Friday, May 24, 2019

WVSD Partnership with OIC Helps High School Dropouts Earn a Diploma and Lifetime Skills

We are so excited about the launch of the collaborative effort between West Valley School District and OIC - Yakima, which is geared toward recapturing high school dropouts in the Greater Yakima area and getting them back on track. We are grateful for everyone pulling together to make a difference for this group of kids. We have 33 students who are starting this journey, and more where that came from that we will be working with in the future!

Thanks to Ashley Lieberknecht, our WVVA Coordinator, and Chris Nesmith, our Innovation and Futures Director for their work with OIC and their team for making this all possible!

Here is the link to this morning's Yakima Herald - front page story!

Media Blitz Yesterday Regarding National Recognition for Head Start Collaboration

Yesterday was a little bit of a media blitz on the National Recognition we have received for our Head Start Collaboration. We had two television cameras and reporters in my office for an overview interview, then they followed Dr. Peter Finch to Wide Hollow Elementary to see some students and teachers in action. It was great PR to have two television stations cover this last night! Here are the links to the news stories:



We are very proud of all of the work being done by our outstanding partners throughout this entire endeavor. We are especially excited by the outstanding results that our students have shown as a result to narrowing our achievement gap prior to entering Kindergarten. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

West Valley Invited to National Head Start - Operation Collaboration

West Valley SD was invited to apply for consideration to participate in the National Office of Head Start - Operation Collaboration. This national gathering is meant to bring together the top school districts in the United States that are recognized for their local collaboration with Head Start. The 13 districts chosen to attend are:

Allentown SD (PA)
Anchorage SD (AK)
Canutillo ISD (TX)
Eastern Upper Peninsula ISD (MI)
Gallia County Local Schools (OH)
Hillsborough County Public Schools (FL)
ISD 31 (MN)
Los Angeles County Office of Education (CA)
New Braunfels ISD (TX)
Pomona USD (CA)
USD #457 (KS)
West Valley SD (WA)
Woonsocket Education Department (RI)

This is a great tribute to the work being done here in West Valley around the collaboration with Head Start. This is just one part of the West Valley Pre K Initiative, which was launched 8 years ago as part of the West Valley 5 Steps to Student Success - Step 1 - Pre K-3 Initiative. Dr. Peter Finch is to be commended for his leadership of this outstanding group, which has made a tremendous difference in preparing students for Kindergarten throughout the greater Yakima area. We will be presenting and learning from the other districts in Scottsdale, Arizona June 24th and 25th!

This is just one more honor for our PreK Initiative, which has previously been named to the National Pre K Map, one of two districts in Washington State. We were also one of three districts nationally to be featured in the AASA Early Learning Case Studies, earlier this year!

The 5 Steps to Student Success - Step 1 - Kindergarten Readiness, Step 2 - Enriching Kindergarten Experience, Step 3 - 3rd/4th Graders at Benchmark in Reading/Mathematics, Step 4 - Algebra-Ready by 8th Grade, Step 5 - Career and College Ready. 


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Personalizing Learning by Focusing on Relationships

Personalizing learning by focusing on relationships

A Utah district attributes its graduation rate increase from 78 to 97 percent to personalized learning.

The high school graduation rate in Utah’s Juab School District was 78 percent in 2009. For the last three years in a row, it has been 97 percent, and the superintendent attributes the whole of that increase to the district’s efforts to personalize learning.
The district has followed a winding road to get here, though.

Teachers didn’t get much professional development to learn how best to use the iPods in the classroom and there wasn’t a lot of clarity around how the technology could help the district achieve concrete learning goals.

Looking back, Superintendent Rick Robins admits the district put the cart before the horse. When he moved from principal of the high school to superintendent in 2013, he initiated a conversation about priorities with school board members, educators and the community. In thinking about how a semi-rural school district could support equity and opportunity for kids, they talked a lot about personalized and competency-based learning.

In the years since, the district has made a number of structural changes – including redesigning its grading system, changing the length of class periods in the high school, switching from iPods to iPads and better using those devices to transform instruction rather than just provide a new medium for traditional activities – but Robins said the most important piece of their personalized learning program is a “foundational focus on relationships.”

“At the heart of personalized learning is building a positive relationship with every student, every single day,” Robins said.

Juab School District, a member of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, has about 2,600 students spread across five schools and approximately one-third of them qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a measure of poverty. Twelve percent of students do not have access to high-speed internet at home.

Historically, students learned what they could over the course of a semester or a school year and got a grade based on a combination of their effort, behavior and academic mastery. The bell schedule and academic calendar were seen as nonnegotiable; student learning is what varied.

The shift to personalized learning started with a vision first articulated by former Superintendent, Jim Shank. He suggested rethinking what was considered nonnegotiable, to help all students learn more. And it opened Robins’ eyes. Class periods could be lengthened, lunch periods could be moved around, deadlines could be changed – all in service of student learning.

The driving philosophy now is that all students should achieve certain learning outcomes and the school day should be built around helping them do so.

A big part of this shift was to change the grading system. Teachers now assess students’ proficiency across four categories: basic, approaching, proficient and advanced. They are not supposed to offer extra credit or change a student’s grade based on classroom behavior. They should, however, change grades throughout the year as students learn more and demonstrate greater mastery.

But Robins believes that focusing on proficiency with every assignment in every class has been “revolutionary” when it comes to conversations about academic progress.

“The change that I’ve seen in parent-teacher conferences has been amazing,” he said. “To evolve from not being clear about what a letter grade really means to the laser focus on learning that our parents and teachers have now.”

Personalized learning in Juab is still a work in progress. But the district’s successes have created momentum it can continue to build on.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Great Link for Opportunity to Learn More About Blended and Personalized Learning as Well as Elementary, Middle, and High School Examples

I have had the opportunity to review the Staff, Student, and Parent Personalized Learning Surveys which were taken between May 1st and May 15th. In reviewing the Staff Surveys, it was very clear that folks want more training opportunities in order to better understand Personalized Learning as well as how to start, and make modest movement to see how the students respond. Just providing examples on the Superintendent's Blog of course is not nearly enough. We will have outstanding trainers here this summer from The Learning Accelerator - Juliana Finegan and Stephen Pham, Session ID 124103, August 13th. You can check out a great deal of information on their site at

This site gives you background information on Blended Learning, Personalized Learning, as well as Schools at all levels that are leading in the implementation of creating a more personalized learning environment for their students - throughout their schools.

We will have the Summer Institute Training, and the Administrative Team will be training on leading the development of Personalized Learning during the Administrative Leadership Retreat. Please take every opportunity you can in learning more about how this can provide for more student engagement, choice, voice, and ownership of learning. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal Visits West Valley School District

Wow! What a Great Friday! We found out that Apple Valley Elementary School has been designated as an award winning school under a new set of criteria that the state has recently switched over to. They are recognized for ELA and Math Measures! GREAT JOB Apple Valley Team! We are proud of you!

Today OSPI Superintendent Chris Reykdal took us up on our invitation to spend some time checking out the great things in the West Valley School District that Chris Nesmith, Peter Finch, and I have been telling him. He was in town for our WASA meeting yesterday, and decided to spend some time with us.

The day started out with a visit to Ahtanum Valley Elementary School and a visit to the Play and Learn activities that are offered to area families on Fridays, when the PreSchool is not in operation. Chris Reykdal had the opportunity to visit with Catholic Charities Director Maria Vasquez, as well as with Asst. Supt. Peter Finch about the wonderful growth we have seen in our families that access this and other cooperative programs.

 Chris Nesmith, Peter Finch, Chris Reykdal, Principal Richard Pryor, and Maria Vasquez.

 I had fun talking to this girl about what she was cooking on the stove. She was giving hugs to everyone.
 Parent and kids working with different shapes and puzzle pieces to better be able to describe certain shapes.
 This little boy and his mom were having fun painting on this easel and identifying colors.

 My favorite cook today took the time to let me know what she was cooking on the stove.

Next, it was up to West Valley High School to visit with Child Development Teacher Taylor Vance about the growth and development of this program and how it articulates with YVC on students earning up to 15 STAR credits for their Childcare Certification.
Teacher Taylor Vance sharing the strong points of our program with Chris Nesmith and Chris Reykdal. 

Then it was onto the Manufacturing Program, and a description of the work being done under the direction of Machining Instructor Tim Sorenson. The 3-hour a day work being done by juniors in high school can lead to the opportunity for an Apprenticeship in the senior year with a local Manufacturing Company. 

Chris Reydal, Teacher Tim Sorenson, and Chris Nesmith discuss the potential for students in the Manufacturing Program with the Apprenticeship opportunity. 

Next, it was driving to West Valley Junior High School to check out the tremendous growth in Microsoft Certification at West Valley Junior High. We currently lead the state of Washington with over 400 Microsoft Credentials, all earned by 7th graders! Teachers Eric Curnutt and Devina Khan have led this tremendous program from the inception.
 Asst. Supt. Peter Finch, Teacher Eric Curnutt, Supt. Reykdal, and Chris Nesmith.

 Yes! Those are Microsoft Certifications earned by West Valley 7th Graders!

Yes! Thos are more Microsoft Certifications! It looks like we are wallpapering with them!

Finally, we stopped at the Pre Engineering Lab, under the leadership of Jed Watters. This is where the pipeline for the high school machining, welding, and eventual engineering-based programs all begins. This is a tremendous opportunity for West Valley Students!

Chris Reykdal and Chris Nesmith talking in the Pre-Engineering Lab about the evolution of how we created this learning space for our students. 

Needless to say, Superintendent Reykdal was impressed when we dropped him off at his car. He was quite complimentary about the program that has been developed here in West Valley, using the word innovative on a couple of occasions. We are very proud of the work being done in the West Valley School District, and we have all of our outstanding staff members to thank... It cannot be done without your expertise and commitment to our kids! Thank you! 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Teaching 2nd Graders Economics and Financial Fitness

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to stop by Cottonwood Elementary to see WVHS Teacher Jamie Zeller's Financial Algebra students teaching Principles of Economics and Financial Fitness to the 2nd Graders in Julianne VanDyke, and Gail Buchanan's classes.  The specific curriculum taught is the Junior Achievement Our Community Curriculum, supported by Junior Achievement. The high school students were in a word - outstanding! I was impressed with the way that they made the lessons work to the level of the students. They also did a great job getting in and mixing with the 2nd graders, and most of all, were having fun!
Financial Algebra students in front of the room in Gail Buchanan's Classroom, answering financial questions from 2nd graders.

Financial Algebra students in the front of the room in Julianne VanDyke's Classroom answering financial questions from 2nd Graders.

Thank you to Jamie Zeller, Julianne VanDyke, and Gail Buchanan for the opportunity to see their kids in action! As I was listening, this is information that anyone could benefit from! And, is certainly information that every student should learn. The curriculum as mentioned earlier is the Junior Achievement Our Community Curriculum, supported by Junior Achievement. I know that Jamie is a Washington State Fellow for the teaching of Financial Algebra, and is was easy to tell that she does a great job - because here students were effectively teaching what they had learned. That is the ultimate compliment, when you teach so well, that the learners can teach themselves!

What a great activity, demonstrating the collaboration and cooperation of two schools, and two programs.