School board narrows choice to two candidate search firms; student wellness surveys discussed

A student advisor talks about student wellness surveys at her school.

The Edmonds School District Board of Directors at its Tuesday, Sept. 27 meeting discussed the district’s student perception and wellness surveys and how the data can be used to better the classroom experience.

The Panorama Student Survey, which is offered to students in English and Spanish, provides two surveys to all students from third to 12th grade: The Wellness Screener and the Supports and Environments Survey. The screener asks questions based on student feelings and relationships and the survey asks questions related to school environment, support and resources.

According to district Director of Assessment and Research Austin Mueller, students were asked a number of questions about school safety, school climate, supportive relationships and positive and challenging feelings. 

Mueller said this year, the survey also included a question about bullying, with 21% of third- to fifth-graders and 11% of sixth to 12th graders stating they felt they were being bullied.

At the end of the survey, students also had the option of requesting to speak one-on-one with an adult about their well-being, another student’s well-being or any questions they had regarding the survey.

Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab said the district takes the results of the surveys very seriously when it considers how to make the school district a safer, more inclusive place for students. 

“This is very reliable data because such a large number of students in the state take it,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Rebecca Miner said.

One of the board’s student advisors said that because students were required to take the survey, they tended to take the questions more seriously. During the pandemic, when the survey was optional at her school, she said students were less likely to answer the questions because they didn’t believe their responses were important.

Each school board member received a packet with the complete survey results so they could examine them more closely.

In other business, Board President Nancy Katims said the board has begun its search for a permanent superintendent and is hoping to have a decision by March 2023.

“We’re excited that we’re on the way,” Katims said. “We’re going to follow a timeline and we’re going to get input from everyone and their uncle, as they say.”

Katims said the board has so far received six proposals from interested candidate search firms and after initial reviews, has narrowed the choices to two. Both will have their first interview on Oct. 4.

The president said she plans to give regular updates during board meetings on how the search is going and hopes to include a few designated times for community input into the board’s decision.

In addition, the board received a school improvement plan update from Lynndale Elementary School Principal Sarah Schumacher.

Schumacher said last year, teachers at Lynndale focused on literacy, as most of the students had fallen behind during online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The school set a goal that every student in fourth through sixth grade that was a year or more below their literacy assessment would meet “typical growth” by the end of the year. Typical growth, the principal said, is the amount of improvement a student should show over the course of one year of learning.

At the end of the 2021-22 school year, Schumacher said 52% of fourth graders, 46.9% of fifth graders and 74.4% of sixth graders met their typical growth. It wouldn’t have been possible, she said, without the hard work of dedicated teachers striving to help students reach their full potential.

“[The teachers] really dove into, ‘What do these students need to be successful?’” Schumacher said.

This year, Schumacher said staff are focused on reaching students with individualized plans based on how that student learns and best retains information.

“All of our students deserve to get exactly what they need to get them to that next level,” she said.

The board also unanimously voted to approve three new policies – for workforce secondary traumatic stress, accommodating students with seizure disorder and student discipline – as well as adopting the board’s 2022-23 goals.

During public comments, Aaron Holder said he was unhappy with the lack of response to the data gathered during the last student perception and wellness surveys.

“I’m frustrated because in January of 2021, I listened to members of the school board and our district, some of whom are still in this room, say that this data was so concerning it needed immediate action, and it’s a year and a half later and our scores are worse,” Holder said. “We have not been impactful. We are not serving our students. They need immediate, intentional, innovative support. It can’t wait. They need it now.”

The board also heard from Valerie Mosai-Aspaas, who was a district employee until Monday when she finally quit her job due to the guilt she felt because she is not able to give students what they need.

“One teacher simply cannot attend to all the learning needs of 20-30 students for 50 minutes a day, despite that being the norm across the nation,” Mosai-Aspaas said. “I cannot live with the guilt of working in a system that gets more and more broken every year.”

She said students are struggling after the effects of two years of online learning, and despite her best efforts, Mosai-Aspaas is only seeing things getting worse. With students addicted to their phones, suffering from social anxiety and dealing with all-time-high mental illness rates, she urged the board to make drastic changes before the school system ends up in further disarray.

Nora Carlson also spoke during the meeting, urging the board to do something about the dangerous intersection of 96th Avenue West and 220th Street Southwest near Edmonds’ Westgate Elementary School.

According to Carlson, cars continue to drive through the intersection even while crossing guards are standing in the middle with their flags held up, trying to safely guide children across the crosswalk. She presented a petition with 56 community members’ signatures and 10 detailed accounts of near misses from parents and crossing guards pleading with the district to do something to improve the safety of the intersection, so no lives are lost.

Miner thanked the audience for making it out to the meeting and encouraged them to take in the multitude of events that schools are now offering once again, from sporting events to concerts to student activities.

“I know that we are not taking normal for granted any longer,” she said.

–By Lauren Reichenbach

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