A highlight for Pasco School District this year was opening our newest comprehensive high school, Chiawana.
In doing so, the district made the leap from a one to a two high school town, experiencing growing pains along with the celebrations.
The planned opening process for Chiawana will take two years as the school ramps up to a full student body of four grade levels while Pasco High contracts and changes during that time.
Opening Chiawana is only the beginning of a multi-year process that involves building a new school, and rebuilding another.
Just because one receives the key -- or in this case the key card -- to a new school building, it does not mean the hard work is done. Quite the opposite. The most important part of building a school is actually "building" relationships among the students and adults. That is true not only at Chiawana, but at Pasco High as well. Removing more than 1,200 students, faculty and staff over the past year makes Pasco High a "new" school faced with developing its own new culture. Students, employees, families and community members are helping both schools become comfortable in their new cultures -- arguably the most important factor in a successful organization. These processes take time and adjustment, but are well under way.
-- Guiding our community: I am proud to live in Pasco. Those of us who choose to live here do so because we value the quality of life and unique experience that Pasco's diversity offers our families. No other community or school district around the state compares to Pasco in its demographics and size. It's obvious others agree, as evidenced by the thousands of people who have moved to our community over the past few years.
Our district's purpose is to educate the children who live in our community. We take them from wherever they are when they join us and help them reach and exceed state standards, learn English and become ready for success in the 21st century. It is common knowledge that several Pasco schools serve many children who do not yet speak English, yet those students are still required to take the state assessment provided only in English. It shouldn't be a surprise that students who do not yet speak English do not do as well on those tests as students who are proficient in English.
However, schools that enroll up to 75 percent of students who are just learning English are judged by the state and federal governments only on that one test, which is not a valid measure for English language learners. Therefore, several Pasco schools that educate these children have been in "improvement" status and will be further identified as priority schools under the Obama administration's new education policy. These schools provide focused research-based education that not only leads to English proficiency, but also academic success over time. Under the new federal rules, the district will submit a School Improvement Grant application to acquire additional federal dollars to support these schools in their challenging mission.
We, along with other districts, believe the state and federal policymakers continue to ignore the need to appropriately measure the academic achievement of English language learners and the schools that educate them while they learn English. Current policies unjustly punish schools that serve the highest need students. We will continue to advocate for an appropriate accountability system. Meanwhile, we will continue our research-based systems that have proved successful and leverage the federal and state policies to provide additional resources for Pasco children.
-- Focusing on results: The work in education is continuous, but the rewards are worth their weight in gold. We continue to advance student achievement, and our students meet and exceed the state by the high school levels. The proof is in the data. Increasing graduation rates, closing the achievement gap, and leading the state and nation in academic and performing arts opportunities and parent and community partnerships are all ways our district excels. We will be faced with hard decisions, but our focus will continue to be to provide the best options for our students.