School board OKs school improvement plans, hears success stories from Meadowdale Middle

Meadowdale Middle School Principal Joseph Webster briefs the Edmonds School Board Oct. 25 on the school’s 2022-23 improvement plan.

Edmonds School District leaders voted Tuesday night to approve the district’s 2022-23 school improvement plans as well as the 2022-23 Highly Capable Program plan.

Each year, each school in the district is required to develop and adopt a school improvement plan or process, which is reviewed by the board. At its Oct. 25 business meeting, the board unanimously voted to approve the improvement plans after months of hearing from each school about their plans for the new school year.

Board President Nancy Katims praised those who worked on the plans and said each one appeared to be tailored to meet the needs of its school.

“I think that everybody – all of our school leaders and district leaders – have been doing a really good job,” she said.

Prior to the vote, the board received its final improvement plan briefing from Meadowdale Middle School Principal Joseph Webster, who said this year the staff aimed to improve students’ education by fostering a sense of community in the school.

“We’ve chosen this goal because we know that without a sense of belonging, a lot of students are not going to be as academically successful,” he said. “Their attendance is not going to be generally as good (and) they’re going to be less likely to ask for help when they need it.”

According to Webster, teachers will be focusing on growth in reading and math using data from the district’s i-Ready program. It aims to help teachers at all grades determine students’ needs, offer personalized learning based on the data and monitor their progress throughout the school year.

This year, Webster said staff hope to have 75% of students reach their annual typical growth goal. (For students in the school’s multilingual learner program and Hispanic/Latino students, their annual typical growth goals in reading are 60% and 65%, respectively.) Additionally, Webster said the school will focus on helping at least 70% of students reach their annual typical growth goals in math.

One way the school has been working to increase school camaraderie is the WEB (Where Everyone Belongs) Program, which pairs groups of seventh-grade students with eighth graders (WEB leaders), who help ease the transition from elementary to middle school.

At the beginning of the Tuesday night meeting, several Meadowdale Middle students gave the board a presentation on how the program helps incoming students and what they have learned as student leaders. Some students said it taught them leadership and social skills. Student Clara Reitan said being a WEB leader encouraged her to come out of her shell.

“I had to learn to really put myself out there because they’re going to take the energy that I give them,” she said.

In partnership with College Place Middle School, Meadowdale Middle Assistant Principal Tulani Freeman said the school was awarded a grant from the Foundation for Edmonds School District to fund Character Strong, a social-emotional curriculum that includes an online collection of short lessons. According to Tulani, each grade will use 18 of the 35 available lessons, which focus on identifying value, emotional regulation, understanding stress and empathy, handling conflict and planning ahead.

Another way the school has been encouraging school spirit, Webster said, is through the Meadowdale Middle’s HOUSES, which sorts students into one of five houses that compete against each other during assemblies, school fundraisers and other events. Students earn points for their HOUSE through good attendance and at the end of the year, the HOUSE with the most points wins a party.

Prior to the meeting, the board held a study session regarding student attendance, which Board PresidentNancy Katims said has been “concerningly” low. Following Webster’s presentation, Katims praised the HOUSE program and said she hoped it encouraged other schools to find ways to improve attendance.

“We are hoping that all of the district and school staff will work on figuring out how to encourage parents and kids to be attending (school) more,” she said.

After voting to approve the 2022-23 school improvement plans, the board unanimously voted to approve the iGrant 217 to continue funding the 2022-23 Highly Capable Program plan, which enables students to enroll in accelerated classes that better fit their skill level. The grant funds teacher and staff training for these classes as well as special curriculum building for the program.

Retired pastor Richard Gibson speaks in support of the Edmonds School District’s LGBTQ youth.

During the meeting’s public comments, several speakers addressed recent remarks made during meetings by community members that were viewed as homophobic and transphobic. Reading a prepared statement, Meadowdale Middle School psychologist Emily Forman said she was speaking on behalf of the school’s teachers who denounced the remarks.

“As educators within the district we know that this is not the viewpoint that the (Edmonds School District) holds,” she said. “Regardless, these public comments being made time and again are harmful to our LGBTQIA students and colleagues.”

Forman also requested that the board consult with the district’s legal counsel to discuss at what point it could put an end to the comments. She also requested “proactive and clear support from the board for our LGBTQIA students and colleagues at these meetings.”

Retired pastor Richard Gibson said he and other religious leaders support LGBTQ youth.

“As a pastor, as a parent and a grandparent, I’m here to say loudly that these kids are not different, these kids are not different, they are not deviant, that they are children of God and they are our children,” he said. “Simply put, those of us who love and respect the differences in people, those of us who care about gay, lesbian and trans people, children, youth and adults have to be louder and more determined than the people whole deny them their rights to be who they are.”

Another speaker, Julie Anderson, said the district was not teaching students well enough, resulting in low test scores and not preparing them for the “real world.” According to Anderson, the district was just creating a bubble around kids that would not serve them well after graduation. She also suggested that the school district go back to doing things the way they were 20 or 30 years ago, but offered no other clarification on her comment.

“(Students) don’t understand at this point the importance of wealth and the freedom that wealth brings them,” she said. “If you start going backwards in your education processes maybe your test scores will start going up.”

In other business, the board voted to approve a resolution regarding certification of 2023 excess property taxes. While drafting the district’s 2022-23 budget last spring, staff included a levy collection of $59.9 million which was based on early estimation of the number of students enrolled for the 2021-22 school year. The amount turned out to be higher than what was projected, resulting in a levy of $62.2 million. Since the amount is lower than the voter authorization amount ($63.5 million) a “levy rollback” was required.

Also during the meeting, the board held a first reading — taking no action — on a revised district policy regarding freedom of expression. If approved, the draft policy would restore the press rights of student journalists, signaling the state’s support for student journalists to be able to tell the stories that matter to their communities without fear of punishment. Exceptions to the rule include libel, slander, unwarranted invasions of privacy, violation of laws or certain school policies or inciting students to create a clear and present danger of disruption of the orderly operation of the school.

Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab said the district is working on the policy with Mountlake Terrace High School journalism teacher Vincent DeMiero and wants to encourage student journalists to report news without fear of administrative consequence.

“We want to make sure that our student publications are not subject to prior administrative review,” he said.

The topic of school safety was also discussed during the meeting and was first brought up by Jolene Bridwell – the parent of Meadowdale High School junior – who asked what actions are being taken to prevent incidents like the Oct. 18 classroom hold at Meadowdale High after the school investigated a possible weapon on campus. During the investigation, the district reported that Lynnwood police found ammunition on a student but did not find a weapon.

“As a parent of a student I feel like I hear about the incidents but I haven’t heard if there is a plan in place for the current issues,” she said. (See related story here.)

Later during the meeting, some student representatives – who preside over board meetings with board directors – said drug use and fights often make them feel unsafe at school. Student representative Sadie Sadler of Mountlake Terrace High School said she and her friends are sometimes scared at school.

“It’s honestly just really hard,” she said.

Other students mentioned vandalism, graffiti in bathrooms and social media accounts dedicated to cyberbullying students.

Additionally, Meadowdale High student Elizabeth Lopez agreed that students and families are not being given enough information about the incidents like the Oct. 18 lockdown.

“Students aren’t getting the information that they want,” she said. “They want to know what’s happening and what the process is after the fact.”

— By Cody Sexton

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