By SVERRE BAKKE
A newly formed parents group introduced itself to the White Salmon Valley Board of Education during last Wednesday's board workshop in the Columbia High School library.
The workshop was a follow-up to one held in August. One of the offshoots of that public forum -- which identified expanding communication between the district and the community as important -- is Parents for School Excellence.
According to the group's handout, Parents for School Excellence "is a group of individuals dedicated to working with the White Salmon School Board and school administrations to create and implement solution-based plans to attain the following goals":
To enhance and elevate our academic expectations and programs for grades K-12.
To institute a K-12 program of required second language training as a permanent, sustainable addition to the core curriculum.
To increase the quantity, quality and accessibility of the performing and visual arts within our regular curriculum.
To work toward a system of positive organized interaction between the Board and the community that allows for progressive exhanges of ideas and concerns.
The handout concluded with, "We believe the elevation of standards in academic achievement and facilitation of strong programs in the arts and languages will allow all students to succeed in attaining their highest academic goals."
White Salmon resident Jen Strelkauskas spoke for the group and gave an overview of why some parents in the community got together to form Parents for School Excellence, and what the group hopes to achieve.
"The group, she said, "represents the idea of bringing back the `what if' to our schools and letting you guys decide if something can work," Strelkauskas said. "We want to be an energy, idea people, a resource for our schools."
School directors Tom Stevenson and Kristie Hurn suggested the group work through the already established and recognized framework provided by Parent Teacher Organizations, and with school staff to increase parental understanding of the issues each school is facing and parental involvement in each building's School Improvement Plan process.
Last Wednesday's workshop began with Supt. Jerry Lewis providing a summary of the district's top seven priorities -- broken down by school -- for the 2009-10 school year. Among the priorities he touched on were:
Teacher Collaboration Time.
Lewis reported that implementation of the district's Professional Learning Community -- the board has set aside one day a week for staff development and training -- is under way.
"It's a journey," he said of the process. "And, it's hard work, but we'll get there."
Installation of new classroom computer systems, funded by the district's current three-year technology levy, is progressing toward completion, Lewis reported. He added that he will soon be putting together a committee to review the district's technology needs and recommend actions for a replacement three-year levy.
The district's current two-year maintenance and operations levy expires next year. The plan going ahead, said Lewis, is to hold an election for a replacement two-year levy in February 2010.
The deadline for filing the levy election notice with county officials is Dec. 23. Lewis said the resolution calling for a February levy election will be ready for the Nov. 18 board meeting.
Passing a replacement levy, noted Lewis, "is critical given all the cuts (in funding) we've taken from the state."
Adequate Yearly Progress.
Lewis said a handful of parents of elementary school students took advantage of the Public School Choice Option and enrolled their children in neighboring school districts.
Whitson Elementary School had to make the option available after it landed on the first step 1 of school improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The school got to Step 1 because its students failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress for the second year in a row with its math and reading scores on the state's standardized test, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.
Lewis told the board the latest state economic forecast projects a revenue shortfall of as much as $700 million for the 2009-11 biennium--something that's causing concern among school administrators statewide.
Lewis said the sentiment among school leaders is that their school districts have little left to cut from their already pared-down budgets.
"We've cut all the branches off; now we're just a trunk," Lewis analogized, "so they (the governor and the Legislature) are going to have to figure out how to fill that ($700 million) gap."