Edmonds School Board receives updates on support for homeless students, AVID program

Edmonds School District Superintendent Gustavo Balderas briefed the Edmonds School Board on Jan. 11 about the rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Snohomish County.

Edmonds School District leaders reconvened Tuesday night following the winter recess and received multiple briefings on ways the district is working to aid its most at-risk students.

At its Jan. 11 business meeting, the board received two updates regarding students who qualify for the McKinney-Vento program, which aims to ensure students experiencing homelessness have equal access to an education. 

The first update came from Karla Sanchez, the district’s homelessness, foster care and migrant student coordinator. Sanchez said the district has approximately 400 students qualified for McKinney-Vento as of December 2021. However, she said that there may be more students in the district experiencing homelessness, and staff are working with school administrators to identify them. 

According to Sanchez, McKinney-Vento students are graduating at a rate of 50% compared to their classmates, and staff are offering tutoring, credit renewal courses and opportunities to retake exams. Sanchez also updated the board on the Edmonds Hub, which offers McKinney-Vento students laundry services, access to coats, cold-weather clothes, hygiene products, an emergency food pantry, Wi-Fi and onsite paraeducators to help students at all grade levels with schoolwork.

However, Sanchez said the only permanent solution is more housing, and she praised the recent agreement between the district and the Everett non-profit organization Housing Hope to develop a 40- to-50-unit affordable housing complex to house homeless students and their families. Per the proposal, the complex would be developed on the 1.8-acre, district-owned Scriber Baseball field, located along 58th Avenue West and adjacent to Cedar Valley Community School in Lynnwood.

“Having access to housing and being able to refer (students) to a space like Housing Hope, I think, is just going to be great for families in the district,” she said.

Additionally, the board was updated on the AVID (Advance Via Individual Determination) pilot program, which aims to narrow the gap between the lowest- and highest-performing students and ensure more students become enrolled in four-year colleges and universities.

During the briefing, the district’s STEM and Career/College Readiness Program Director Mark Madison explained that through the AVID program, students learn how to take detailed notes, organize their schoolwork, and other ways to prepare them for career and educational opportunities after high school.

“The intent of AVID is that these strategies and mindsets that frame the AVID career and college readiness framework began spreading throughout the entire school,” he said.

Currently, the program is offered as an elective to eighth-grade students at Alderwood Middle and Meadowdale Middle schools and to ninth-grade students at Lynnwood High and Meadowdale High schools. The curriculum includes two days of instruction, two days of tutorial time and one day to schedule guest speakers or field trips, though he added that there have been some challenges making arrangements for speakers and trips due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Madison, about 40 students have signed up for the course at each school and added that teachers have seen an improvement from the students who are enrolled.

“We are starting to see that movement from not just the AVID elective but also into non-AVID elective classes,” he said. “So, overall, it’s been positive.”

Madison said there are plans to expand and offer AVID at other schools and at different grade levels, but they have been delayed due to the pandemic until the 2023-24 school year. He also said that staff are looking to hire a tutor but added that the position pays minimum wage and has not attracted many applicants. As a result, he said staff are considering hiring seniors and juniors in high school  next year as well as Edmonds College students enrolled in a service learning program.

In other business, the board held a second reading for, and adopted a new district policy regarding, the use and display of the flags on poles in front of school buildings. The new policy aims to ensure “a standard of flag display on district property that is in compliance with national and state protocols for flag display and etiquette.”

Also during the meeting, administrators updated the board on the latest number of COVID-19 cases across Snohomish County and how they impact the district. Superintendent Gustavo Balderas said the number of cases has risen from 500 to 1,000 cases per 100,000 over the past week, and health officials predict them to continue to rise over the next couple of weeks before possibly reaching their peak. He also encouraged students and their families to get vaccinated and staff said later in the meeting that there was “clear evidence” that being vaccinated helps neutralize the omicron variant of the virus.

During the update, Balderas said that although the district is working to keep school buildings open for in-person learning, staff would be making decisions based on data and advice from public health officials. He also pointed out that switching to remote learning or a hybrid learning model would not be as easy as it was in the past and is something staff are working to avoid.

“We know that kids need to be on our campuses, and we want to keep them on our campuses,” he said.

This week, three schools — College Place Elementary, Mountlake Terrace Elementary and Lynnwood High — have all switched to remote learning as a result of the number of staff and students out due to illness. For more information, visit the COVID-19 dashboard available on the district website.

Staff also updated the board on plans to return to holding in person school board meetings. Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab said that in-person meetings will be limited to 40 attendees to allow for social distancing and added that masks will be required. He added that there are still plans to continue to stream meetings online.

“We stand ready to implement this whenever we feel like it’s time to do this,” Schwab said.

Though the board of directors anticipated returning to meeting in person this month, Balderas suggested waiting until February pending a downturn in the number of reported COVID cases.

Also, newly elected Board Director Keith Smith took the oath of office and the board voted to elect Director Nancy Katims as president. Former Board President Deborah Kilgore was elected vice president.

-By Cody Sexton

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