K-12 funding, EdCC international enrollment among topics discussed during ‘State of Schools’ meeting

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Edmonds School District Superintent Kris McDuffy surprises Edmonds Chamber of Commerce members with a “pop quiz” Thursday.

The challenges and accomplishments facing both the school district and community college serving many of South Snohomish County’s residents were topics of discussion during the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce “State of the Schools” lunch meeting Thursday, March 23 at Edmonds Community College.

Edmonds CC Vice President Dr. Tonya Drake and Edmonds School District Superintendent Dr. Kris McDuffy were the featured speakers, and they touched on a range of issues, from state funding for K-12 schools to the possible impacts of President Donald Trump’s travel ban efforts on Edmonds CC’s international student attendance.

Drake, who serves as vice president of college relations and advancement, was the first to speak, providing an overview of Edmonds CC, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Drake talked about the 20,000 students that Edmonds CC serves annually — from high schoolers earning college credits through the Running Start program to adults acquiring professional certification or two-year degrees for transfer to four-year institutions, or taking classes for adult basic education and English language learners. And then there are the programs that serve small business owners as well as lifelong learners.

“We think of ourselves as a very welcoming campus guided by innovation,” Drake said.

An example of that innovation is a new Rapid Proto Lab, or MakerSpace, at Edmonds CC’s Monroe Hall. (See our earlier story here.) Known as The Facility, “the MakerSpace is your opportunity as business owners, citizens, as people who just want to go have fun playing with laser cutters and routers and lots of fun stuff — to go make things,” Drake said. If you want a rapid prototype of an idea, ”this is the place to go do it.” The Facility is rented by the hour and offers staff to help, she added.

Edmonds CC’s Tonya Drake says the college views itself as “a welcoming campus guided by innovation.”

The college is also committed to diversity and inclusion, and has 1,500 international students who represent 62 countries around the world, Drake explained. Edmonds CC’s international population is the third largest among community colleges in the state and among the top 20 in the nation.

But the executive orders from President Donald Trump — currently being appealed — that temporarily ban the entry of all refugees and travelers from six Muslim-majority countries may have an impact on future international student enrollment, Drake added. “We are hearing particularly from our international students that they are delaying admissions or they are looking at other countries such as Canada to go to,” Drake said. “We’re looking at possibly at 20 percent impact to our international populations but we’re in wait-and-see mode right now.”

The college now has 50 students from “impacted countries” – those targeted by President Trump’s executive order, she said.

A reduction in foreign students could have financial repercussions for Edmonds CC, since international student tuition helps to support the college financially. International students pay three times more in tuition than domestic students.

Following the meeting, Drake said that the college has scheduled a retreat Monday, during which exact estimates will be developed on budget impacts from a reduced international student population.

On a related topic, Drake responded to a question from a luncheon attendee regarding news that a group of 12 students from Yemen are stranded here after civil war broke out in their country. Drake explained that 24 students came to the U.S. as high school students through a U.S. State Department exchange program and 12 of them are now attending Edmonds Community College.

“Many of them are hoping and crossing their fingers that they can stay in the United States,” Drake said. “Many of them feel that their lives will be threatened if they go back. Time is growing short and I’m not confident about the outcome of that.”

(A GoFundMe account has been established for the students here.)

Drake talks about the college’s economic impact on the surrounding community, which she said translates into $342.2 million.

During Thursday’s presentation, Drake also mentioned the recently announced news that Edmonds CC will be offering its first bachelor’s degree next fall — a bachelor of applied science in child, youth and family services. Other possible degrees are in the early planning stages, she said.

In addition, the college is hopeful that it can break ground soon on science, engineering and technology building, which has been on the State of Washington’s facilities list for about 10 years, Drake said. The new building has been recommended by Gov. Jay Inslee but is awaiting approval from state Legislature.

Drake then turned the presentation over to Schools Superintendent Kris McDuffy, who began leading the Edmonds School District last summer and also happens to be an Edmonds Community College alumnus.

McDuffy drew connections between the two institutions, noting that they serve approximately the same number of students — the district has 20,658 enrolled — and that through Running Start, high school students can earn high school and college credits simultaneously and graduate “with two years of college under their belts.”

“We have such a strong partnership with Edmonds Community College,” McDuffy said.

The superintendent started her presentation by handing out a “pop quiz” to chamber members, but assured that it was for the purpose of jotting down key facts and wouldn’t be collected at the end of the meeting. Among them: the district has an annual operating budget of $260 million, operates 35 schools and serves students who speak 117 languages at home.

She pointed to the district’s commitment to provide Chromebook computers to all 1st through 12th graders, calling it “an incredible investment in technology and equitable access for our students.” The district has been rolling out the introduction of Chromebooks over a few years, and this year the computers made their way to the elementary schools.

“It’s transforming how our classrooms are working,” she said, and opens up “a new world” for children who otherwise may not have a computer at home.

McDuffy shares school district statistics with attendees.

Also this year, the district began offering tuition-free all-day kindergarten to all students, which McDuffy said represents an investment in early learning. “We truly believe and the research shows that is going to pay great dividends down the line,” she said.

On the facilities front, the school district completed two major construction projects in early 2017, opening Lynndale elementary and Alderwood middle schools, she said. This summer, ground will be broken on Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood elementaries, with construction to follow on Edmonds’ Madrona K-8 school.

With 100 more students projected for next academic year, the superintendent said that the school district’s growth so far is manageable, with the population “growing slightly each year.” The district has been taking advantage of the modern version of portable classrooms — known as “relocatables” — which has provided flexibility in accommodating new students, she said.

She invited anyone interested to attend her next scheduled “Tours with the Superintendent” event, set for May 4. (See our earlier story here.) Those participating will receive a quick lunch, then hop on a yellow school bus for school tours. This is the last tour of the year and will cover the district’s northeast quadrant, which includes Lynnwood High School plus two other nearby schools. If you can’t attend, there will be four more tours scheduled during the 2017-18 school year.

“I’m passionate about getting the community and especially our community leaders into our schools,” McDuffy said.

The superintendent also explained to chamber members the school district’s priorities and its strategic direction.

“A lot of work has gone into what are our areas of focus and how are we measuring our progress and how are we reporting out to our constituents,” she said. “These schools belong to the community. That’s what public education is all about.”

The district has developed 34 “key performance indicators” — ranging from academic achievement to college and career readiness to school climate perceptions and equity — “that we are tracking really strategically,” she said.

“We do have a lot of work to do, primarily with English Language Learners [and] special education students, and we are working hard to meet those needs, McDuffy added.

She listed four areas that the district has identified for its strategic direction, including Effective Learning for All Students, Equity of Opportunity, Preschool-3rd Grade Early Learning and Graduates Who Are Ready for Life. District leaders have also added two more to that list: Providing “a safe and caring environment as well as making sure we are exceptional stewards of our community’s resources,” the superintendent said.

When it comes to preparing students for life, she pointed proudly to the fact that there are 50 courses where students can earn dual high school and college credit as well as 15 programs — through the district’s Career and Technical Education program — which allow students to graduate with both a diploma and an industry certification.

She also discussed the district’s high school graduation rate, which at 86 percent is the highest it’s ever been, but added “it’s not enough.”

“We have got to close that gap,” she said, adding that indicators are available as early as second and third grade that students may not graduate. “We need to intervene earlier,” she said. “Ninth grade is way too late.”

Finally, McDuffy talked about the “challenges and opportunities” related to school funding being debated during the current session of the Washington State Legislature, which she described as “epic.”

Legislators are grappling with ways to meet the state’s “paramount duty” of fully funding basic K-12 education, which the State Supreme Court says they must do during the current session.

“It will be interesting to see what they come up with,” McDuffy said, adding that many are expecting lawmakers to go through multiple special sessions to find a solution. “The needs are great. The kids are coming to us with increasing needs, whether it’s language or they’ve been impacted in so many ways,” she said.

“We’re hopeful that the Legislature will meet that paramount duty,” she added.

— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel

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