The eventual campus relocation, slated for 2020, is an ever-present focal point for the Seaside School Districts, but administrators remain concentrated on day-to-day operations and long-term strategic planning as they head into the 2018-19 school year.
Teachers returned to their respective schools to prepare for classes, when an estimated 1,580 students — kindergarten through 12th grade — will continue their education.
“The momentum of our school district right now is really strong,” said Jeremy Catt, who is transitioning into a position as vice principal of both The Heights Elementary School and Gearhart Elementary School. “With the strategic planning work we’re doing, the building work on our new campus, and the reorganization of our administrative staff, there’s a lot of energy and positive momentum.”
With John McAndrews departing as principal of The Heights, the school district began blending the administration for the two elementary schools in preparation for the eventual relocation to the new campus currently under construction.
“It gives us a really good opportunity to start merging our climate and culture at both buildings,” said Juli Wozniak, who will be principal of both schools. “When we come together (in 2020), both staff will know both Jeremy and I, so it will be a much smoother transition, is what I’m hoping for.”
Wozniak will have her office at The Heights while Catt will be headquartered in Gearhart. Both administrators, however, will share responsibilities at the two facilities.
“Juli and Jeremy will be a great team,” said Sheila Roley, who is going into her third year as the district’s superintendent.
In the past, the elementary schools have worked together frequently through regular grade-level meetings and teachers collaborating with and supporting one another for professional development, lesson-planning and problem-solving. They will continue focusing on and increasing that collaboration moving forward, Wozniak said.
The school district also has hired 21 new staff members, including teachers, educational assistants and administrative staff. Lynne Griffin is the new director of special services, the position formerly held by Catt.
As with each new school year, Roley said they are approaching the 2018-19 year with a “fresh new mindset,” and other administrators shared a similar attitude.
“It’s very exciting for everybody,” director of curriculum Sande Brown said. “It’s an opportunity for a new start, to be the best we all can be and do the best job we can.”
Since the beginning of the calendar year, the school district has been in the process of forging a strategic plan containing long-term goals to “make sure we’re always in a continuous mode of improvement for the outcomes for our kids,” Roley said. The process began with a survey and focus groups to obtain buy-in and opinions from stakeholders across a broad spectrum, from administrators and teachers to parents and community members.
During a regular meeting Aug. 14, the Seaside School Board adopted a new mission statement and beliefs and values statement as part of the strategic planning process. The district will create goals within a five-year time frame, and then work backward to determine what steps need to be taken in what order to move toward those goals, Brown said.
“They’re all our kids, whatever level they’re at,” she said, adding the district’s responsibility is “making sure we have the right scope and sequence in place to support them all the way through.”
According to Roley, the district has not had a strategic plan that’s been so formalized and comprehensive in years past.
“We’ve always had goals for our students, at both a classroom level and building level,” she said. “We’re taking a fresh look to make sure all the things we do for the students is going to get them where they need to be.”
Roley herself is balancing the campus relocation and construction project, which she described as “a big part of my work,” with business as usual and day-to-day operations. She feels, though, that from the project consultants and the school board to principals and assistant principals, she has “wonderful people with me every step of the way.”
In the long run, she said, “both our strategic plan and our physical location will give us a lot more tools to support kids.”
As for instruction, the district is adopting new health curriculum at the middle and high school levels. Each year, the district re-adopts the curriculum for one area of instruction, so subjects are updated every seven years. They choose one subject per year for budgetary reasons and to not strain the instructional staff, Brown said. Next year, the new curriculum will be for social studies.
Additionally, “as a district, we are kicking off our move to training our administrators and teachers, and eventually teaching assistants, in Constructing Meaning strategies,” Brown said.
Constructing Meaning — although originally an English Language Development curriculum based in language acquisition research — is a comprehensive approach for developing English proficiency to help students read, write and speak more proficiently, which then helps them progress in all areas of learning, Brown said.
In conjunction with strategic planning, staff district-wide has been divided into three cohorts to be trained in the Constructing Meaning instruction method during the next three years. In Brown’s experience, for students exposed to this approach, “their writing is so much more polished and thoughtful and supported.” It also encourages them to speak more in the classroom to practice processing ideas and thoughts out loud.
Brown also is looking forward to consolidating the district’s schools into one campus for both primary and secondary education, and they are testing programs and curriculum in anticipation of that transition.
“There are some opportunities that will present themselves by having all our experts and kids in one place,” she said. “We’ll be able to more efficient in our services and our time.”