Blaine senior class asks for a rock, administrators discuss math scores and capital improvements

Published on Wed, Sep 25, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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At a busy school board meeting September 23, educators explored new assessment procedures, board members heard an update on capital improvement project and high school seniors asked for a rock.

But not just any rock.

“It should be big enough to serve as a symbol of school pride and be located in a place where everyone can see it,” said senior Alexis McElwain, who, along with Chris Major, represented Blaine’s Associated Student Body. “Each senior class can paint it and decorate it. We’ve found rocks in the community, but some people cherish their rocks so we’d like to find someone comfortable with donating a rock to the cause.”

McElwain said most of the other schools in the county have a rock designated for the senior class to paint. 

“We’ll take this under advisement,” said school board chair Susan Holmes. 

McElwain and Major also reported that attendance at sporting events is up since door greeters have been stationed at the school entrance each morning to welcome students and tell them about scheduled events.

Stacy Thomas, executive director of teaching and learning, provided a summary of the 2012-13 State Assessment results in all buildings. At the high school level, achievement levels in end-of-course exams were higher than state averages. Thomas stressed that the data merely provided a snapshot, and while high achievement should be celebrated, she warned against complacency.

“It’s great that we’re doing well in this area, but what do we need to do next? What’s going on with those kids who aren’t passing and how do we get more kids into higher-level classes?” she said.

At the middle school level, the annual Measurement of Student Progress (MSP) scores were the highest they have ever been in eighth grade science, while reading scores remained stable and math scores dropped slightly after three years of increase.

Math MSP scores at Blaine Elementary School (BES) were well below the state average, especially at the fourth and fifth grade levels. Blaine scored a 43.6 in fourth grade math, compared to a state average of 62.5. In comparison to other “like” districts in the region, Ferndale scored a 53.5, Lynden scored a 78.4, Mt. Baker scored a 50.4 and Meridian scored a 74.7. With this in mind, BES principal Craig Baldwin shared the results of a “cycle of inquiry” model, developed with Thomas, which identifies potential causes of the problem and clear steps to solve it.

Baldwin shared some examples of teacher and student survey responses that revealed some ways he can make his leadership more effective.

“I have to be present in the classroom more and I have to provide relevant, timely feedback to teachers,” he said. In surveys, teachers also said more professional development would be helpful.

“Professional development has only been offered to a small group of teachers,” he said.

Board member Charles Gibson applauded Baldwin on his initiative.

“You’re owning up to the problem and stepping forward,” he said. “But given the amount of time it takes, how can you do the things you want to do and still get the administrative things done?”

“I’ve been here nine years, and for eight years I’ve said my focus should be on instructional leadership. I haven’t done as good a job as I’d like to and I think I can afford to put more focus on that area,” Baldwin said. 

The cycle of inquiry outlined clear objectives at the system leadership level (superintendent Ron Spanjer and Thomas), leadership level (Baldwin), teacher level and student level.

“I’d like to see a slide for the school board as well,” Holmes said after Baldwin’s presentation. “Systemic change starts at the 30,000-foot level. Clearly we’re not getting it done in math, but what you’ve done here tonight shows a lot of initiative and a great first step.”

Operations supervisor Jim Kenoyer gave an update on the capital improvement project. The open house for the new science and life skills classrooms was held earlier in the day.

“If you looked closely, you probably saw some details still need to be wrapped up. The windows don’t have blinds, the bathrooms don’t have locks and the smart projectors aren’t installed yet. There’s some minor HVAC and electrical work to be done. All the contractor work should be done by October 4,” he said. He added that final drawings and operations manuals for all systems must be produced before the project can be signed off on.

“I expect that to be done by our November meeting,” Kenoyer said.

Blaine senior Jasmin Avena takes a horticulture class in the newly renovated science building. Compared to last year, the building is “a much nicer place to spend time in,” she said at the open house. 

“Each lab has its own space to work in, and when all the science classes don’t have to fight over that space it makes it easier to be productive.”

The school board approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Blaine school district and the Blaine Education Association regarding new Teacher, Principal Evaluation Project (TPEP) procedures.

Superintendent Ron Spanjer said he liked the MOU because it shows that the TPEP adoption process is a collaboration between administrators and teachers.

“We’re all learning this together, and we think this will be a much stronger process as a result,” he said.