Arlington School District Superintendent Chrys Sweeting gave her State of the District Address on Jan. 24 and talked about student learning, fostering safe environments and how the district is using the community’s tax dollars.
A panel of students also talked about what they liked and didn’t like about their education.
Sweeting said the district’s mission is about the kids so their voice should be heard at events like this.
Haller Middle School student Stryker Bowdner said he liked the goal-oriented nature of his curriculum.
“Teachers set goals for me so I can achieve them and think about it before going on to the next thing,” he said.
Baile Linklater, a Haller Middle School student also said she likes the variety of classes.
“The different classes give me a break to think about what I just learned and think about what I should do next time,” she said.
The classroom environment was also a positive for the students who spoke at the event.
“We always have a fun environment,” said Post Middle School student Quynn Roberson. “For me I like the hands-on projects,."
Post Middle School student Koen Collins also complimented the projects.
“One of the things I like is the experiments in science class,” he said, however he noted that the school’s outdated labs could use improvement.
“Some of the Bunsen burners aren’t working and they can be very hard to light,” he said.
A replacement for Post Middle School is on the district's bond proposal which will be on the Feb. 12 election, and students such as Taylor Marcel said the aging building has problems.
“Things are not up to date, such as the heat pumps which are very loud so you can’t hear the teacher … plus the walls are thin so you can hear teachers talking next door,” she said.
Haller Middle School student Grace Davis said that at her school, crowded classrooms sometimes cause problems.
“When you have a class with like 36 kids, it’s loud and distracting,” she said.
Sweeting also spoke about the four guiding principals of the district: student learning, a safe and caring environment, resource stewardship and community engagement.
In terms of student achievement Sweeting said the district has positive trends, although there are still some areas in need of improvement.
Many schools across the nation are struggling with math instruction, said Sweeting.
“We want to figure out how we can help every student learn about mathematics, and grow and achieve,” said Sweeting.
Part of that is encouraging a “positive growth mindset,” where students attribute growth with effort, instead of just something they are innately born with, said Sweeting.
The number of credits required to graduate is going up so that the class of 2021 will not be able to fail any class if they want to graduate on time.
“When you look at our graduation rates there has been some improvement, but it isn’t enough,” said Sweeting.
To help students the district is providing the opportunity to gain credits in seventh- and eighth-grade through classes like P.E., algebra and Washington state history.
The district is also implementing initiatives focused on helping kids feel safe at school.
Part of that is continuing a staff training program to help students with their behavioral issues.
“We have to consider the social and emotional behavioral support that is needed for our students,” said Sweeting.
About a year ago a community truancy board was formed for the district.
“They come together to problem solve when a student is having trouble coming to school. Rather than going to a court to issue a fine, we come together to solve the problem,” said Sweeting.
In the last year the district also saw less in-school suspensions and out-of-school suspensions, said Sweeting, which is important to help keep kids in school.
School campuses are also being designed to increase security, most recently with security phones being installed at every school but Post Middle School, and gates and fencing on more campuses.
“It’s not that we want people to feel like they can’t come in, we just want some control of the access,” said Sweeting.
District officials also make resource stewardship a priority.
“We want to make sure that we’re being good stewards with the resources that we have. We want to use wisely our time, our money, the people in our system and our property,” said Sweeting.
The state is moving to a new funding model that will limit local levy amounts. Previously the Arlington School District collected $3.31 per $1,000 of assessed property value in property tax, however that amount will be capped at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Those lost funds are supposed to be offset by increased funds from the state legislature, coming from property taxes they are levying.
“The hard part about that is we have less funds from the local levy,” said Sweeting.
The district is currently having a projected budget shortfall that will eat into the district’s reserve fund unless something is changed, said Sweeting.
The school board attempts to keep at least one month of operating finances in reserve in case of an emergency.
“It may require adjustments and corrections. We’re having conversations about those because we don’t know those will be,” said Sweeting, who added the changes could make up 1 percent to 5 percent of the budget.
A lot of the school’s funding could change at the state legislature this year as well, said Sweeting, so changes may not be needed.
Finally, Sweeting talked about community engagement.
“We need you to engage with us and partner with us. We cannot do this alone,” she said.
District officials are hoping to keep track of the number of social media posts this year and see what parents are asking for in terms of engagement.
“We’re going to keep track how many Facebook postings, how many Twitter posts we’re making. We’re trying to do more videos to engage people,” said Sweeting.