Tonasket school enrollment swells

 School day back to length at long last

TONASKET – Tonasket School District’s administrators expressed excitement about the 2014-15 school year at their final school board meeting of the summer Monday, Aug. 25, as the district finished preparations to return to a full-length school day for the first time in nearly 20 years.

With 17 new staff on board, additional options for middle and high school students, and music and art now available or elementary students, there were more than the usual preparations to be made over the summer.

Growing enrollment – and its attendant issues – were a theme amongst all of the administrators.

Superintendent Paul Turner said that getting a firm number on what the net gain would be, but said that there seemed to be a high number of new enrollees leading up to the first day of school.

“Two words are going to be our theme: dealing with poverty, and hope,” Turner said. “It’s exciting that we’re wrapped around the same focus on that as we’re going through the year.

“We don’t have an exact number yet but the trend on our attendance is up… there’s constantly been people coming in, as well as out of district transfers.”

“We’ve been getting new kids every day,” said Middle School Principal Jay Tyus. “You know there will be some that will transfer (out) that haven’t yet. But we’re up significantly on paper.

“If that sticks it will be a blessing and a curse. We’re running out of spaces for kids but we also are excited about that means, that kids are coming here.”

Tyus said his building had about 240 kids set to attend class, 10 more than last year and 20 more than were budgeted for.

“The bottom line is we’re making it work right now,” he said. “But you will hear in the next two weeks, ‘Oh my gosh, my kids’ classes are enormous’

“All varieties of people coming in. We’ve got people coming in that are migrant/bilingual students, kids coming in from virtual academies, people from our own district, people from Oroville. It’s a hodgepodge; there’s no rhyme or reason.”

High School Principal Jeff Hardesty said that he had three students from the west side of the state enroll, while Elementary Principal Jeremy Clark said he’d also seen more than the usual number of fresh enrollments over the past few weeks.

With the increased staff, longer day and more kids, all were looking forward to getting started (the first day with students was two days later).

“We’re excited about the changes and the new opportunities for our students,” Clark said. “We have a very rich environment, full curriculum.There’s been a lot of construction with the preschool moving and the new addition for the reading specialist… The building is looking phenomenal.”

He added that his staff was focused on continuing to improve the building’s NWEA scores. Clark said that growth goals were the highest in the time that assessment had been used but that there were still issues with meeting of the achievement goals.

“So we are focusing on bolster that, coupling that high growth with achievement,” he said. “The staff feels a sense of urgency around this and ownership behind it.”

Tyus said the Middle School will be using the song “Lean on Me” as a theme for the year.

“It’s an opportunity to understand some social and cultural development of our school,” he said. “The basic idea is around both staff and students – student-to-student (relationships), staff-to-staff, staff-to-student – we believe in you and we’ve got your back.”

Hardesty said his building was implementing a freshman orientation that would kick off the school year. In the past, he said, it held in the evening and attendance was an issue. By holding it during the first day of school, just about all the students will be able to take part.

“We said for a number of years it could be more meaningful,” he said. “We did it the first hour or so of school… Basically, how can you be successful academically?”

He added that a new, digital handbook for new teachers had been put together with input from last year’s new staff.

“We even have an Acronym Page,” Hardesty said.

Insurance

The board also approved its renewal of its general liability and property insurance. In an unusual twist these days, the annual premium decreased from last year by about $2,000 to $115,755. The policy is held by United Schools Insurance, which provides group rates for most schools in the region, and is administered by VIP Insurance.

Turner asked for information on paying via a payment plan this year; with the additional staff positions this year, the district’s cash flow will be stretched until the new year because the new levy, which provides funding for those additional salaries, won’t take effect until January.

Staff

The school board also approved the hiring of the following: Brett Franklin (Middle School language/history teacher); Brittany Jones (Elementary life skills/resource room paraeducator); and Kristi Denison (Elementary Title I paraeducator).

The Monday Sept. 22 board meeting was canceled and rescheduled for Sept. 29 for bill-paying purposes.

The School Board next meets on Monday, Sept. 8.

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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