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McDuffy delivers State of the District Address for Arlington

From left, Arlington High School student Christie Stensland talks to Arlington School District Superintendent Dr. Kristine McDuffy at the State of the District Address Jan. 22. - Kirk Boxleitner
From left, Arlington High School student Christie Stensland talks to Arlington School District Superintendent Dr. Kristine McDuffy at the State of the District Address Jan. 22.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — Arlington School District Superintendent Dr. Kristine McDuffy delivered what she deemed her "first annual" State of the District Address, to parents, staff and students alike, at Haller Middle School Jan. 22.

McDuffy began by reviewing ASD's history, from its creation with the building of the Kent Prairie School in 1884, with 50 students and four teachers, to its current enrollment of 5,467 students in 10 different schools, with 694,721 square feet of area covered by their facilities. The school district's boundaries have likewise grown to encompass 200 square miles of territory, represented by five district board directors. The schools' classified staff, which includes bus drivers, custodians and food services staff, numbers at 306, while their certificated staff, which includes teachers and administrators, numbers at 320.

McDuffy noted that 2009 marks ASD's 105th graduating class, as well as the year when 24 percent of its students qualify for free and reduced lunch. A surprising trend that McDuffy pointed out is the "leveling out" of enrollment numbers, which appear to be flattening, and perhaps even declining slightly, throughout Snohomish County.

McDuffy deemed education "the world's most important, challenging and rewarding work," before explicitly defining the school district's mission as developing "responsible, respectful and involved students, who are able to successfully live, learn and work, now and in the future." She named student achievement as the core mission of ASD, through which all of the district's decisions are filtered, and added that the district is also using data to drive its decisions, rather than relying on trends.

McDuffy proudly cited the creation of a new "teaching and learning" department, to better serve student achievement, and explained that the district's school improvement plans and professional development are aligned to each other.

McDuffy then elaborated on the national, state and local levels of accountability to which ASD must adhere, each of which includes its own annual reports and audits. On the national level, the "No Child Left Behind" Elementary and Secondary Education Act sets annual goals in reading and math, and requires that all students be proficient by 2014.

"Before, the time spent on education was a constant, and the amount of learning done was a variable," McDuffy said. "Now, the amount of learning has become a constant, and the time spent is a variable."

On the state level, the governor's goals for K-12 education prioritize programs that demonstrate links to research-based practices, while newly elected Officer of Superintendent of Public Instruction Superintendent Randy Dorn is already calling to replace the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, as well as to expand career and technical education opportunities. As for the local level, McDuffy stated that the Arlington School District is accountable to its parents and its board of directors, by way of school improvement plans and progress reports.

McDuffy explained that the district did not make "Adequate Yearly Progress," as measured by "No Child Left Behind" and the WASL, in math. The district measures its students' AYP progress in demographic categories including members of various ethnic subgroups, those whose primary language is not English, those enrolled in special education, and those from low-income households. Based on this data, McDuffy promised that school improvement plans and district purchases would be made with these shortfalls in mind.

McDuffy distributed a separate handout devoted entirely to the district's budget. She acknowledged that the budgeted fund balance is only $95,489, when its recommended level is $2.5 million, and she anticipated that state funding reductions could have projected impacts of $3.2 million to $4.5 million.

When asked why 10th-grade math levels are so low on the WASL, when seventh-grade math levels are so high, McDuffy noted that this drop is relatively consistent in results across the state. She addressed concerns about the budget by pointing out that, out of ASD's approximately $48 million budget, 85 percent of that money goes toward salaries and benefits, "so when we talk about reductions, we're talking about reductions in people."

McDuffy promised to maintain open lines of communication between herself, teachers, staff and parents, and encouraged her audience to remain optimistic, because, "If you're ever feeling down, just visit one of our classes for a quick reminder of the incredible hope we have for the future. When you see our students, you'll see that our future is in good hands."

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