brought to the Board for approval, each element is thoroughly discussed. In general, testing must be done to determine an individual student’s level of understanding of required concepts; however, much of the grouped achievement testing was triggered by No Child Left Behind which has been replaced by Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which encourages states and school districts to get rid of unnecessary testing.
What is your opinion on "start times" for elementary and secondary school?
The topic is certainly worthy of further study by the Pullman District. The current PHS bell schedule is 7:15 am for zero period and 8:20 am for 1st period; LMS is 7:20 for zero period and 8:25 am for 1st period. These start times are actually similar to the “late start” schedules suggested by research. The elementary schools start class at 8:30 am. In May of 2017, PHS conducted an experiment. For a week classes started 15 minutes later and then students, parents, and staff were surveyed. The results of the survey were mixed, but favored staying with the current schedule.
A recent North Carolina study showed that delaying middle school start times by an hour from 7:30 to 8:30 increased standardized math and reading scores by two to three percentile points and that the effects was more than twice large for students in the bottom third of test scorers, thus it could be an important factor in closing the achievement gap. one studied in NC.
How can the on-time graduation rate be improved?
The graduation rate can be improved by continuing to refine the focus on individual student progress. The District is already employing almost all of the established strategies that lead to higher on-time graduation rates. The District’s current overall graduation rate is 95% compared to the statewide average of 80%. For any school district, one of the most difficult factors effecting graduation rate is the percentage of transfer students. Pullman is a growing district (+500 students in six years), and is a “transient” district due to WSU. The growth has occurred at every grade level, including 9-12; consequently, PHS administrators and teachers face greater-than-average barriers to on-time graduation. Given those barriers, 95% is outstanding, but leaves room for improvement. It is always difficult for a student to transfer to a new school at the beginning of their junior or senior year, especially from out-of-state.
How should bullying be addressed?
The District has adopted all the required policies and procedures, and is following them; however, state law addresses much more than bullying. Harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) have been prohibited in state schools since 2010. As required by law Pullman has a WA adopted model anti-HIB policies and procedures. The policies and procedures are very complex and fluid.
Reducing and then eliminating bullying must be accomplished through a comprehensive approach, K-12. The methods vary by grade level with the elementary school emphasis on teacher training and implementation of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) which described as a proactive approach to establishing the behavioral supports and social culture needed for all students in a school to achieve social, emotional, and academic success.
At the middle school and high school levels "cyber bullying" is a serious and growing threat especially because it does not occur on school grounds.
What is the Pullman School District' required civics credit?
Pullman’s administration and the Board believed that the legislature’s intent was for high schools to offer a .5 credit Civics course. Some other districts have integrated the Civics requirement into their junior or senior year U.S. History course; however, the Pullman CAC felt that the state standards for U.S. History were too comprehensive to cover in conjunction with the Civics standards. Pullman requires that all students complete a stand alone .5 Civics course. Because it is difficult to fit in a .5 credit course during their junior year, most students take the course as seniors.
PHS has also added a one-credit Leadership elective, which is required for involvement in ASB and class officer positions. The course has been so popular that two sections will be offered this fall and a 2nd year option has been added. The design of these courses aligns with three of OSPI’s Six Proven Practices for enhancing Civic Education and encourages community involvement.
What is your opinion of student suspension for classroom disruption?
Suspensions should be in the least restrictive environment related to continuing all facets of a student's ongoing education. Depending on the age of the student, and the nature of the disruption, an intervention as rudimentary as sitting with a paraprofessional might be an effective option. For older students, use of in-school suspension has proven to be effective. In all cases, the disruptive student should have an opportunity to demonstrate non-disruptive behavior as quickly as possible. In-home suspension, for an arbitrary time frame, should be the absolute final option, as this option eliminates the chance of the student regaining composure and integrating into the classroom setting that triggered the unacceptable behavior. The goal of suspension is for the student to gain the skills necessary to return to the more challenging classroom environment. In-home suspension, even when supported by a teacher, can never substitute for performing appropriately in school.