Thursday, June 2, 2011

Superintendent's Farewell Message

Dear Staff,

Our work this spring has played out against the grim backdrop of the worst budget scenario that the education community has seen in many years. Even as I write this message, the full impact of the state's economic downturn on next year's education budget is unknown.

In spite of the economy, there are still 3k students in Washougal who at summer's end will stream into our classrooms, ready for school and all that it means to them. Our district and our staff will be as prepared as any district in the state to meet, greet and teach these students. We will be as prepared as any district in the state to fulfill the promise of a quality education for every student who enrolls in Washougal schools. This reality is the bright spot in a gloomy economic forecast.

Like all districts, Washougal is not without its challenges. We continue to face the tough challenge of increasing the percentage of students meeting those high academic standards in reading, writing, mathematics and science. As the budget is prepared over the next few weeks, resources for teaching and learning remain a top priority. Superintendent Dawn Tarzian is grounded in the core mission of supporting academic growth and greater achievement for all students. Rebecca Miner, assistant superintendent, is planning a curriculum budget for next year that can be used to advance the district's work in curriculum, instruction and assessment. Les Brown, technology director, is preparing a continuum of technology classes designed to enhance instruction and learning. Doug Bright, human resources director, is communicating regularly and often with WAE and PSE leaders regarding the unfolding budget picture, and the Board of Directors is committed to a balanced budget that protects the community's investment in schools known for quality learning and safe environments. All of these forces are working together to ensure the best possible outcome with respect to the allocation of scarce resources in support of the district's core mission, raising the achievement of all students.

As I waltz out the door in July, I have to leave a few philosophical thoughts in my wake, ideas I have perfected by watching highly effective instructional practice and teachers in Washougal classrooms. I challenge you to find yourself in these images of classroom best practice:

1) There is no substitute for a great teacher who knows how to connect students to important ideas, concepts and skills.

2) Learning occurs at the intersection of two best practices: 1) Active, engaging opportunities to read, write, discuss, investigate and explore, and 2) The opportunity to construct and demonstrate or present (individually or in groups) an understanding of complex ideas and concepts. In this process, students need to gain proficiency in the use of technology and traditional learning tools.

3) Interdisciplinary instruction, small-group instruction, advanced placement classes, student choice, community service opportunities, career and technical education courses, alternative learning options (Excelsior), and real-world applications/simulations provide effective means of scaffolding student expertise in increasingly complex knowledge and skills.

4) A student’s incentive to vigorously pursue knowledge springs from a growing level of competence. To insure momentous gains in achievement over time, students should be able to excel or be re-taught at any point along their continuum of learning.
5) Creativity in all aspects of learning, and more specifically in the arts, builds excitement for learning. Public performances by students enhance learning and build community spirit by showcasing and highlighting achievement that is unique and of value in our culture and our programs.

5) Sports, clubs, academic teams and other extra-curricular activities build student confidence, expand upon student talents and interests, teach teamwork and sportsmanship and may provide the foundation for life-long leisure activities.

6) Schools are communities of educational practice and staff must take advantage of time to work together and perfect their practice, as exemplified in the Professional Learning Communities best practice model.

Remember that at the end of the day, we are preparing students for life, higher education and work as citizens of a global economy in the 21st Century. It has been a blessing to work here. I wish you all the best!