Tag Archives: Education

Head of special needs PTA down but not out

In May, we wrote about Zac Stephenson, the South Kitsap woman who started a PTA for parents of children with special needs.

Called SODA PTSA for “Support of Different Abilities,” the stand-alone, parent-teacher-student association, not affiliated with a single school, is chartered by the state PTA and is open to parents from all districts in Kitsap County. Stephenson wants to fills a niche for families like hers, whose special needs and interests aren’t always high on the radar of regular PTAs.
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Stephenson and her spouse Harmony have three children, Auri, 11, Toby, 4, and Sam 8, who has autism. Stephenson, a volunteer at Sam’s school Hidden Creek Elementary, wants to build a playground that children like Sam can enjoy. He prefers playing by himself, spinning and the feel of different textures.

In the midst of trying to get SODA off the ground, Zac and Harmony have had a rocky time that just got rockier.

Harmony since January has been receiving diagnosis and treatment of what turned out to be a chronic illness that affected her digestive tract. Harmony, the lone breadwinner of the family is not able to work at this time.

Zac, a stay-at-home-mom, has not been able to work for some time due to multiple health problems, including a work-related back and neck injury. Both women have had surgeries since January. There’s medication and therapy appointments for Sam. Toby, too, appears to have some form of disability, which his parents are sorting out.

On top of mounting medical bills, there was a fire last spring, started by the family’s Springer spaniel who knocked over a heat lamp trying to get at some baby chicks. And most recently, the couple has had car problems.

“It seems like we just keep circling the drain,” Harmony said.
On Aug. 20, Zac was trying to siphon gas out of one vehicle, which is not working, into another, which is. She used an electric pump that she didn’t know had a bare wire, and there was an explosion that set her on fire. Zac’s face was badly burned, and although she’s feeling better now, for some time she was crazed with pain.

In that state, she left the house of a friend on foot, and when the friend couldn’t immediately find her the alarm went out on Facebook that Zac was missing. “Apparently, I owe people in Port Orchard an apology,” Zac said. “It just kind of escalated. I wasn’t running away. It wasn’t anything that was planned. I was just in so much pain. Things had been really, really rough.”

Earlier this week, Zac said she is feeling better. Her face is healing, and the pain is manageable. The family is doing OK for food, between the food bank and public assistance. Harmony is applying for disability assistance, which will help right the ship. The family lives frugally — no cable for example — so they don’t need much to live on. But transportation remains a problem. The van is OK, but their truck needs work and the car is dead.

With everything going on SODA PTSA has been pushed to the back burner, but it’s not dead by a long shot, Zac said.

“The PTA is still in place,” she said. “I had talked to Harmony about stepping down because we have so much to deal with.”

On second thought, however, she will continue to head up the organization and still hopes to see its efforts toward fully accessible playgrounds spread to other schools and other districts.

If anyone wants to help with fundraising and seeking sponsorships, Zac would welcome it, but the best thing anyone could do is join SODA PTSA for $15 a year, she said.

For information on SODA PTSA or to join, contact Stephenson at 509-378-6263 or go to https://www.facebook.com/sodaptsa.

To learn about forming your own special needs PTSA, contact your Washington State PTA regional director at www.wastatepta.org. Region 1 covers Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties and includes North Mason School District.

How Winifred Atchison salvaged my education

“Does not work up to her potential.” This was a common theme on my early elementary school report cards.

I was easily distracted, overly sociable and a little bit mischievous, just the kind of kid that puts a snag in every teacher’s stocking.

Day in, day out, I must have worn on Miss Atchison’s nerves, but she never let it show. Winifred Atchison was the quintessential schoolmarm, with sensible black pumps, a wool skirt just below the knee and a cap of leaden curls.

Miss Atchison brooked no nonsense, and I believe I spent more time out in the hallway than in the classroom during my fourth grade year. Our classroom was off a landing, and I can remember my older sister — well behaved, neat, punctual, studious — taking the stairs to the cafeteria with her friends, pretending she didn’t know me.

I was one of two girls in a remedial handwriting class, a fact of which I was probably not sufficiently ashamed. Things haven’t improved much to this day.

I hated math and didn’t get the point of history (too many dates to memorize, so long ago). I lived for recess, PE and lunch.

The one part of the instructional day I came to love was read-aloud time. Right after lunch, Miss Atchison would read to us in her thick Irish accent.

I don’t recall any of the books she read, but I do remember they had a profound effect on me. Lying my head on my arms — which was allowed — I relished the sound of the words and marveled at how they strung together. Miss Atchison could have been reading the phone book in that mellifluous brogue and I’d have been hooked.

Now, some time during the year, someone (not me, probably one of the guys) had brought in a lump of clay that got divvied up, loaves and fishes style, until everyone had a little pinch. Miss Atchison knew about the clay, and allowed us to have it in our desks — the old hinge top kind — as long as we didn’t take it out during class.

One day during read-aloud time, when Miss Atchison’s eyes were on the book, someone sneaked their clay out and started making tiny ramps on the desktop, which was slanted, and a tiny clay ball to roll down the little maze.

I would love to take credit for that bit of brilliance, but I have to say it was probably one of the guys, or Cornelia Adams, who was both artistic and subversive. Pretty soon everyone in class was making clay mazes on their desks.

Miss Atchison quickly became aware of the new trend, but instead of squashing it, lo and behold, she tolerated it. Pretty soon our classroom economy revolved around the clay, which grew in volume like currency, traded for erasers, pencils and pennies. We had a virtual clay Mafia, of which I was not part. But I had my share of the goods, a raquetball-sized wad.

The mazes got bigger, more elaborate. We had unspoken contests for who could keep the little ball rolling the longest. And yet read-aloud time grew utterly quiet; none of the usual wiggling or whispering. Even kids who used to squirm through the stories, settled down and maybe even listened.

My lifelong love of words began with read-aloud hour, a blissful interlude marked by the lilting sound of Miss Atchison’s voice, the softness and earthy smell of clay, and the sight of the little ball rolling, dropping, rolling and dropping.

In the months and years to come, I developed a voracious appetite for reading and also found I was a pretty decent writer. Over months and years, I settled down, knuckled down and became a decent student, and later in life a journalist.

For all this, I credit Miss Atchison, who was old in the 1960s, when I went to elementary school, and is surely dead by now.

Did I ever tell her, “thank you?” I can’t recall. It seemed a given; we loved Miss Atchison and she loved us. She knew what made each of us tick. She knew when to push us and when to indulge our childish sense of play.

Now, that was brilliant.

On Sunday, we’ll hear from this year’s high school graduates about teachers who changed the trajectory of their education, and we’d like to hear from you, too.

Starting today, post your thoughts, memories, photos and videos on the social media platform of your choice with the tag #bestteacher. Our goal is to collect reader responses through Facebook, Twitter and other social media and share them when the story is published online at www.kitsapsun.com.

If you’re using Facebook, make sure we can see the post by following these instructions: Click on the blue drop-down menu to the left of the “Post” button. It reads, “Who should see this?” Click on “Public.” Making your post public will allow it to be included when we aggregate the responses.

Whatever platform you’re using, remember to use the hashtag #bestteacher.

‘No Child’ waiver loss might be a blessing

This week’s North Kitsap School Board three-day retreat agenda includes discussion of what impact Washington’s loss of a No Child Left Behind waiver will have on the district. This is a conversation every district will be having.

While the additional allowances each school district in the state will have to make does make for extra work, there are some in educational circles who argue it is better than the alternative, evaluating teachers based on student scores on standardized testing.

The waiver loss does not mean a loss of funds. It means less flexibility with using those funds, about $40 million across the state. While the No Child law is being reworked states were given some flexibility in applying some of its standards, but the U.S. Department of Education held firm that states had to have a workable teacher evaluation system that relied at least in part on student test scores. Washington, in the end, declined to create a system and the feds tightened the screws on how money is spent.

What we’re talking about is Title I funding, money aimed at disadvantaged students. For North Kitsap Title 1 funding equals about $562,000. Under the existing law about 30 percent of that, about $168,000, will be directed to other purposes, said Patty Page, district superintendent.

Of that $168,000 about $56,000 is to be spent on professional development. The rest would go to transportation for parents who want to take their children out of schools deemed not meeting No Child adequate yearly progress standards. In North Kitsap that is Suquamish Elementary, Wolfle Elementary and Kingston Middle School.

Page said there are still a few questions left unanswered. One is whether the district’s application to provide special tutoring within the district will be granted. Another is whether transportation to other schools means schools outside of the school district. Answers to those questions and others are supposed to come soon.

The retreat is Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night, with each meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m. and scheduled to last three hours. The meetings are in the district offices.

The No Child waiver is fifth on the three-day agenda, following the 2014-15 budget, open government training, strategic plans and board goals. Page didn’t expect the No Child waiver discussion to happen in the first night’s work, which could mean Page will by then have more answers on some lingering questions.

One story in an education publication suggests some states would tell Washington to accept the waiver loss with a happy face and move on. That’s the case made in a story in Education Week. Losing the flexibility over a few dollars might be an easy price to pay for the flexibility you get elsewhere. From the story:

For instance, he (Richard Zeiger, the chief deputy superintendent in California) said, there have been political benefits. The state’s teachers’ unions were a huge driving force in helping to enact a new funding formula that gives a heavy weight to students in poverty. It would have been a lot harder to gin up union support for the change if the state education agency had been tusseling with them over teacher evaluation, Zeiger said.

Maybe even more importantly, he said, the shift to new standards has been relatively painless for California. “We’ve had very little contention around the common core and the shift to the new testing system” in part because it’s happened separately from the types of teacher-evaluation changes called for in the waivers, Zeiger said. “The comments we’ve gotten on common core are: This is how I always wanted to teach.”

Other states say the waiver is working, the case made in an AP story this week. The story goes into some explanation as to what’s happening here in this state.

A brief NPR story goes a little bit into what is happening in Oregon and Idaho.

For your education edification

Once in a while I come across a few stories I think some of you education-minded readers would appreciate. Usually I sit on them, because it seems like a lot to offer commentary on all of them. So this time I’m just the links with brief explanations.

The first is from someone who believes we should get rid of middle school. That piques my interest a bit, because my own memories of junior high school was of two years in a high school waiting room. Looking back it was the least satisfying two years of my educational experience during K-12, though some of my teachers in the other schools might differ. What the writer seems to be proposing is a Klahowya model.

The next story posits that one reason poorer schools will never do well on standardized tests is they can’t afford the updated materials needed to know what’s going to be on the tests. Test makers are also book publishers.

The third story shows that long before the youngsters learn to talk the brain activity shows they are working on figuring out how. Awesome picture in there, too.

The final story is one I read a couple weeks ago, one that suggests that even pre-kindergarten is too late. Good education starts way earlier.

Oly’s Bob Barnes started teaching when we didn’t know how wonderful it was to not know

Bob Barnes, Olympic High School principal, started work as a teacher 42 years ago. For the last 13 years he has been principal at Olympic High School. He is retiring at the end of the year. We will have a story on him on Tuesday.

To get an idea of what 42 years in education means, or how the world and education have changed in that time, watch comedian Pete Holmes talk about not knowing, and how beautiful that was.

The test is being tested

This weekend I should have a story about two students who have achieved a lot, but the award they are up for they first became candidates for because of how well they did on the ACT and SAT tests. Those two tests have been around forever. (By “forever” I mean longer than I have been a student.) Students now, and this is not news to any parent or educator, spend so much more of their year taking tests than their parents did, that the cry that testing is counterproductive is getting louder.

Consider the piece written by Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon. Among the many cases she makes is that testing might not only be hurting overall education efforts, it might even be designed to do just that.

And it’s a system that, as Core Standards are being implemented around the country, seems built to fail. “All the passing ratings are going to go down about 30 percent this year; that’s what they’re predicting,” says author, advocate and education historian Diane Ravitch. “The dark view is that they want everybody to fail and they want people to say the public schools stink, so they can push for more vouchers and more charters. I can’t describe what’s going on without thinking that we’re in the process of destroying American public education.”

ckteacherevalOn Wednesday at the Central Kitsap School District meeting there was a presentation on the state’s method for teacher evaluation, which will be implemented in 2014. As you can see from the slide on the right, testing will at least be part of what helps measure educators.

Then again, we all know parents use school and district test scores to drive real estate values up or down in an area. Parents try to move to areas where test scores are better. They aren’t a guarantee every child will succeed, but what parent doesn’t hope that peer pressure will influence their children to study harder?

Williams’ suggested solution is to go more local.

Absolutely, there are broken schools and faulty teachers who are failing our children every day. But building a better system of public education – an education to which every child in this country is entitled — takes creative and innovative approaches, tailored to individual communities.

How local? would seem to be the important question. While testing, the editorial asserts, hasn’t closed any learning gaps, how can a state know how well each district is doing if it can’t measure one against another? What are your ideas?

Kitsap schools among state’s high achievers

NOTE: OSPI later told North Mason officials that North Mason’s inclusion in the awards was incorrect. North Mason qualified for this honor a year ago, but not for the more recent reporting period. Since this chart is somewhat laborious to recreate, we’ll just tell you here rather than correct the chart.

Among the 381 schools honored as high achievers by the state in a release issued today are 15 from Kitsap County and one from Belfair.

The Washington Achievement Awards honor performance in seven categories, including overall excellence and high progress, a category that marks improvement. The state’s criteria measures two-year achievement on test scores and takes into account how small the gap is between low-income students and racial minorities and the rest of their classmates. The state’s press release follows the graph.


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Destination ImagiNation — Science and art make for a lively day

On Saturday school children from throughout the peninsula met at Klahowya Secondary School to participate and, in some cases, compete in Destination Imagination. The kids have been practicing in teams since the beginning of the school year, and in one case that I met for eight years.

Like almost all things involving school children exploring their passions, the event is high energy, which is saying something when much of the work involves science.

The organizers escorted me to three different kinds of performances. The first involved groups telling a story, without any words, with required elements being superheroes, transformation and disguises. The second grouping required groups to put on a skit and test the strength of a seven-inch structure. Elements of the structure had to be part of the skit going on next to the strength test. The third element I saw was in improv competition called “Change in Realitee.” The group was given a situation, in the case I saw it was the sudden absence of helicopters. The group had to use three nouns (“meal,” “coach” and “game” were my show’s nouns) to create a slogan used in the skit. And they had to use T-shirts in some way.

Part of the high energy also comes from the volunteers, and there are a ton of them. It’s no wonder parents and others who work with kids feel devoted to the event. The skills the students get from participating can be translated well beyond performing skits. While waiting for one of the events I interviewed six members of Phanny Paks, a group that has a history together. Some of them have been competing together as a team for eight years. The benefits of the program, assuming the program created what I witnessed, were on display in the poise, confidence and joy I saw in this group of students from CK High, every last one of them.

Below you can watch a brief video showing highlights from a couple of the events. The first group is made up of seventh and eighth graders at Klahowya. The second has students from Silver Ridge Elementary. You might not get the full idea from the video, but it gives you some idea what students did on Saturday.

Groups moving on to the April 6 state competition in Wenatchee in the different groupings are:

“In the Zone
Elementary — Emerald Heights (Silverdale)
Middle — Sequim Independent (Sequim)

“Wind Visible”
Elementary — Belfair (Belfair)
Secondary — Central Kitsap High School (Silverdale)

“In Disguise”
Elementary — Silverdale (Silverdale)
Middle — Mullenix Ridge (Port Orchard)
Secondary — Bainbridge Independent (Bainbridge Island

“Change in Realitee”
Elementary — Sand Hill (Belfair)
Middle — CK Jr. High (Silverdale)
Secondary — Bainbridge Independent (Bainbridge Island)

Elementary — Sand Hill (Belfair)
Middle — Klahowya (Silverdale)