ARLINGTON – Barrier-free equity and cultivating a positive growth mindset that puts high value on effort and perseverance are two lessons Arlington schools are taking to heart to help students succeed.
“We’re supporting the learning that is in place, making sure our students have the resources and tools that they need,” Superintendent Chrys Sweeting said at her annual state of the district address Jan. 24. “There are areas that we’re doing well and areas where we need improvement.”
About 100 people attended the presentation that featured a progress report on the strategic plan, musical interludes from the Kent Prairie Elementary Choir on Fire, and a student panel sharing school-day experiences (see sidebar).
The event opened with a tour of Post Middle School, which would be replaced with an innovative new school as the centerpiece of the $96 million in bonds voters will decide on Feb. 12.
Sweeting said the district’s equity and diversity work grew last year, with the goal to build a culture of inclusiveness.
“It’s about providing access, opportunity and supports for learning and removing any barriers that get in the way of learning for each student,” she said.
Sweeting described equity as the lens through which district officials and staff carry out actions in a long-term strategic plan focused on student learning and achievement; a safe and caring environment; resource stewardship; and parent and community partnerships.
She cited an annual report, Arlington Schools By Results, that included data suggesting that while the district is making headway, there is room for improvement.
In spring 2018 when they were tested, 63 percent of third-grade students were reading at grade level, compared with 58 percent the year prior, she said.
“Research says that students that are not reading at grade level by the third grade are four times more likely to not graduate,” Sweeting said. “We’re going in the right direction, but I want one hundred percent” to meet the standard.
In the district’s middle schools, 58 percent of eighth-graders completed all of their courses in the 2017-18 academic year, compared with 69 percent a year earlier.
“If they’re completing their courses, that’s a good sign. If not, but they’re passing, that will help them still when they get to high school,” Sweeting said, noting this is an area the district will need to watch.
At the high school level in 2017-18, 78 percent of ninth-graders passed all their classes, up from the 72 percent the previous year.
Sweeting said these numbers are critical because starting with the class of 2021, students will need to have 24 high school credits to graduate. If they fail just one course, they will be off track.
The district is intervening with several options so that doesn’t happen.
Examples include giving eighth-graders opportunities to earn high school credits, summer school, academic support before and after school, online learning, the Open Doors program for students to capture missing credits, and the district’s ACE committee that is studying other potential class times and scheduling.
“We’re making some good progress, but we have more work to do,” Sweeting said.
If there is one area where K-12 schools everywhere are struggling, it’s in mathematics. That’s where cultivating a positive “math” mindset is coming into play.
A team of Arlington teachers, community members and administrators last year began working with the Washington State Leadership Academy to identify an area of need based on data – namely, math.
Sweeting said the district wants to figure out ways to help every student feel good about mathematics, succeed through persistence and accept that mistakes will be made and are part of the learning.
“We want to throw out the negative, ‘I’m not a math person’ fixed mindset,” Sweeting said. “We believe math is involved in every aspect of our lives, and everyone can be, and is, a math person.”
To that end, staff is looking at standards, curriculum and resources for math, trying to pin down viable curriculum.
The district strives to provide a safe and caring environment, encouraging attendance in creative ways from school to school, promoting extracurricular activities as a way to reduce disciplinary issues, and making sure staff is professionally trained for safety-related situations.
Safety enhancements have included a visitor management system at some schools, a safety alert system (RAVE 911) and crime prevention through environmental design using fencing or trimming trees and shrubs on campuses to deter suspicious activity.
The district has invested in social, emotional and behavioral support for students with trauma in their lives. For kids missing too much school, a Community Truancy Board has been met with 22 students and their families since last year to solve the issue. This year has seen 10 students.
In terms of resources last year and this year, the district added more K-3 teachers; an academic intervention bus; support for students with social, emotional and behavioral needs; more para-educators and clerical support; safety, security and space for growth.
Sweeting said more communication and engagement is happening to build stronger partnerships with parents and the community.
More website and social media content, district publications and mailers are parts of their outreach, while the community safety forums, annual Know Your Schools tour, and ACE committee and other committees help involve residents in decision-making.
“We need to be together,” she said. “We can’t do this alone.”
ARLINGTON – Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Chrys Sweeting has been visiting schools for her “Student Voices” lunches as a way to learn about how classrooms are doing, from a kids-eye view.
The superintendent likes them so much, she emceed a panel discussion at her State of the District Jan. 24 featuring six middle school students – three sixth-graders from Haller, and three eighth-graders from Post.
She asked three questions:
* What’s working well, and what helps you get excited about learning?
Haller student Stryker Bowden said, “When teachers set goals for me, that helps me learn before I move onto the next thing.”
Koen Collins, a student at Post, said the school gets students engaged through hands-on learning. “They’re doing a really good job with that,” he said, citing his science classes where they carry out Bunsen burner experiments with liquids and gases.
Post student Quynn Robison agreed that hands-on learning is the way to go, and she also likes class meetings where students sit in a circle to talk through topics.
* What needs to change that gets in the way of learning?
Grace Davis of Haller said overcrowded classes are a big problem. “It’s really loud and distracting so it’s hard to do work. All my classes have more than thirty students so it’s very chaotic on school days.”
Taylor Marcel, an eighth grader, said buildings and equipment are not up to date.
“Heat pumps at Post are very loud so you can’t hear the teachers,” she said. Plus, “With the thin walls you can hear in the next room if kids are being rowdy or the teacher is loud. Sometimes, class (temperatures) cool down, or they heat up. It’s a hot mess.”
* If you were school leaders or school board members, what would you do differently?
“My solution for Post is to build a new school,” Taylor said, to laughs and nods from the crowd.
If Stryker were superintendent, he would move school hours a little later, but still leave time for sports and homework after school.
Haller student Bailey Linklater said it’s hard to hear announcements. “Make them louder or quiet the kids.”
Koen said he would add more advanced science courses. He said because the skill level in classrooms is so broad, instructors water down their lessons to reach everyone, and that impacts learning for the more skilled and prepared students.
A few other topics the panel touched on were more teachers in the classroom to increase one-on-one time, learning methods less dependent on textbooks and notes, and keeping down hallway noise.