Sequim School District officials made it clear to Sen. Patty Murray’s office last Thursday that they needed to take a timeout.
From a lack of funding and instructional time for curriculum alignment to funding shortfalls, Alexandra Fastle, the Kitsap & Olympic Peninsula director for Murray’s office, listened to issues facing Sequim schools.
Vince Riccobene, executive director of teaching and learning, gave Fastle a hands-on illustration of the achievement gap for different learners with the Common Core standards in English/language arts and math.
He said aligning curriculum to new standards is difficult, especially in the middle of the school year.
“There are no guidelines to learn the Common Core,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s one of our greatest challenges. It’s a complete game changer.”
He and other administrators said teachers haven’t had any time or resources to learn the Common Core.
“When are we to learn this? There’s no money and we’re doing it on our own,” he said. “There are gigantic decisions being made but here are some points to help you with it (holding up the three ring binders about the Common Core).”
Riccobene said there are websites in place to help but it’s not enough.
“Until we call a timeout and take some time to learn this, the system can’t catch up to itself,” he said. “You wouldn’t expect a firefighter to do their job without the proper training.”
His solution would be adding two more weeks to teachers’ salaries to learn the guidelines.
“To make systemic, significant changes takes time. We can’t do that while the teacher is still teaching,” Riccobene said. “We need to get out of the paradigm that teachers only work 180 days a year. Educators are learners and we need to build that into the system.”
School board president Virginia O’Neil said new standards are becoming hard to keep up with regularly.
“We’re the ones who should know what’s going on and be in control but we’re overwhelmed,” she said. “Imagine a two-year teacher in a second-grade classroom and we hand her all of this.”
Sequim Schools Superintendent Kelly Shea said he has difficulty with how state officials are trying to measure schools on how well they shrink the achievement gap.
“The Washington Policy Center gave us a C grade for the high school, which makes it look like we are doing a bad job. That makes it hard to pass levies and get support for our schools,” Shea said.
Of the few questions Fastle asked, she wanted to know how the testing standards have gotten to this point.
O’Neil referenced No Child Left Behind, saying in some articles she’s read that it has a funding base, which she said isn’t true.
“People are saying we teach to the test but students don’t graduate unless they pass the test,” she said. “It come to teachers losing their jobs. We don’t want fear-based learning.”
Riccobene said new high school senior testing will take up too much class and teacher time.
“Managing logistics of this testing takes hundreds and hundreds of hours,” he said. “There’s no computer lab time available from now through mid-June at the high school.”
The original intent of the senior testing, he said, was not to be a graduation test, but in Washington it will be.
Trying to reassure the district officials, Fastle said Murray’s educational priorities include renewing the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which guarantees a portion of timber funding to school districts next to a national forest.
But school board member Sarah Bedinger said this has been a point of contention because no school district has received any timber revenues from the federal government for years from the act. Fastle said she’d flag this and bring it to Murray’s attention.
Brian Lewis, business manager for the school district, mentioned that securing federal title dollars, funds dedicated to closing the achievement gap between low-income and other students, comes to about $1.2 million, but costs the district about $1.4 million to obtain.
“There are strings attached to it that the district must comply to meet federal requirements,” Lewis said.
“This represents about 5 percent of the district’s budget, but the students most at risk would be hurt. We can’t give up that money.”
Bedinger finds that unfair to taxpayers, too.
“They have to levy to pay the additional part and for our local property taxes they have been paying more than feds, which upsets people,” Bedinger said.
Bedinger and O’Neil noted that in their school board tenure, a senator’s staff hasn’t come to discuss issues with them.
Bedinger hopes Murray reports back and looks to school districts as part of her kitchen cabinet.