Frankly Speaking . . .
In the world of education, if I can quote from a Bob Dylan song, “These are strange days, indeed!” Approximately 52 million children attend schools in the U.S. (over one million in WA State) with more than 90% of those children attending public schools. Despite clear data to the contrary, groups known as “reformers” continue to characterize public schools as failing, demonize teachers, criticize students and have convinced many of the media to jump on the bandwagon. Do many schools across the country need to improve? Absolutely! Are we seeing the end of public schools in the U.S.? Absolutely not!
The U.S. system of public education teaches more, helps more, achieves more and still gets criticized more than any system in any country in the world. One of the factors that makes our system the cornerstone of our democracy is the free access all children have to an education. This access is not limited to only those who pay, as it is in many countries. This access is not limited to those with transportation, or to those who can afford uniforms, or lunch, or even a home. It is not limited to those who speak English or those without special physical, emotional, behavioral, or intellectual needs. We take all comers and offer them a free education for 13 years of their life!
Your schools here in the Franklin Pierce School District are no exception. We serve all kids, maintain high expectations of all of them, and offer up some of the best instruction by highly trained and dedicated staff anywhere. I know this because I make it a point to get into every classroom in each of our 13 schools and Head Start program to observe the quality of the instruction and the engagement of our students taking place. Earlier this spring, I visited almost 350 classrooms. At all levels, pre-school, elementary, middle, and high school, I observed skilled and caring teachers providing research-based instruction to our students. From lessons in the most basic components of Kindergartners learning to read to a high school STEM class where the students must apply the tenets of physics, geometry, and computer science in designing working robots, you can be pleased and proud to know your local schools are not only succeeding but in a cycle of continuous improvement.
Despite the many challenges we have encountered over the last few years, including significant budget cuts with increasing levels of poverty, cultural diversity, non-English speaking students, mobility, and aging facilities, your Franklin Pierce schools have continued to show amazing progress. Pick whatever metric or data point you wish to examine and you will find steady improvement over the past five years. Graduation rates, attendance rates, and test scores are all up, while dropout rates, suspensions, and achievement gaps are all down.
Although the State Legislature has not been very helpful, as they are still yet to complete a budget for next year, the fiscal environment in FPS is sound. Coming through our most recent audit with no findings and maintaining a solid fund balance, you will be pleased to know that we were just awarded a $1 million matching grant from OSPI to assist us to improve energy efficiency, reduce operating costs, and greatly improve the indoor learning environment. The grant also allows us to help stimulate Washington construction-industry jobs.
In support of this good work, 18 months ago on February 14, 2012, the hard working tax-paying citizens of the Franklin Pierce School District voted positively to pass our Capital Construction Levy to make upgrades in every classroom throughout the district, make mechanical systems upgrades in every school, and expand the commons/cafeteria spaces at both middle schools, Ford and Keithley. Plans are now underway to start construction/upgrading work in late spring/summer 2013 at Harvard, James Sales, Central Avenue, Brookdale, and Keithley as the initial tax collections began to come into the district in April from the Pierce County Assessor/Treasurer.
As long as our assessed value remains steady over the next couple of years, the continuation 4-year Maintenance and Operations Levy and Technology Levy we will need to run in 2014 will not increase anyone’s property taxes. And if all goes well, we will be able to deliver a bond measure in either November 2016 or February 2017 that will allow us to replace and significantly remodel our oldest (60-100 years old) buildings and require no additional increase to our local taxpayers as a result of the slight increase incurred from our 2012 Capital Levy and the final payoff of our 1998 Bond Measure. Such a measure will provide sustainability to our school facilities for the next 20-30 years.
We will again be conducting our high school commencement exercises at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. All three high schools will hold their respective ceremonies on Saturday, June 8 for the graduating Classes of 2013. FPHS will lead off at 11:00 a.m., followed by GATES and New Pathways at 1:30 p.m., and WHS will be the finale at 4:00 p.m. Since the venue worked so well in 2012, it was decided to continue there.
Over the next couple of years, if you haven’t already, you will undoubtedly hear the following two acronyms: CCSS and TPEP. The first is the Common Core State Standards and the second is the Teacher/Principal Evaluation Process. Both of these things will be significant in the work our district will be engaged in beginning next year and into the future. They can both be considered “game changers” for the schools in our state and in some cases, throughout the country. The CCSS has been adopted by our state and 45 others. It raises the level of rigor for our students K-12 with the expectation of ensuring that all who graduate from our schools are what is known as “college and career ready.” TPEP is a major change that was legislated in our state to address the way teachers and principals are evaluated in a much more explicit and meaningful way to provide for their growth as professionals with the outcome of increasing student achievement. There will be much more to come in the near future on both of these initiatives.
In the meantime, grab your flip-flops, put on your sunscreen, and make it to a track meet, baseball/fastpitch game, tennis match, soccer match, concert, play, or any of the multitude of end-of-year activities that will be taking place over the next six weeks. As always, I’ll see you around the district!