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Response to Community Questions

School Board Response to Community Questions/Concerns

January 2017

How will the Ferndale School District make up time lost due to inclement weather in December 2016?

Leadership of the teachers’ union and district administration worked collaboratively to create a plan for dealing with the loss of school days due to weather related issues prior to Winter Break. Through this process, they addressed a number of factors, including the following:

 

  • Under normal conditions, the State requires 180 days. Under unusual circumstances, a district can apply for limited relief from that rule. We have applied for and been granted a waiver for two (2) of the days missed due to weather. As a result, we currently are required to provide 178 student school days. Since we missed a total of six(6), we still need to make up four (4) days.
  • The State also requires a minimum number of instructional hours. We have to meet a district-wide average in grades 1-12 of 1027 hours; or a district-wide average of 1000 hours in grades 1-8 and 1080 hours in grades 9-12.
  • Our goal is to preserve the Commencement dates that have been previously established: June 10 for FHS and June 13 for WHS.
  • Seniors are allowed a 175-day year; rather than the 180 days required for students in grades K-11.
  • Our goal is to preserve Spring Break as a whole week.
  • Our secondary schools need to balance instructional time between semesters, especially since a number of classes do not run for the entire year. This means moving the end of the semester to allow time for final work and final exams.
  • We need to remember that winter is NOT OVER yet!

 

Without a calendar change, seniors at FHS would be one day short of the State requirement. We could address this shortage by holding a Saturday school for seniors only or asking seniors to attend classes on one day of Spring Break. These options seemed less desirable to members of the calendar committee than using Monday, January 30, as a school day. January 30 was originally designated as a non-school day between semesters and a non-contact day for staff.

 

The following calendar changes have been enacted:

 

January 20 Remains a K-5 Early Dismissal for Report Card Prep

January 30 Becomes a half day for students in grades K-12

February 3 Marks the new end of First Semester

February 6 Becomes the first day of Second Semester

February 9 Is the deadline for secondary teachers to submit first semester grades

June 10       Remains FHS Commencement date

June 13       Remains WHS Commencement date

June 21       Becomes the last day of second semester and the school year

What is the Ferndale School District’s policy about discussing politics in the classroom?

Discussions of current events and controversial topics provide valuable opportunities for teaching students (1) to recognize and listen to different viewpoints; (3) to form and support opinions; (3) to be critical consumers of information; and (4) to engage in civil discourse. These are important skills for citizens in a democratic society. They also reflect our core mission as a school district.

 

For these reasons, we support teachers who choose to teach about such events as the Presidential election and Inauguration and/or to facilitate political discussions with their students. However, we have also reminded our teachers that the classroom is not a place where they should espouse their own political points of view. Outright partisan statements by persons in positions of authority (in other words, any Ferndale School District staff member) can undermine the sense of fairness and safety we strive to create. So can derisive comments, political humor, and offhand remarks aimed at one side or the other.

 

Regarding teachers’ freedom of speech, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington has made the following statement, which we have also shared:

 

Generally, the First Amendment protects your speech if you are speaking as a private citizen on a matter of public concern. However, if you are speaking as part of the duties of your job, your speech will not necessarily have the same protection. What you say or communicate inside the classroom is considered speech on behalf of the school district and therefore is not entitled to First Amendment protection.” Free Speech Rights of Public School Teachers in Washington State, September 1, 2016

 

Our teachers practice these principles on a regular basis. But given the particularly intense emotional climate in our country right now, we have sent them a reminder about their role. We know many of them have been called upon to exercise particular sensitivity as they help your people navigate these interesting, passionate times, and we want to provide guidance and support.

Are there students in the Ferndale School District who have contracted mumps? If so, what is the District doing to respond?

When certain infectious diseases, like the mumps, are determined, or suspected, to be present within a school community, the district’s response is governed by the Health Department.

 

On Thursday (January 26), the Ferndale School District was contacted by the Whatcom County Health Department to let us know about a suspected case of mumps in our district. As per the Health Department’s instructions, we sent letters to all students and teachers in the class(es) this student attended while possibly contagious. Also as per instructions, any student or teacher (1) who was possibly exposed to the mumps; and (2) who does not have up-to-date vaccination records on file; or (3) who does not take steps to get vaccines or records showing they have previously had vaccines, must be excluded from school for the 14-day period when the disease would become contagious.

Following is the message the district superintendent sent to administrative staff on January 26.

 

I want to let you know that the Health Department has notified us of a case of mumps at Ferndale High School.

 

As such, we are required on behalf of the Health Department to notify the parents of students and the staff members who may have been exposed to mumps. (Exposure constitutes being within three feet of the ill student for a period of an hour.) Any exposed student or staff who has not been vaccinated must either (1) get vaccinated or (2) be excluded from school for the period of time when the disease would be infectious.

 

We are in the process of making notifications today via letter, email, all-call, Facebook, and the district website. Once this information has been published, you may get questions at your school. Please refer to the district website for more detailed information, and notify your administrative assistants to do the same.

 

If you have questions about our district process, you can call Jill, Paul, Mark Deebach, Tammy, or me. (The five of us just met to map out our district plan.) If you have questions about the mumps, call the Health Department at 360.778.6100.

 

Thanks for all you do and now for dealing with mumps as well!

 

Copies of the notification letters and additional information has also been posted on the district website.

 

December 2016

What has happened in the past year to the Vista Middle School Library? Has it been converted into the new School Board meeting room?

Last spring, we closed the Vista Library for about three weeks so that we could refurbish it for multiple uses. Our Teaching & Learning Department worked with the Vista staff to reimagine a space that could be reconfigured to hold different sized groups for a variety of activities, while still maintaining the room’s primary function as a library. New carpet, paint, and bookshelves were installed, all selected by the Vista staff, along with updated audio-visual equipment. During the time the library was closed for upgrades, Vista staff also took the opportunity to review and cull the collection of instructional materials housed in the library and adjacent workrooms. They removed filmstrips, movies, old VHS tapes, and stacks of outdated magazines, although no books at that time. When the library re-opened, students were greeted with up-to-date resources and, thanks to generous donations from local businesses, new small group seating areas that are cozy and inviting.

 

Among the various activities that take place in the renovated Vista library are the Ferndale School Board business neetings. One evening every month, the furniture in the library is rearranged to accommodate these meetings. Because of the flexible layout of the space and the addition of projectors, screens, and speakers, the conversion process is easy. We have sturdy folding tables and portable microphones stored in a nearby closet, which are brought out after students go home for the day in order to cause the least disruption to their learning.

 

More importantly, the flexible layout provides multiple opportunities for students and staff to use the space for their learning needs. Last month, for instance, three Vista science teachers at three different grade levels were able to combine their classes in the library for a cross-age investigation. On other days, a single class may go to the library to check out books. After school it houses clubs. And so on.

 

The decision to upgrade the Vista library in this way was an easy one. The former boardroom, which was located in the district office, was permanently configured as a formal School Board meeting space with very little flexibility. Therefore, it was not used very much. By transforming that space into offices, we can now house all of our district office team under one roof, which facilitates collaboration and creates more efficiency. By making a few changes in the Vista Library, that space is more valuable to students and staff and also works just fine for School Board meetings once, or occasionally twice, per month.

 

School Board business meetings are held on the last Tuesday of each month at 7:00 pm in the Vista library. Please join us at your convenience to see how the space is meeting the needs of our students and the larger community.

Why does the Ferndale School District get rid of library books?

The decision to surplus books is made for a variety of reasons. The books might be damaged, out-of-date, or unused for a long time. A book that had great appeal to students 20 or 30 years ago may not be one that current students are interested in reading. Generally, every year or two the staff in the school examines all of their books and decides which ones they no longer need. Before those books are put on a surplus list that goes to the general public, they are offered to all of the other schools in the district.

 

Recently, the School Board approved a surplus list that included a number of books. Most of the ones surplussed from Vista this time were old textbooks, not library books. Usually the surplussed library books from our middle and high schools are outdated non-fiction with black and white photos that few of today’s students would find very appealing to read. In this day of such wonderful internet resources, combined with our students’ one-to-one access to devices, outdated hard copy resources just don’t have much appeal – not when students can get hundreds of books on their personal tablet or computer. Most college students today do almost all of their research online and only go to a physical library to meet with classmates. In other words, the library is a gathering place, not the research hub that it once way. A similar trend has occurred in the secondary schools in our district and across the country.

 

Surplus happens on a regular basis in all school districts. While the public is offered the opportunity to see what is being surplussed and to bid on it, they don’t always get to see a list of the items that have been purchased to replace the surplus. The Ferndale School District continues to make annual monetary allocations to each school for library materials. Members of the building staff determine how to use those funds.

 

Mark Hall, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, oversees the Ferndale School District libraries. Questions can be addressed to him at mark.hall@ferndalesd.org.

What is the Ferndale School District’s policy about sending elementary students outdoors for recess when the weather is cold?

Student safety is always our first consideration when deciding how to respond to changes in wind, temperature, and precipitation. All of our schools have specific protocols in place for determining when students should or shouldn’t be allowed outside to play. At each building, the playground staff go outside themselves to get a feel for the actual conditions (as opposed to just looking out the window or listening to the radio). In consultation with the building principal, the team decides what is appropriate and announces the day’s plan to staff and students. Depending on the conditions, the announcement could declare indoor recess with the gym and library open and the fields closed; it could allow outdoor play on blacktop only; and/or it could advise hats, coats, and gloves required for outdoor play.

 

During normal weather conditions, students are expected to remain in one location for the entire recess and are not allowed back into the building except to use the restroom. This rule is aimed at making sure all students are in supervised spaces at all times. However, when temperatures drop suddenly or rain picks up unexpectedly, students may come back into buildings in the middle of recess to warm up. Older students are given more personal discretion about staying outside or coming inside, while primary students are directed by staff to go inside when conditions become questionable. We do not have a set of exact numbers that we use in making these determinations. Rather, we rely on the experience and judgement of our staff, who understand, as stated above, that student safety is always our top priority.

How does the Ferndale School District decide to delay the school start time or cancel school altogether because of inclement weather?

Decisions made in the dark, pre-dawn hours about whether or not to delay or cancel school due to weather conditions affect the lives of thousands of people. Therefore, they are never made lightly.

 

The first priority is always student safety, followed very closely by the safety of parents and staff. We want to make certain that our buses; our student walkers; and all of our parent, staff, and student drivers can get to all of our schools over roads that are clear enough to allow safe arrival. The County and City road crews do a great job helping with this, but often other factors come into play, like calculating the amount of time children will need to be out in the cold and wet waiting for a bus and the safety of walking routes for those who come to school on foot.

 

The decision making process starts early. At 3:30 am, designated district staff start driving area roads. While sometimes our district team consults with colleagues in neighboring districts, each school district must ultimately make its own call, because conditions can vary greatly from one district to another and even from one neighborhood to another.

 

Staff assess the severity of the current conditions and, as importantly, the timing of any imminent weather changes. An overnight storm whose intensity comes during commuter hours is different than an evening front that gives ample time for snow plows to clear streets by dawn. A big accumulation of wet snow followed by warming temperatures requires different consideration than ice-packed roads and successive days of sub-freezing temperatures. A number of factors go into the decision. One that doesn’t factor in is the number of snow days already called during the year. The decision is only about safety.

 

To activate all of the notification systems in time to prevent anyone from starting out on dangerous roads, the decision to delay or cancel has to be made no later than 5:00 am. As soon as it is made, the media are contacted and the information is posted on the district website. At approximately 6:00 am, an automated call is sent to all staff and parents.

 

Some days, the decision about whether or not to call a snow day is clear. Icy conditions or widespread snow accumulations on roads throughout the district make for brief deliberations. Other times, the decision is not so easy, as when the forecast indicates the worst weather will occur after our students have arrived at school.

 

On days that school must be closed, we start with the assumption that all activities scheduled for the afternoon and evening will be cancelled or rescheduled as well. On occasion, we make exceptions for after-school or evening meetings or activities, but these are rare and generally occur when weather conditions have improved throughout the day.

 

Sometimes we decide to start school one or two hours later than usual rather than canceling altogether. Late starts are called when we believe the roads will clear up in time to run school for most of the day. Late starts allow students to make their way to school in daylight instead of dark, which is much safer. Late starts also give bus drivers extra time to prepare their buses for driving in winter conditions. In late-start situations, we communicate the delay as quickly as possible in the same ways we do for snow days.

 

On rare occasions and as a last resort, we may dismiss school early to ensure all of our students get home safely. When these end-of-day schedule changes have to be made, we will communicate immediately via our all-call and email systems.

 

The final decision about whether to close school or delay its start is made by the superintendent based on input from her team. We always want students in classrooms for instruction, and we are mindful of the inconvenience that working parents must manage when we are closed. However, we are focused on the safety of our students, parents, and staff when we make decisions about closing school. We know we will not make every decision perfectly. However, you can be assured that safety will always be our top priority.

Do students and staff in the Ferndale School District have to make up time lost due to inclement weather? If so, when will they make it up?

The State of Washington requires schools to provide 180 school days and a minimum of 1,000 hours of instruction in each school year. Therefore, when a day is cancelled due to weather, it must be made up.

 

The Ferndale School District will make up snow days at the end of the school year in June. When this year started, the scheduled last day of school was Friday, June 16. As we have already experienced three snow days (December 9, 12, and 13), the end of the year has been pushed back three days to Wednesday, June 21. Additional missed days will further push back the last day.

 

A state law provides limited exceptions to the 180-day law under certain conditions. When a school district experiences an excessive number of closures due to inclement weather, the superintendent can apply for up to three waiver days, which may or may not be granted. Waiver days apply to students but not staff. Staff are required to make up all days missed.

 

When school starts one or two hours late due to inclement weather, these hours generally do not have to be made up because we still meet the 1,000-hour rule.

November 2016

In light of post-election events playing out on the national stage, how is the Ferndale School District ensuring that all students and their families feel welcome and safe in our schools?

First, we acknowledge how fortunate we are to live in a free nation. We help our students recognize the incredible rights we enjoy as Americans, as well as the responsibilities that come with such rights.

 

Following the Presidential election, our staff provided students with support, just as they do whenever they are faced with processing a big news event or a new set of circumstances. They reminded our young people that school is a safe place for everyone, no matter where they come from, their religion, race, identity, gender, or income. They reminded them that respect is a core value in our school community and that disrespect of any kind will not be tolerated. They reminded them that freedom of speech does not include the right to use words that belittle or bully or otherwise hurt others.

 

The following words from our district’s Strategic Commitments embody many of the values that define our school district.

  • We believe nurturing the development and maximizing the learning of ALL children entrusted to our care is our highest mission.
  • We believe EVERY child comes to us with unique strengths and it is our job to build on those strengths.
  • We believe diversity makes us stronger.
  •  We believe our school district cannot be truly excellent if it is not also equitable. To paraphrase Glenn Singleton, “everyone is better when everyone is better.”
  • We believe in a democratic society built on values of fairness and justice.
  • We believe safety is a fundamental right of every person.

 

Our principals regularly reiterate these values within their school communities in a variety of ways. They have also encouraged children and/or adults to report any behavior that violates these values. When reports are made, they take corrective action.

 

From the district office, we are supporting principals in this important work by making safety, civility, equity, and inclusion the subject of high priority goals. As endorsement of these goals, we have allocated resources for such initiatives as Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports (PBIS), Capturing Kids’ Hearts training, Second Step curriculum, and advisory programs at our secondary schools.

 

District leaders also support principals by sharing resources, like this recent memo from the International Bullying Prevention Association:

There are many things that can divide people, politics being one of them. We know that after the election we will have youth and adults who are energized by an outcome as well as youth and adults who are deeply concerned.

We appreciate the President-elect’s pledge to be a president for all Americans. The reports that a small minority of individuals are using the election results to justify attacking others through hate crimes or other forms of aggression are concerning. We also know that children, members of minority groups, and other vulnerable groups are fearful at this time of what the outcome might mean for their safety and well-being in our country.

We urge everyone to reach out to those who are anxious and fearful, in a kind and empathetic manner and engage in gestures to let them know that they are safe and welcome in our schools and communities. For more information on how you can help develop empathy and kindness in our schools and communities please visit our resource section here: http://www.ibpaworld.org/resources/

For resources on how to talk with youth about the election results in a supportive manner that emphasizes safety check out: http://bit.ly/2ggxAT8

While our opinions about political policies may be different, we are united in caring for our children and our country. Let us strive to be positive role models to our children and take this opportunity to spread empathy and kindness.

 

We are always open to other suggestions for making our schools more safe, civil, welcoming, and equitable for all.

What safety precautions does the Ferndale School District follow to ensure no student is ever left on a school bus?

Recently we experienced a serious bus-related incident. Specifically, one of our drivers returned to the yard and left the bus with a student still on it. The student was discovered, and she is fine. However, this kind of error is unacceptable, and it has raised legitimate questions about what kind of corrective action the district has or will put into place. Regarding this incident:

 

First, we personally apologized to the student and their family.

 

Second, we issued a public apology the following day to the student and her family:

Ferndale School District sincerely apologizes to our sixth grade student and her family for the oversight that happened yesterday afternoon on one of our school buses. At this time, we know that a student was left on the bus at our transportation facility at the end of her route. Approximately 90 minutes later, the student was discovered unharmed and reunited with her family immediately. We have spoken with the family and will continue to work with them to rebuild trust.

 

Third, we placed the bus driver involved on administrative leave pending the outcome of a thorough investigation. According to a normal part of our protocol whenever a significant driver error occurs, we had the driver tested for drugs.

 

Fourth, we immediately launched an investigation to determine the causes of the error.

 

Finally, we are working with our transportation department to ensure that such an error never happens again. A required part of every driver’s daily regimen is to walk from the front to the back of the bus at the end of each shift. Part of the corrective action will be to strengthen this expectation and institute a tighter monitoring system.

What steps does the Ferndale School District take when an elementary-level student demonstrates disruptive and/or aggressive behaviors?

There are four broad steps that we expect principals to take when faced with a challenging student.

 

First, we require clear and accurate documentation to begin at the initial point when the student shows any exceptional need. This would include detailed notes about specific incidents, a record of the school’s intervention attempts, and a log of parent contacts. When we notice a clear pattern of problem behavior, we go into what we call a monitoring stance. This means we take daily notes and look for patterns that will allow us to “disrupt the disruptors” by finding effective ways to address student’s needs or avoid the triggers that set them off.

 

Second, we expect principals to conduct a fair and commensurate application of our Progressive Discipline Procedures and, again, to document carefully their actions. In addition, whenever serious discipline is warranted at the elementary level, the principal notifies and consults with a district-level administrator. In addition to assisting principals with critical decision-making, this process helps to ensure our procedures are being applied equitably across our schools.

 

Third, we expect the building staff, led by the principal, to utilize our formal processes for requesting additional support to address a student’s specific needs. Doing so allows our Executive Team to work with the school to create a successful intervention plan, which oftentimes includes a district administrator going into the classroom to observe behaviors directly in order to determine the most effective modifications and supports.

 

Finally, we expect our staff to teach and reteach. We are a learning organization. When a student struggles to read, we reteach the appropriate reading skills. When a student struggles in math, we reteach the math skills he or she is missing. The same is true for a student who struggles with behavior. Our district has adopted a framework for helping students develop successful social, emotional, and behavioral skills. This framework, called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), is an initiative that has been adopted by our School Board, and it is being implemented in every school. It prescribes in detail what we do to first help students know what we expect and then to respond when they don’t meet our expectations.

 

These four steps are also applied in our secondary schools when a student’s behavior is disruptive or inappropriate, although often along a much shorter timeline commensurate with the agency of the student and the potential danger of his/her actions.

What is the Ferndale School District’s position on celebrating Christmas in classrooms and schools?

The Ferndale community is a rich blend of many different cultures. Our goals in the Ferndale School District include: (1) honoring the traditions our students bring to the classroom with them; (2) introducing them to cultures other than their own; and (3) above all else, making sure each child and his or her family feels welcome, safe, and included.

 

The Ferndale School District embraces elements of Christmas in our schools, since this holiday is such an integral part of our community’s majority culture. We are, however, committed to balance and moderation. We don’t think it’s productive for our learning mission or beneficial to our students to start the holiday buildup too early; and, just like everything else we do, we would like our classroom celebrations to have educational purposes. We also want to ensure that none of our students feel excluded from school-based activities because they are not part of the majority culture.

 

Several years ago, the School District commissioned a Holiday Guidelines Task Force made up of community members and district personnel to explore current practices both in our own school district and in others, to review pertinent laws, to listen to community opinions, and to draft a set of district guidelines. Once this work was completed, the guidelines were distributed and discussed with school staff. They are also available on the district website.

 

The guidelines provide room for considerable flexibility. They allow staffs, student bodies, and/or PTOs to make December plans for their own schools, which reflect aspects of their own community’s culture. Winter music programs include a mixture of music, some of which is holiday-themed. Several of our schools sponsor holiday themed dress-up days, art projects, sing-alongs, and lesson activities. In addition to honoring Christmas traditions, we also encourage the recognition of winter holidays from other cultures in our schools.

 

This year, the School District, in collaboration with the Ferndale High School Choral Music Department, is sponsoring a holiday-themed family night on December 13. The evening will begin with a free showing of the movie Polar Express (with free popcorn) in the FHS cafeteria at 4:30 pm. Following the movie, everyone is invited to join the high school choir in the FHS auditorium for a sing-along at 6:30 pm.

October 2016

Why has the district chosen to provide secondary students with 24/7 use of technology devices without equipping them with 24/7 filtering systems?

We use iBoss as our internet filtering system within the school district. Although it is a quite effective, we decided not to extend it beyond the school day based on input from parents.

 

When we first began our one-to-one program four years ago, we met with a number of parents and also talked with personnel from schools across the country. The two biggest concerns on everyone’s mind were internet filtering and device damage. We are pleased to report that neither of these issues has become a major problem in Ferndale.

 

Regarding 24/7 access to the devices, we believe they can provide all students the ability to learn wherever and whenever questions arise in their lives (not just those children whose parents can afford to purchase a computer for them). This promise of round the clock access to learning experiences motivated us to allow students to take their devices home. Once we did so, we discovered in some cases the devices extend learning for other members of the family as well. We see that as a benefit. While we intend the devices will be used for educational purposes, we don’t routinely check browsers to see if a student or family member has played a game or looked at Facebook while the device was at home.

 

Regarding internet filters, the parent groups we consulted at the outset of our one-to-one initiative were clear: They said that they believed internet filtering is the responsibility of parents when students are at home. The iBoss filtering system sometimes blocks acceptable sites that students need for their research. During the school day, when the filter is active, they can call the Help Desk and get a particular site unblocked. That can’t happen in the evening, although parents can implement their own filtering systems.

 

To assist parents in this process, we provide training in the spring of each year and again in the fall (at back-to-school events) about how to secure their internet at the router. In addition, we provide lessons on digital citizenship for students. We believe part of our charge is teaching responsible use of the internet. Since we can probably never block every questionable site or article, we need to teach our young people to be critical consumers of information and ethical users of the information they find in the world of cyberspace.

 

To underscore our expectations about good digital citizenship, we require students and parents to sign our Technology Use Agreement, which specifically prohibits “displaying sexually explicit, pornographic, obscene, lewd or other inappropriate messages or pictures” and “using obscene language or material.” The Use Agreement goes on to say that signatures on it signify that students and parents understand that “any violation may result in disciplinary action and may constitute a criminal offense. Should they commit any violation, [their] access privileges may be revoked and school disciplinary action or appropriate legal action may be taken.”

 

We also realize that any amount of filtering or other precautions cannot prevent a student, who is determined to access “the wrong stuff,” from finding or stealing wifi. Cell phones, for instance, can be used as mobile hotspots, and most of our secondary students possess cell phones. To monitor the effectiveness of our efforts, we periodically check student tablets for inappropriate content. When we find it, we apply more stringent interventions.

 

Finally, we provide the option for parents to have their children leave their devices at school. Some families have assessed that they and their students are not quite ready for 24/7 access to the screen, let alone the internet. We respect the wishes of these families and have provided a check-in/check-out system for their students.

 

Our school community is made up of lots of different perspectives, opinions, and viewpoints. We do our best to meet diverse needs. Some parents want more controls. Some of our students and families, on the other hand, would be very upset if we were to tighten up our filters on devices. Up until this point, filtering has been an all or nothing proposition. We haven’t had the resources to customize each student’s device to meet his or her family’s needs desires. In response to this question, we have asked our IT Department to re-examine current options for extending filtering into students’ homes on a case-by-case basis (instead of on a wholesale basis). We are also investigating our current ability to help parents access and review their student’s web browsing history.

 

Above all, we want to (1) keep our students safe, (2) prepare them with the skills they will need for living and working in our 21st century society, and (3) collaborate with parents to accomplish both of these goals.

What is the Ferndale School District’s policy and practice regarding head lice?

The Ferndale School District follows the state’s policy, which allows children with untreated lice to go home at the end of the day, be treated, and then return to school. This policy complies with the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which in 2010 adopted a “do not exclude” infested students recommendation for schools dealing with head lice. It is designed to shield children with lice from embarrassment, protect their privacy, and prevent them from missing school.

 

In years past, Ferndale students were checked for lice at school. Oftentimes PTO parents were the ones doing the checking. We have moved away from that practice for several reasons. First, we found it was fairly common for parents to misdiagnose lice, and that presented frustrations of a different sort. Second, the practice put parents in a position of knowing information about the head lice situation of other peoples’ children, which was generally handled with sensitivity and privacy, but not every time.

 

The third and perhaps most important reason we discontinued our previous practice is that, while lice are a nuisance, they are not dangerous, according to medical experts. Furthermore, by the time the lice are detected, it is likely the child has had them for three weeks to two months. Classmates already would have been exposed, so there is little additional risk of transmission if the student returns to class during the treatment period. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses maintain that the burden of unnecessary absenteeism to the students, families, and communities far outweighs the risks associated with head lice.

 

Our school nurses remind us that lice are a cyclical nuisance and tend to be most problematic at this time of year. They are not a reflection of personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school. They are passed on by sharing brushes and hats. Even hugging can facilitate the spread of head lice.

 

As a school district, we can help with this issue by educating and supporting children and parents. We work to disseminate accurate information about the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of lice in an understandable form. At the elementary level, we are able to provide extra help through our Family Community Coordinators (financial assistance or consult with a health expert, for example). We have gone to pretty extraordinarily lengths to help families who struggle with this nuisance. One thing we don’t do anymore, however, is keep students out of school if they have lice. Their education is too important to us.

What is the date and location for Ferndale High School’s 2017 graduation ceremony?

The Ferndale High School 2017 Commencement Exercises will be held on Saturday, June 10, on the FHS campus.

Who made the decision about the date and location of Ferndale High School’s 2017 graduation ceremony?

Every year a date for the graduation ceremony is recommended by district administration to the School Board based on a number of factors. Chief among those factors are state requirements about the length of the school year and the way the calendar falls. The School Board makes the final decision, generally by approving the administration’s recommendation.

 

Location is often a function of the selected date. In 2017, for instance, a graduation date of Monday, June 12, would have allowed us to use Civic Field. A Saturday, June 10, graduation date, on the other hand, renders that venue unavailable.

 

Since either a June 10 or June 12 date met all other criteria, the administration and School Board decided to survey those who would be most impacted by the decision, namely seniors and their parents, to find out what they wanted. The majority of those who responded to the survey indicated they would prefer the June 10 date, so this is the one that was selected.

How was the graduation date survey administered to seniors and their parents?

The survey was sent to the email addresses we have on file for seniors and senior parents.

 

Since email is one of the tools we use to communicate with students and parents, it is important for everyone to keep an update email address on file with the school and to check it regularly.

When planning the 2017 Commencement Exercises on the Ferndale High School campus, how will the district address space constraints?

Graduation planning is currently underway. Whereas the district administration and School Board decided when and where graduation will occur, the program itself will be planned by the building principal, the high school staff, and the students themselves.

 

To expand seating capacity, Principal Gardner and his team are considering renting portable bleachers. To extend parking options, they are investigating the possibility of using elementary school lots and running shuttles.

 

So far, the final decisions about the commencement ceremony have not been made. If you have ideas or would like to be part of the process, contact Principal Gardner.

September 2016

The term “chronic absentee rate” has been used in the general media and in district communications recently. What is the definition of “chronic absentee rate”?

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing more than 10% of school time. A school year consists of 180 school days. A student who misses an average of 2 days per month for 9 months, or a total of 18 days in a year, is classified by the state as “chronically absent. Statewide, 16% of students miss more than 10% of school time, so the state’s chronic absentee rate is 16%. In the Lynden School District, only 6% of students miss more than 10%. In the Ferndale School District, the chronic absentee rate is 22%, which is among the highest in the region.

 

Why do we care about a high chronic absentee rate? The research shows that students who miss more than 10% of the school year in any grade are significantly less likely to graduate from high school. And kids who don’t graduate generally have a tougher time competing for good jobs and making a livable wage for the rest of their lives. To ignore the chronic absentee rate would be unfair to our students. Therefore, we are working hard to change the attendance statistics in Ferndale.

Why is the Ferndale High School administration talking about changing off-campus lunch procedures for students? And what exactly are the proposed changes?

The FHS administration began carefully studying their absentee data last spring in order to develop a variety of strategies for encouraging more students to attend school more regularly. One of those strategies they came up with has to do with off-campus lunch privileges.

 

Why are we targeting off-campus lunch as a strategy for encouraging attendance? First, the opportunity to go off campus in the middle of the day is a privilege, not a right. Second, we know it is a privilege students value. Third, we also know that going off-campus at lunch tends to result in some students staying away for the rest of the day. Anyone who drives by our high school on a regular basis has seen the high number of empty parking spaces in the student lot after lunch.

 

How will the proposed incentive program work? Although the plan is still under construction, the initial proposal was to grant every student in grades 10-12 off-campus privileges for the first six weeks of the school year (Ninth graders have never been authorized to leave campus during lunch.) For those who attend at least 90% during the first six weeks, the privilege will continue. They will get a sticker on their ID cards. Those who don’t make the 90% level during the first six weeks will have the next quarter to earn the privilege back. It has nothing to do with “good kids” and “bad kids.” It has everything to do with showing up. (Of course we know some students have health issues, and we will work with them to make sure the plan is applied fairly.)

 

How are we involving local businesses? We have been reading about communities that have been able to make significant improvements in attendance rates, and one common denominator is that everybody gets on board. Internally, we will be working on ways to make kids want to be in school more. But the message will be stronger if all students believe all of us – teachers, principals, staff, parents, friends, relatives, business owners, and community members – care about them and want them to be in school. Therefore, our high school administrators have reached out to businesses to ask them if they will help with the attendance incentive plan.

 

Do students get any input? The plan was conceived over the summer by the FHS administrative team. However, during September Principal Gardner has been meeting with each class of students to get their ideas. We expect a revised plan reflecting their input will be released soon.

 

The bottom line is that attendance matters because students matter. We are committed to the success of every young person entrusted to our care.

How has the district followed up on the dress code concern expressed this fall by a middle school parent?

After we learned of the parent’s dress code concern, we called all of our secondary school principals together to talk about dress code. We spent quite a bit of time last year developing a district-wide dress code that is neither overly prescriptive nor sexist. However, this incident made us realize we have not done the work we need to do to train all staff members in the consistent administration of the revised code.

 

As the varied reactions to this particular dress code situation suggest, we do not all automatically share the exact same standards when it comes to determining the appropriateness of clothing. Our next step will be working to calibrate our responses as a district staff. In the meantime, all dress code concerns by students or staff members will be handled discreetly by our building administrators.

 

In the case in question, we believe we should have contacted the parent at the same time we talked to the child. The principal has offered an apology for not doing so. We are committed to admitting when we are wrong, apologizing, learning from our mistakes, and continually improving our practice.

Why doesn’t the school district provide team sports for 6th grade students?

When this question was raised recently, a group of district administrators (including the athletic director and middle school assistant principals) met to review our practices and explore options. They considered the following:

  • Team sports in K-12 schools in the state of Washington are governed by a body called WIAA (Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association). WIAA neither authorizes nor recognizes student athletic teams younger than 7th grade, which is the reason most school districts in the state don’t start interscholastic sports programs until the 7th grade.
  • No other schools or school districts in the county offer 6th grade athletic programs, so the opportunity for inter-school competition would be very limited.
  •  There are, on the other hand, a number of community programs, like Boys and Girls Club and AAU, that provide athletic opportunities for students younger than the 7th grade.
  • Our middle school faculties receive stipends to offer after school clubs and activities for middle school students in all three grades. These stipends could be directed toward an intramural sports program of some kind, if that were a higher interest to students than one or more of the clubs currently being offered.

These are the reasons our school district, like the majority of others, does not sponsor 6th grade sports teams. However, this question caused our administrators to start thinking about more possibilities for connecting our high school athletes with our middle school students, perhaps by running a short basketball or tennis camp during the high school off seasons. We will continue to explore such cross-age opportunities.

Is it possible to adjust either the times of after-school athletic practices or the times of activity bus runs so that student-athletes are able to ride the bus home after practice?

A couple of times this fall, an athletic team’s practice extended too long for student athletes to catch the activity bus at 4:45 pm. Our sources tell us this was more an anomaly than a regular occurrence. Our coaches – especially those leading freshmen teams – work very hard to conclude their practices by 4:30 pm so that their athletes can catch the bus. When we received this question, we reminded them of the importance of doing so, and we will continue to monitor the situation.

August 2016

When are secondary students going to get their class schedules? Can they access them prior to the first day of the 2016-2017 school year?

Yes. All secondary students will have the opportunity to pick up copies of their schedules this week at orientation programs. (See the website for the date(s) and time(s) of each school’s orientation.) Schedules will also be available online through Skyward Family Access beginning Thursday, September 1. In our last community newsletter, we published the following information to help parents get logged into Skyward:

 

Are you using Family Access? 

Sign up to view student schedules, grades, attendance and more

Parents/guardians are encouraged to stay updated on their student’s academic progress using Family Access in Skyward. In Family Access, parents/guardians can view their child’s schedules grades, assignments, attendance history and test scores. Families can also view a calendar with important information.

To get started, visit the district website at ferndalesd.org and click on the Skyward logo at the bottom of the page. Your login name contains the first five letters of your last name, with the first three letters of your first name and then three numbers. If you don’t know your login or password, use the “Forgot Login/Password?” link to have the system email your account information. If your email address is not found by the system, please contact your child’s school to have it updated. Download a free Skyward App for your smartphone or tablet through iTunes, Google Play or Amazon Appstore.

Will Washington Street still be closed when school starts? If so, what is the district doing to deal with the disruption this will cause around Ferndale High School?

Yes. We have been informed by the City of Ferndale that Washington Street will be closed until mid-October. To address this issue, we are working closely with the City to develop the safest school-day arrival and departure plan for staff, buses, students, parents, and visitors.

This City of Ferndale project, intended to modernize the Washington Street with a lighted crosswalk and safe walkways, will be a wonderful safety enhancement once it is completed. Until then, we will have a few short term “bumps” to work through. Our plan for doing so, including detailed maps and written descriptions of the temporary changes in access to the high school, can be viewed in its entirety on either the school district or city web site. Safety is the top priority, and we appreciate everyone’s patience and cooperation.

When will the district decide the date for Ferndale High School 2017 graduation ceremony?

If we were to follow past practice, Ferndale High School’s graduation ceremony would be held on Saturday, June 10, at Civic Field in Bellingham. However, Civic Field has been booked by Western Washington University since before this year’s commencement for the entire weekend of June 9-11, 2017. Therefore, our options are (1) to hold the FHS commencement on Thursday, June 8, or Monday June 12, at Civic Field; or (2) to hold the FHS commencement on Saturday, June 10, at another site, which will most likely be smaller.

We have weighed the pros and cons of both choices, and we know either could work. However, we believe those most impacted should have a say in this decision. Therefore, Principal Gardner will be surveying seniors and their parents/guardians this September to find out their preferences for graduation. Based on the results of this survey, we should be able to pin down a date and location by October 1, 2016.

How can the district house high school and early learning programs on the North Bellingham campus when it was condemned for use as an elementary school? If it is usable, shouldn’t we put an elementary school there since our other elementary schools are now overcrowded?

One wing of the North Bellingham Elementary School was condemned about 10 years ago. That wing has not been used to house students since. For the past five years, Windward has occupied portions of the campus that were not condemned. They moved to the North Bell site in 2011 from the old Bingo Hall facility that the district was leasing for $180,000 per year (via one year at FHS). By eliminating the lease costs, the district was able to retain more staff during the years of the recession.

For the past five years, the district has also provided several classrooms on the North Bell campus to the Opportunity Council to run Head Start programs. This coming year, to facilitate Kim Hawes’ taking over both Windward and the district’s early learning program, we are swapping the district’s early learning programs that have been located in the portable next to Eagleridge with a couple of the classrooms previously used by Head Start. In other words, our program is going to be housed at North Bell and Head Start is moving to the portable on Thornton Road. So our usage of the North Bell campus will be changing slightly but not increasing.

Nothing would prevent us from housing any age students in the usable part of the North Bell school building. But if we moved other students in, we would need to move the programs currently operating on that campus out, since there isn’t any extra usable space at North Bell.

We have not chosen to put an elementary at the North Bell site at this time because we can currently accommodate all of our elementary students at our other five schools. Those schools are not larger than they were eight years ago, according to the data from the OSPI website. It shows our enrollments at the elementary level have remained pretty stable. We closed Mt. View at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, but that’s also the time when we took a school’s worth of students out of our elementary schools and moved them to our middle schools. Here is OSPI’s enrollment data:

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 8.39.39 AM

Has the district thought about selling either the Mt. View or the North Bellingham campus? Or building a second high school on one of the sites?

When we consider the long-range view, we don’t think it makes sense to sell either school site. At some point in the future, we believe we are going to need space for additional schools. Having to find and purchase suitable property at a later date would likely (1) yield less good locations for schools and (2) cost the tax payers considerably more money than they would realize through a sale at this time.

As for building another high school on one of the sites, that is part of our plan. If the taxpayers approve a bond for district high schools, we plan to build a facility for a larger Windward High School on either the North Bellingham or the Mt. View site.

June 2016

Where is the district going with the new Health Education Standards, especially with respect to the topics of self-identity and gender expression?

The state of Washington has published new standards for Health Education that all schools will need to implement beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. The new standards are organized by topics. One of the topics is called “Self-Identity,” and it includes a strand dealing with gender identity/expression. Some parents are wondering how this particular strand will be implemented in the Ferndale School District.

 

It is important to note that the following language is part of the state standards document:

 

“The Washington state learning standards are the required elements of instruction and are worded broadly enough to allow for local decision-making. Outcomes provide the specificity to support school district in meeting each standard in each grade level. Depending on school resources and community norms, instructional activities may vary.”

 

We intend to follow the same process in implementing the new Standards for Health Education as we have used in the past when dealing with sensitive and potentially controversial topics. That process is as follows:

 

  • We will send our health teachers to regional trainings, where they will have the opportunity to learn about the standards as well as about materials and methods for addressing them.
  • Once our teachers have been trained, they will develop teaching materials that address the standards in a manner they believe to be generally consistent with the norms of our community (although we recognize our community is diverse and norms vary considerably from one family to the next).
  • Once the teaching materials have been developed, they will be made available for review by parents/guardians.
  • Parents/Guardians who, after reviewing the materials, decide they do not want their children to participate in aspects of the curriculum will be able to opt them out of those aspects.

 

We have used this process to deal with such sensitive topics as sex education and HIV/AIDS education, and it seems to have met the various needs/desires of our diverse community.

 

Further questions on this topic may be directed to Scott Brittain, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching & Learning, at scott.brittain@ferndalesd.org.

What does the district do when students “charge” one or more meals in the school cafeteria and then fail to pay back the charge(s)?

We believe it is important for students to be well fed, because hungry students can’t do their best learning. And we know that sometimes students end up at lunchtime without money on their account or cash in hand to purchase lunch. In such cases, we allow a student to “charge” his or her lunch.

 

Generally, charged lunches are paid for in a timely fashion, especially when the student who owes money is prompted by the Cashier. Sometimes, however, students have accumulated sizeable outstanding balances. To deal with charges in a respectful and uniform manner, the district has established the following procedures:

 

  • We limit the number of meals on a student’s charge account to three (3).
  • At the time of each of the first three (3) charges, the Cashier asks the student to remind his or her parent/guardian to put money on the account.
  • After an elementary or middle school student has charged three (3) meals, the Cashier pulls the child’s card and makes a referral to the school office. The principal or designee sends a note to the parent/guardian.
  • After a high school student has charged three meals, he or she is denied further charges. A principal or counselor may become involved if the student needs support.
  • At the secondary level (middle and high school), students are not allowed to make purchases at the snack bar if they have negative balances on their food accounts.

 

District notifications to parents/guardians about negative balances include the following:

 

  • Balances are always available online.
  • Monthly statements are sent home with students.
  • On Tuesdays and Thursdays, a robo call is made to the family of every child who is carrying a negative balance.
  • After a month without a payment, a personal call is made to the parent/guardian of a child carrying a negative balance by a member of the Food Service Department staff.
  • When the balance on the account exceeds $55, a personal call is made to the parent/guardian by the Director of the Food Service Department.

 

Our goal is to provide the best meals possible for the lowest price possible to families. To achieve this goal, everyone needs to pay his or her share.

 

NOTE: Families who meet federal income requirements can receive free or reduced price meals for their students. To find out about the application process, see the district website.

May 2016

Can secondary school students be given their class schedules prior to the first day of the 2016-2017 school year?

We started investigating this question when it was first raised last October (2015). Traditionally, high school and middle school students in Ferndale have received their class schedules on the first day of school. Last year distribution of schedules at Vista was delayed beyond the first day of school.

 

Several of us have worked in other districts where schedules have been published before school starts, so we know different timelines are possible. In order to change Ferndale’s longstanding practice of handing out schedules after the school year has begun, we started our scheduling process earlier this spring.

 

Our goal is to make schedules available to students and families via Skyward (technology-based student management system) prior to the first day of school. District personnel will send an email and make a robo call to announce when schedules are ready to be viewed online. Students will still receive a hard copy on the first day of school as well.

 

In the past, schedules were withheld until all student fees and fines were paid. Although collecting what is owed is important, we have decided to discontinue the practice of tying fines to such an important planning tool for students and families.

How can we more publicly celebrate the accomplishments of our exceptional scholars?

Following the most recent awards night at Ferndale High, a community member noted that the academic achievements of our students didn’t seem to get as much attention as achievements in athletics and activities. It was pointed out that we have one National Merit Special Scholarship winner and three National Merit Commended Scholars this year; three students who will be attending nationally prestigious universities (Stanford, Princeton, and Columbia); one appointment to West Point; and many impressive scholarships. The community member went on to say, “Six years ago we had three National Merit winners and no mention was ever made in the local papers. I hope that this year our deserving graduates receive recognition for their achievements and that the teachers who taught them also receive public praise. Our community needs to know they have schools to be proud of.”

 

While we don’t control what the local papers choose to print, we will definitely look again at the way we are using our district communication tools to tell the story of our academic superstars. We have already advertised many of the Class of 2016 successes mentioned by this writer on our website and in various Facebook posts. We will also include this information in our next community newsletter (to be published in June 2016). Finally, we will initiate a conversation with the high school staff about who gets recognized in what ways at various awards programs.

Why are the costs of renting school district facilities going up?

Although facility use prices are going up for some renters, the school district is not realizing any additional revenue. The higher costs reflect the fact that we need to have custodians on site for the duration of large events. Sometimes in the past, they have only worked during part of the event. For health, safety, and insurance reasons, we need at least one custodian working on site the entire time. The additional wages will result in higher costs for those who use our facilities.

Is the Ferndale District testing its water for lead?

Lately the news media has carried several stories about a school district where high levels of lead were discovered in water from sinks and drinking fountains. This incident has prompted other school districts to update their water testing.

 

The Ferndale District has tested water samples in the past. Several years ago, we also did some plumbing upgrades specifically aimed at keeping our children safe from lead. However, we have not conducted a full-scale water test for some time. In light of recent events, we are currently testing the water at all of our sites. As soon as the tests have been completed, we will publish the results on our website.

April 2016

Given the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Centers for Disease Control to start school for adolescents after 8:30 a.m., does Ferndale have any plans to start the high schools and middle schools later than the current 7:40 a.m.?

We don’t have concrete plans for changing our schools’ start and end times. We have been having the discussion at the administrative level, and we are watching closely our neighbors to the south.

 

The Bellingham School District has recently announced that they will be changing their school start and end times at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year. In the future, Bellingham elementary students will be attending classes from 8:00 am to 2:30 pm (currently 8:30 am to 3:00 pm); and Bellingham high school students will be attending classes from 8:30 am to 3:15 pm (currently 7:45 am to 2:15 pm).

 

Making this change was a lengthy process in Bellingham. The administration tried several times before they came up with a plan that wasn’t rejected by either parents or one of their unions. We hope we can learn from their research and experience to avoid some of the pitfalls.

 

Like our colleagues in Bellingham, we have been talking about changing start times for a while now. However, we have not felt the climate was yet conducive to making such a change in Ferndale. Three years ago we made a number of very significant structural changes in our school district (moving the 6th grade to middle school, closing Mt. View, redrawing attendance boundaries, reassigning a large number of staff, implementing one-to-one technology, etc.). Even though all of the changes were initiated, supported, and encouraged by community members serving on our advisory committees, the general public sent us a strong message that we had made too many changes in a short period of time. Therefore, for the past two years we have chosen to focus on cultural improvements in our schools (through programs like PBIS and our focus on every child graduating) rather than any more major structural changes. By next year, we believe our community might be receptive to thinking about another significant structural change.

Why does the School District schedule events like the Internet Safety Workshop on the same night as a School Board meeting?

When scheduling anything, we make our best effort to avoid conflicts with other events that are likely to attract the same audience. In this particular case, the Internet Safety presentation is going to be made by a panel of four experts, who had to sync their personal calendars with one another before they could provide available dates to the district. Consequently our options were limited.

 

We apologize for the conflict with the School Board meeting. However, given the historically small number of public attendees at Board meetings, this seemed like a better option than scheduling the workshop opposite an event like a school concert or athletic contest.

Is it realistic to try to hire one administrator to be part-time District Athletic Director and part-time High School Assistant Principal?

We have heard the concerns of some coaches and booster club members about our plan to advertise for a person to join our district leadership team as an Athletic Director/Assistant Principal (to replace David Brame, who is retiring). Our goal was to create a dual role to provide as much support to as many aspects of the high school as possible.

 

Last Thursday evening (April 21) Scott Brittain, Paul Douglas, and Jeff Gardner attended a meeting at Ferndale High School with a number of coaches to listen to their concerns about the dual role we had proposed and their reasons for advocating for a dedicated Athletic Director. As a result of that meeting, we have gone back to the drawing board to rework the job description. We plan to publish an “invitation to apply” by the week of May 2 that reflects input from our coaches and booster club members.

What is the policy and protocol for transitioning students from the district’s highly capable elementary program to its highly capable middle school program? Do they need to be reassessed or should they be automatically advanced into the middle-level class?

The Magnet programs at Central Elementary and Vista Middle School serve the top 5-7% of our academically gifted students as defined by the State (WAC 392-170–035) and determined by a variety of measures. Other highly capable students are being served at the secondary level through Honors courses in some subject areas and differentiated delivery models in other subject areas (which we have been working to develop this year). Our goal is to provide appropriate services to meet each student’s needs as he/she progresses through school, realizing that those needs may change over time.

 

The students in our 5th grade Magnet Program are being asked to take the OLSAT 8 (as they have in the past) as one measure to determine their placement in middle school. We will continue to use MAPS data, parent input, and teacher recommendations as well. By using a variety of data points, we believe we will be able to make the most consistent and accurate placement into the most appropriate program for each student.

Can we establish consistent terminology to designate programming for gifted and talented students in our school district instead of the multiple names currently being used (Aiming High, Talented and Gifted, Highly Capable Learners, Magnet Program, etc.)?

We are currently in the process of updating our Policies and Procedures. One of our goals is to bring the consistency to our use of terminology. We also want to use language that everyone inside and outside our district can recognize and understand. “Aiming High” does not meet that criteria. Gifted and Talented Programs is common terminology across the nation that will yield lots of information in an online search. The State of Washington, on the other hand, uses the term Highly Capable. In Ferndale, Gifted and Talented has become the term we’ve been using to define our magnet program for the top 5-7%, so the official title of that program is The Gifted and Talented Magnet. We have begun using the term Honors to designate our middle school program for other highly capable students.

 

We agree that we need to continue to get better at defining and using terminology consistently. We will work on this.

Can we add to the Ferndale High School master schedule an Honors Chemistry class for highly capable students – a course that would serve as a bridge between Honors Biology and Advanced Placement Chemistry?

Offering an Honors Chemistry class for those students who have taken the Honors Biology course in their freshman years seems like a logical progression, especially since in most cases these students have the math necessary to face a more challenging Chemistry course. However, there are a number of issues that need to be considered and resolved at the building level before any new class can be implemented. Therefore, the initial decision to add a class is made by building administration and department chairs. They need to determine: (1) whether there are enough students who want the course to make it viable; (2) whether there is a staff member available to teach the course; (3) whether they can fit the course into the master schedule at a time when it doesn’t conflict with other courses taken by the target audience; and (4) what course they will eliminate from the master schedule in order to add the new one.

Can we add to the Ferndale High School master schedule a senior-level Advanced Placement Social Studies class for highly capable students?

Offering a senior level Advanced Placement Social Studies will require the same considerations as adding an Honors Chemistry class. There are, however, additional considerations when starting a new AP course, namely the requirements of the College Board organization that authorizes all such courses. Both the course and the instructor(s) need to be pre-approved by the College Board for a school to post AP credit on a student’s transcript. To be approved, the instructor needs additional training, which is usually acquired through AP Institutes, many of which are offered in the summer. One such institute will be held in Bellevue at the end of June 2016.

Can we make information about programming for highly capable students more easily accessible on the district website?

In the last several years, we have done a great deal to improve our district website in general. However, we agree that we need to do some work to increase the content and improve the ease of navigation in this particular area. We would appreciate suggestions from parents of Gifted and Talented and Highly Capable students about how we can make our website more user friendly for them.

Why do we need homework and how much is too much homework?

These are questions that routinely come up in conversations with students and parents alike. The simple answer is that there is no simple answer.

 

Our School Board first adopted Policy 2422, simply titled “Homework,” in 1987. It outlines the following four reasons why homework should be assigned:

  1. Practice – to help students to master specific skills which have been presented in class;
  2. Preparation – to help students gain the maximum benefits from future lessons;
  3. Extension – to provide students with opportunities to transfer specific skills or concepts to new situations; and
  4. Creativity – to require students to integrate many skills and concepts in order to produce original responses.

 

Ferndale’s Policy was reaffirmed in 1994 and revised in 1996. In the 20 years that have passed since then, the debate about homework has continued both inside and outside of the schoolhouse.

 

Many educational writers site research showing that homework has an average effect size of .29, which is in the small-to-medium range in terms of positive benefit (Hattie, 2008).  However, this one statistic does not tell the whole story, and in fact John Hattie himself issues several cautions about interpreting and applying the data. For one thing, the effect size of .29 is an average of multiple studies, and therefore it does not reflect the difference in impact that homework is shown to have in secondary schools (.64) as compared to primary (.21) grades.

 

Writers and pundits on both sides of the issue have published countless lists of “The Top Ten Reasons Why Homework is Necessary” or “The Five Reasons Why Schools Should Drop Homework,” and all of them seem to make valid points.  Not so long ago the President of France proposed legislation banning homework entirely for the whole country. (It didn’t pass).

 

In light of the variety of viewpoints about homework, this is not a question that will likely go away, and rightly so. We need to keep asking ourselves, “What are the best educational practices in light of what we know today?”  We need to question our past practices and make certain we aren’t continuing to do something just because we’ve always done it. We need to engage in informed conversations together with our students, teachers, and parents. Given that our district Policy was last revised two decades ago, it would seem time to consider the homework question system-wide once again.

 

Thank you for bringing the question to the forefront. We will make time to consider the place of homework in Ferndale Schools in the near future.

March 2016

What can be done to improve the parking situation at Ferndale High School, especially during community events when people park in the bus loading zone directly in front of the auditorium, thereby blocking access for anyone using a walker or a wheelchair?

FHS sponsors many large events, and we realize our parking situation is problematic on several levels, not the least of which is a shortage of overall spaces. We are working to do the best we can with what we have. Recently, we have addressed the issue by painting the curbs around the auditorium red to discourage people from parking their cars in that zone. The painted curbs seems to work pretty well before dark. After dark, they are less effective. We are also looking at providing additional handicap parking spots and visitor designated spots across our entire campus. This process is ongoing and will require creative problem solving until such time as we can renovate our high school campus. One idea we have considered is to request each group who organizes a large event on our campus to supply parking lot attendants to direct traffic into appropriate parking spots.

Can we speed up the amount of time it takes to login into a computer at FHS?

According to a student who spoke at the February School Board meeting, it takes 20-30 minutes each time students attempt to login to computers at FHS. Our research revealed that the computers in question are located on a laptop cart and are some of the oldest in the district. A teacher who uses that cart of computers agreed to record data as his students logged into the devices over a period of time. Of the 11 students in his class, all but one was able to log into the system in under 3 minutes. The student who required longer had a “profile” issue, and he spent over 5 minutes logging in. When this same teacher used an Apple computer cart (another fairly old cart) in the library for one of his Junior English classes, all but one student logged into our system in less than 4 minutes. Again, the one student had a profile issue, which caused a number of problems. Finally, the teacher collected data with his largest English class and found similar results, with all but two students logging into the system in less than 3 or 4 minutes.

 

The two factors that impact the time it takes to log in are (1) student profiles and (2) the age of the computers. Each student has a unique profile that must load each time a student logs into a district machine. Some of the profiles have become large and bogged down with files and applications. When students with large profiles try to log into six or seven-year-old computers with slow processors, the login time is admittedly slow. As we continue to move forward with our one-to-one technology plan, whereby every secondary student is issued his or her own device, this problem will disappear.

Should the district adopt a formal policy to govern the way students use social media accounts?

A parent came to the February School Board meeting to request a new policy related to social media based on a situation involving her child. More specifically, she was concerned that the school district does not have a policy in place to prohibit one student from pretending to be another student by creating a false online profile in a social media platform like Instagram. In response to her concern, Assistant Superintendent Brittain contacted Alan Burke, Executive Director of Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA), the organization that is responsible for advising School Boards across the state on policy issues. He also spoke with Heidi Maynard, Director of Policy and Legal Services for WSSDA.

 

Mr. Brittain reviewed with Ms. Maynard our current policies and procedures as they relate to educational technologies, and she advised that, as they are written, our policies accurately reflect what WSSDA believes we can and can’t do in this arena. Ms. Maynard followed up by speaking with two state lawmakers about the use and misuse of social media by students. After this investigation, both Ms. Maynard and Mr. Brittain believe the policies we currently have in place are appropriate. Furthermore, it is their opinion that the members of the School Board would actually be out of line if they were to write a policy that attempted to restrict the use of student social media at home or outside of our schools when it does not involve school devices, has not had a significant impact on school-directed learning, or is not based on a statute.

 

Our current approach to this concern and similar issues involving educational technologies is not to come up with new rules and policies. Rather, we work to see how identified problems fit into our current structure of policies, procedures, school rules, laws, and student rights and responsibilities. To address the particular situation in question, we looked at whether or not our rules related to harassment, intimidation, or bullying had been violated.  We considered whether there had been misuse of district equipment. We talked to our School Resource Officer to determine if there had been a violation of current law.

 

We also continue to work with our staff and students to provide a strong digital citizenship component in our everyday work in the classroom. Our goal is to develop critical thinkers who are also ethical users of technology.

When developers build new houses, do they have to take into account the affect the newconstruction will have on neighborhood schools?

Whenever a new house is built within the boundaries of the school district, the district collects what are called “impact fees.” Impact fees are charges assessed by local governments against new development projects in order to help alleviate the costs to the existing community for infrastructure improvements required by growth due to development.

 

Impact fees are very common in Washington State, although they generally pay for less than half the cost of any growth-related project, meaning the existing community still pays a large portion of project costs for infrastructure related to growth.

 

The City of Ferndale currently charges transportation and park impact fees. The City also ensures any required school impact fees are paid to the Ferndale School District prior to issuing building permits.

 

School Impact Fees payable to the Ferndale School District are $1,100 for a single family residence, and $650 per unit for a multi-family residence.

Why doesn’t Ferndale High School have a closed campus policy requiring students to stay at school during their lunch hour?

Open campus is a long-standing tradition at Ferndale High School, one put into place prior to the tenure of any of our existing district or building administrators. While traditions are valued in our community, this is probably one we need to examine and re-evaluate. Safety is a good reason to do so.

 

During the upcoming year, we will initiate a conversation about open versus closed campus with students, staff, parents, community members, local businesses, and law enforcement. In the meantime, we will remind students of their obligation to drive safely and also request assistance from the Ferndale Police in enforcing this obligation.

February 2016

How can the school district afford to purchase a new electronic reader board for Ferndale High School given all of the other facilities needs?

The Ferndale School District did not pay for the new reader board. It was made available to the district through a generous donation from the Lummi Nation. The gift was facilitated by members of the Ferndale High School Booster Club, who worked directly with the Lummi Indian Business Council (LIBC) on financing for the sign and with the City of Ferndale on its permitting and installation.

Can the messages on the new reader board be formatted so they are more readable?

Like much of what we do in our schools, the operation of the new sign is an opportunity for hands-on student learning. Students in our Lummi Leadership Class (called Oksale) have taken on responsibility for managing the messaging on the new sign. Naturally, none of them had had any previous experience with this kind of work, so they have been learning on the job. During a recent conversation with the three student leaders in charge of the project, they talked about the things they have learned already about the most effective type size and font and about the amount of time needed between message changes. We predict the signage will continue to get better and better as they continue to practice and learn.

Is there a way address the brightness of new reader board so it doesn’t disturb neighbors, especially at night?

When the new sign was initially lit, it was very bright, and several neighbors expressed concern. As we began working with the sign, we learned that its brilliance and glare were considerably more intense when the screen was blank. By adding text and images, we have been able to tone down its intensity. In addition, the sign is equipped with light sensitive photocells that automatically dim when the sun goes down and it gets dark outside.

 

We will continue to monitor this issue with neighbors and look for additional ways to mitigate any negative impact.

 

The majority of response to the new sign has been positive. We are thankful to the Lummi Nation for making this addition to our high school campus possible.

Why did the district decide to allow FFA students to hold their donkey basketball fundraiser when so many people voiced concerns and opposition?

During the six days leading up to the FFA’s Donkey Basketball fundraiser, the School District received many emails and phone calls expressing specific concerns about the treatment of the donkeys that would be participating in the event (donkeys furnished by a company that raises and trains them for this purpose) and also general concerns about the use of animals as entertainment. The School District also received numerous emails and phone calls in support of this student-planned activity, which has been part of the traditions of our local community for more than 40 years.

 

After reviewing the policies and practices in place by the donkey owner related to the treatment of his animals and consulting with several local veterinarians, the School District chose to support the students and local community in proceeding with this year’s event.

 

At the same time, we expressed our desire to turn the debate over the donkey basketball game into a positive learning experience for our FFA students, many of whom have been recognized nationally as well as locally for their exceptional care of animals. The objections were raised too late in the planning of this year’s event for us to be able to process them appropriately with students ahead of time. Therefore, we decided to do so following the event.

Why is the district allowing FFA students to have a say in whether or not we sponsor donkey basketball games in the future?

As a school district, we are committed to honoring student voice. For the same reason we have chosen to include two students on our School Board and have initiated a Student Advisory Council to provide input to the Board and administration on other critical district issues, we will involve students in the decision about the future of donkey basketball.

 

We believe education is something we do with students, not to them. We believe it is our duty to encourage young people to become critical thinkers, consumers of information, and decision makers. The controversy over donkey basketball provides an excellent opportunity for them to practice these skills. To this end, we will pass along to them a summary of all of the arguments for and against donkey basketball that have been shared with us and provide them with the opportunity to understand and reflect on those arguments in order to recommend a future course of action.

 

Engaging students in a thorough study of all of the information and opinions on both sides seems particularly fitting, since one of the tenets of FFA is to encourage young people to explore controversial issues related to agriculture and livestock.

January 2016

What changes are being made to the Vista Library and why?

In the spring of 2015, we made the decision to move all of our district administrative staff into the district office building, rather than having some of them located in a wing of Vista Middle School. To make this work, we had to convert the School Board Room into office space. This, in turn, necessitated finding a different venue for evening School Board meetings. Based on its proximity to the district office, we decided the Vista library would best serve this purpose. We discussed the idea with the Vista administration and came up with a plan.

We believed the plan promised several benefits, including:

 

  • Better use of all of our spaces.

For many years, district administrators occupied a whole wing of Vista Middle School. Through this new arrangement, we have been able to return a number of classrooms to Vista for use on a daily basis by students and staff, and we are also making better use of the former Board Room. Although the former Board Room was used some during the day for meetings, it was primarily configured and reserved for one or two evening Board meetings per month. By moving administrators out of Vista and into the Board Room, we were able to (1) maximize the use of the former Board Room, occupying it all day every day instead of just for a meeting here and there; (2) give Vista several more teaching rooms, and (3) still retain two classrooms in the middle school for district meetings and training spaces. By holding evening School Board meetings in the Vista library, we are also maximizing the use of that space, which in the past was rarely used after school hours.

 

  • A more fitting location for School Board meetings.

Our School Board members like to be in schools. They want to spend as much time as possible in the places where teachers teach and students learn. For this reason, they have added monthly school visits to their meeting schedule, and they have begun conducting their Study Sessions in different buildings across the district. Moving their regular business meetings into the heart of a school, rather than holding them in a room apart from schools, reflects their desire to keep their focus squarely on the most important aspect of our business.

 

  • More efficient collaboration among members of the district administrative team.

We now have all of our district office personnel under one roof, which has increased our effectiveness. Staff members located in the same building are not only able to work together more naturally, but they can also cover for one another more easily, thereby making the whole team more productive.

  • Easier accessibility by the public to all members of the district administrative team.

With everyone in the same building, we have been able to make our district-level services available in a one-stop-shop. That means parents, staff, and community members don’t have to go from one building to another to find the particular district person(s) they need to see.

  • A more flexible venue for School Board meetings.

The Vista library is a larger room than the former Board Room so it will accommodate bigger crowds. Since one of our goals is to get more people to participate in School Board meetings, this is an advantage. The furniture in the library also allows for different meeting configurations. Since another of our goals is to make our meetings more interactive, the ability to gather around small tables is also an advantage.

 

  • An upgraded library space for Vista students and staff.

Because the Vista community agreed to be the permanent host for School Board business meetings, we decided to return the favor by making the space a little nicer for them. By equipping the library with the audio/visual equipment previously located in the Board Room and only used for adult meetings, we are able to provide access to that equipment during the school day to the Vista community. This improved equipment will support the Vista staff’s ability to teach students how to use their one-to-one technology devices to conduct the kind of modern research they will need for their post-K12 lives.

 

To further enhance the project for Vista, we are also doing some minor renovations in the library, like giving it a fresh coat of paint, new carpets, and more flexible bookcases. The new bookcases are on wheels for easy movement and reconfiguration of the space when staff members want to use it for teaching purposes. For example, Vista science teachers find it beneficial to blend several classes together on occasion for greater student collaboration. Currently, they use the cafeteria for such activities, which means they are limited during the lunch periods. In the new library, they will be able to move the bookcases to create an appropriate space.

To make the space even more appealing, Samuel’s Furniture has agreed to donate some soft seating for students; and, according to the principal, the Vista staff has plans to add a game center and author’s corner.

Finally, the transformation has spurred a major housecleaning and clearing out of no-longer-used materials like filmstrips and VCR cassettes. Through this de-bulking process, we have been able to reclaim several smaller spaces connected to the library to create an office for NW Technology and also an additional area for use by staff.

In short, we believe the end result of these changes is going to be a better library for staff and students, a better meeting space for the School Board, and better office arrangements for our district administrative team.

What does the Vista renovation project mean for student and staff access to the library?

The transformation of the old Board Room into office spaces occurred last summer. Starting then, the School Board began meeting in the Vista library in a makeshift kind of arrangement one night per month, and the Vista community continued using the library during the day as it always had. The pre-work for the renovation began in October 2015 with cleaning out and organizing the library. Through this process, the principal reported, old pictures and other memorabilia were discovered from Vista’s opening in 1970, which sparked students’ interest in learning about what was happening in the world at that time.

 

We waited until the Winter Break to begin the major part of the work in an attempt to keep the disruption to students and staff to a minimum, but it turned out that we could not finish the project as we hoped. For the first two weeks after Winter Break, the library was not accessible at all while bookshelves were being moved and other work was being completed. This was definitely a hardship for the Vista community, and we apologize.

 

At this time, even though the library is somewhat “under construction,” we are making sure students still have access to the space. They can hang out there before and after school. Staff is using the space for classes as they did before the project started. However, the books have been moved to another location. They can be checked out from this other location, but it is not as convenient. Again, we apologize.

 

There will be several more days within the next month when the library is completely off limits to kids while the room is being painted and the carpet is being installed. We anticipate all of the work will be finished before the end of February 2016. At that time, students and staff will regain the same access to the library as they have always had, except that it will be a nicer place.

 

The question has been raised about why we didn’t choose to wait until summer to do the work. In retrospect, that may have been a better plan, especially since it has taken so much longer than we anticipated to get the carpet on site. Our decision to begin the work during Winter Break was motivated by our desire to create an improved space for Vista sooner rather than later, one that could be utilized and enjoyed by staff and students (including our current eighth graders) during the second half of the current school year rather waiting until next school year. Sometimes things don’t work out as well as planned. This is one of those cases. We are hopeful the end result will compensate for the inconvenience we have caused the Vista community.

How often are libraries used for adult meetings?

On occasion, libraries in every school in nearly every school district in the country are used during the day for staff meetings, administrative meetings, or community meetings, because they are generally one of the largest spaces in a school. However, it has always been our goal to keep these daytime meetings to a minimum to allow students maximum access to their libraries. On average, each of our school libraries is used for non-student daytime meetings no more than five or six times per year.

Why do we need more office space for administrative staff?

We have not increased the office space for district-level administrators. In fact, we have actually decreased the square footage allocated to our administrative staff by consolidating our operations. We moved nine people from Vista into the district office, thereby freeing up three more classrooms for use by Vista staff and students.

Why don’t we have certificated librarians in our schools?

During the worst of the economic recession, every district had to make some hard choices. In Ferndale, we chose to cut administrators (three at district office and one middle level assistant principal), librarians (one at Ferndale High School and a half at each of the other schools), and elementary counselors (two split between seven schools). We did so in order to retain full-day kindergarten for all students, an eight-period schedule at Ferndale High School, relatively small class sizes (smaller, at least, than they would have been without the cuts), and the modern technology resources our students need to master 21st century skills.

During the last three years, we have been able to add back some positions, partly because the economy has gotten stronger, and partly because we cut additional overhead costs by moving sixth grade to the middle level and closing Mt. View Elementary. We have, for instance, added assistant principals at the middle schools, and we have increased the number of staff members whose jobs focus on supporting our students’ social, emotional, and mental health. We have also put staff in our schools to support literacy, access to media, and technology integration — all functions of a 21st century librarian. So, although we do not currently have staff members with the specific title “librarian,” we believe we are meeting our students’ needs for information literacy in other ways.

What is the role of TOSAs in our schools?

TOSA is an acronym for “Teacher On Special Assignment.” Our TOSAs are extensions of our Teaching & Learning Department who work directly in schools and classrooms. Currently we employ a total of 3.8 FTE (full time equivalent) of TOSA time split among 6 people. (One is a full time TOSA. Four of them teach part-time. And one is only a part-time employee.)

 

Of the 3.8 TOSAs, 1.8 serve our elementary schools as literacy specialists. They spend the majority of their time in schools working with staff and students. The rest of their time is spent creating and delivering professional development for staff.

 

Each of our two middle schools has a half-time TOSA who works primarily on supporting staff and students with technology integration. Part of their job is to help locate and use media resources to support learning goals. For instance, through a partnership with Whatcom County Libraries, they assist middle school students in accessing thousands of books in the county library system through their personal technology devices. They are the resident experts on using media content through FSD-TV and other online media. As curriculum specialists, they also help staff integrate technology into all of our curricular areas.

 

At Ferndale High School, we have one part-time TOSA who functions similarly to the ones at the middle school, working with staff and students on accessing media resources and integrating technology and district-approved software applications. We have another part-time TOSA who works on helping staff understand and assimilate new Common Core State Standards into their classroom practices.

 

TOSAs are one of the ways we are able to provide shoulder-to-shoulder, just-in-time professional development and support to our teaching staff during a time when standards are changing and expectations are increasing at a rapid rate.

What are Student Support Specialists and what do they do?

Beginning this year, we have added three more staff and student support people to our district team, one each at our three largest elementary schools, Cascadia, Eagleridge, and Skyline. We are calling these people Student Support Specialists.

 

The new role came about because we finally had the financial resources to add back some of the positions at the elementary level that were cut during the declining budget years. We considered a number of options: part-time librarians, part-time counselors, part-time assistant principals or deans of students. Ultimately, our principals felt one full-time person who could wear several different hats and could be assigned to their buildings all day long would be preferable to the old model of having several specialists each serving several schools and coming in for only part of each day or week. The outcome was the new Student Support Specialist position.

 

These are certificated staff who have been freed up to assist with such functions as the following: (1) promoting positive student behavior; (2) addressing unique student needs; (3) helping link students and families with necessary support and resources; (4) removing barriers that prevent staff from doing their best work; and (5) facilitating community connections.

 

Since this is a new role, we are evaluating its effectiveness during the 2015-2016 school year. Based on feedback, we plan to make adjustments for the coming year.

How is the district addressing RCW 28A.320.240 (School library information and technology programs—Resources and materials—Teacher-librarians)?

The purpose of the law is to identify quality criteria for school library information and technology programs that support student learning goals and high school graduation requirements. The law speaks to certificated staff-librarians who provide a broad, flexible array of services, resources, and instruction that support student mastery of the essential academic learning requirements and state standards in all subject areas and the implementation of the district’s school improvement plan. It says the staff-librarian, through the school library information and technology program, shall collaborate as an instructional partner to: “(a) integrate information and technology into curriculum and instruction, including but not limited to instructing other certificated staff about using and integrating information and technology literacy into instruction through workshops, modeling lessons, and individual peer coaching; (b) provide information management instruction to students and staff about how to effectively use emerging learning technologies for school and lifelong learning, as well as in the appropriate use of computers and mobile devices in an educational setting; (c) help staff and students efficiently and effectively access the highest quality information available while using information ethically; (d) instruct students in digital citizenship including how to be critical consumers of information and provide guidance about thoughtful and strategic use of online resources; and (e) create a culture of reading in the school community by developing a diverse, student-focused collection of materials that ensures all students can find something of quality to read and by facilitating school-wide reading initiatives along with providing individual support and guidance for students.”

 

This new law regarding library services reflects a new learning landscape for our students, one that is heavily dominated by the use of technology. Recognition of the increasing need for students to become fluent in accessing, evaluating, ethically using, and creating digital information, the district made the decision several years ago to move toward a one-to-one technology platform, with each learner provided his or her own technology device. Along with this shift came the need for a new kind of media specialist/staff librarian – the kind who can fulfill the duties outlined in the RCW above. Currently, our TOSAs and Student Support Specialists are certificated staff who are fulfilling those duties, although they do not possess specific certification as librarians.

Would the school district consider moving Ferndale High School and other district buildings on that campus to a location further away from the railroad tracks?

We have heard a concern about the proximity of Ferndale High School, the athletic fields, the bus garage, and other district buildings to the railroad tracks. The question was raised: “Would the district consider moving these facilities further away from the tracks to reduce the risk to students and staff from a potential rail accident or explosion?”

 

The district has definitely considered the risk posed by the railroad tracks, and we have practiced relevant safety procedures and emergency drills. However, relocating the high school campus is cost prohibitive. In February 2014, the district proposed a $125 million bond measure to rebuild the high school and move the bus garage and maintenance facilities to another location. Safety was one of our main selling points. The voters let us know that they would not support a project that expensive. If we were to rebuild the high school campus, along with all of the other district facilities currently adjacent to the railroad tracks, on completely different site(s), the price tag would be considerably higher than $125 million. The evidence strongly suggests our community will not agree to pay for such relocation.

 

So at this time, the answer is no, we are not considering moving the location of the Ferndale High School campus. We wonder if the leadership of the railroad would consider moving the tracks?

How is the district addressing the need to keep students warm when they have to be outside during an extended emergency situation?

Following the December 16, 2015, bomb threat incident at Ferndale High School, which required the evacuation of students and staff for more than an hour, the district’s Safety Team made the decision to purchase 2,000 space blankets.

 

Space blankets are especially low-weight, low-bulk blankets made of heat-reflective thin plastic sheeting. Their design reduces the heat loss in a person’s body. Their light weight and compact size before unfurling makes them ideal when space is at a premium. They are sometimes included in first aid kits and camping equipment.

 

We were able to purchase space blankets for about 50 cents each. In the future, we will have them available for student and staff use when an emergency requires them to be out in cold weather for an extended period of time.

 

December 2015

How can the School Board and district administration do a better job of responding to public comments made at School Board meetings?

We have been working to improve our process and procedures for accepting and responding to public comment because we have acknowledged that our system was not working as well as it should. This has been a topic of conversation with community members at our last three School Board meetings. As a result of these conversations, we have drafted the following revised set of procedures:

 

  • We will implement an electronic form on our website where members of the public can sign up in advance of a meeting to make a comment at the meeting, preferably also identifying the topic on which they will be speaking (just so the School Board and Executive Team can come prepared).
  • We will continue to allow patrons to sign up at each regular School Board business meeting to make a public comment at the beginning of the meeting on any topic of their choosing (as long as it does not defame an individual or divulge confidential information about a student or staff member).
  • We will continue to ask patrons to limit their public comment to three minutes.
  • We will change our protocol to allow some interaction between the board and the speaker at the meeting, especially in terms of asking clarifying questions, providing answers to factual questions, and/or letting the commenter know how we will be getting back to him or her.
  • At the same time, we will refrain from debating the content of a comment during the meeting for three main reasons: (1) we need time to do necessary fact checking and research on a potentially new topic so the responses we provide are accurate; (2) we need to preserve meeting time for the pre-published agenda, as per our compact with the citizenry; and (3) we do not want to discourage public commenters from speaking by subjecting them to a public debate with a whole panel of board members and educators.
  • At the end of each regular School Board business meeting, we will repeat the same process outlined above for public comments before the meeting.
  • We will continue to structure study sessions, whenever possible, as interactive conversations.
  • We will publish on BoardDocs and other place(s) on the website a monthly list of questions/concerns from the public, along with our responses and/or follow-up actions.

How do we care for students during our safety drills?

We know safety drills have the potential to cause stress for some students based on their past experiences. To address this issue, and to balance it against the need to conduct drills to ensure the safety of all students, we communicate to parents and the community in advance of major drills; and we excuse students per parent/guardian request.

 

The Red Orca exercise coming up this month (December 9) will focus on lockdown and evacuation procedures. We chose the date for this activity because it is a student early release day. First the building staff will call for a lockdown and then they will move into an evacuation mode just before student dismissal time (thereby minimizing the impact on learning). Since we want the activity to be positive experience for students, we are including learning-focused discussions in their classrooms with the school personnel they know best, their own teachers. During the drill, students will leave Eagleridge with their classmates under the supervision of their teachers, paraeducators, and friendly law enforcement personnel. They will get on their regular buses at their regular times, but they will be doing so at next-door Horizon Middle School (where middle schoolers will have already left for the day). This will result in a few changes for parents picking up their students, but instructions are being provided ahead of time, and police officers will be on hand to help direct traffic. Once students have left, law enforcement will work with our district staff to complete the adult portion of the training.

 

Once again, while we believe it is in the best interest of the majority of our students to practice emergency procedures under the supervision of caring adults, we understand that each child’s needs are different. If parents/guardians feel the anxiety caused by the practice experience will outweigh the benefits of preparing students to be as safe as possible during an actual emergency, then we will honor their request to keep their children home during the activity.

In a world where school shootings and terrorist attacks are becoming more and more commonplace, what are doing to keep students safe in our schools?

We think about safety every hour of every day. Several years ago, the School Board elevated our focus on safety to a new level by making it the topic of their sixth Strategic Commitment: “We are committed to ensuring the safety of each student and staff member. We believe that safety is a basic need and fundamental right of every person. A sense of safety is critical for learning and development to occur. Therefore, ensuring the physical, social, and emotional safety of all our students and staff is an essential priority within our school system.”

 

Safety has become a continuously practiced element of our daily lives in the Ferndale School District. Each building runs at least one safety drill (fire, lockdown, or earthquake) every month, so that procedures for responding to an emergency situation become routine for students and staff. In October 2015, we joined over 44 million others across the country by participating in a national earthquake drill called the Great Shake Out, which provided staff and students an opportunity to rehearse what to do in the event of an earthquake. Like our other drills, this one also gave us a chance to test the district’s Incident Command Structure under the stress of a large-scale emergency. District leaders also conducted a “table top” simulation to test our communications systems and response procedures; and, by all accounts, the exercise was a great success. We were able to use the tools and systems we have put in place to communicate and effectively manage an emergency situation. We identified some areas for improvement as well, which we have already begun to address.

 

Other safety drills within the past year have focused on an active shooter, a chemical spill, a large-scale weather crisis, and an unknown intruder. All of them have been conducted in conjunction with law enforcement and other emergency responders. In addition to conducting drills, we have updated each school’s safety plan and (through a grant) acquired state-of-the-art communication tools.

How can we keep parents informed when buses run late?

Several parents let us know they get worried when their children’s buses run late. They asked if there was any way we could notify them about changes or delays in bus schedules. We have figured out how to do just that.

 

Families of our students are undoubtedly familiar with the district’s all-call system — those lovely robo-calls that inform about student attendance and upcoming school events. We have expanded that system, so we are now able to use it to inform parents about any delays or situations that arise on their children’s bus. By developing a process for identifying only those students assigned to an individual bus, we can use the automated call system to provide current up-to-date information about bus situations only to the parents/families of students who ride that particular bus.

 

In fact, we used this new all-call feature on December 7, 2015, to let impacted families know that one of our Custer buses was running behind schedule and the children on it would be about 10 minutes late getting home.

 

This is just one more way the district is leveraging its technology resources to better inform and communicate with our community.

Can we have a debate club at Ferndale High School?

When a parent and student approached the district about starting a debate club, we committed to assisting them in exploring this option. FHS Assistant Principal, Jeremy Vincent, the person in charge of helping students who want to start new clubs and/or activities, met with the student to discuss a possible strategy for starting a debate club. He explained that one hurdle would be to find a staff or community member who would be willing to serve as an advisor. Mr. Vincent advertised for a debate coach/advisor among all of the FHS staff and all of the staff at Horizon and Vista Middle Schools. (Since our elementaries dismiss so much later than our high schools, it didn’t seem feasible to recruit an advisor from among the staffs of those schools.) Unfortunately, Mr. Vincent’s advertisement didn’t get any takers.

 

As part of our exploration of this proposal, we also consulted with the woman who serves as the coach of the Bellingham School District’s combined debate team with students from all three Bellingham high schools. She offered to help us if we decide to move forward with starting a club or team. At the same time, she emphasized that running a debate program takes a very big commitment on the part of the advisor. She said she puts in 30-40 hours a month, including an average of one weekend tournament, and she gets paid $125 a month. With that said, she gave us some suggestions for recruiting a coach, and she said there are opportunities for new coaches to get training.

 

Mr. Vincent has subsequently called two meetings for students who might be interested in joining a debate club, and a half a dozen responded to his call. He also found a substitute teacher who might be willing to serve as advisor. At this point, the idea of forming a debate club at FHS is still in the works.

How do we honor Christmas and other holiday traditions in our schools?

The Ferndale community is a rich blend of many different cultures. Our goals in the Ferndale School District are to honor the traditions our students bring to school with them and also to introduce them to cultures other than their own.

 

The Ferndale School District welcomes elements of Christmas in our schools, since this holiday is such an integral part of our community’s majority culture. We are, however, committed to balance and moderation. We don’t think it’s productive for our learning mission or beneficial to our students to start the holiday buildup too early; and, just like everything else we do, we would like our celebrations to have educational purposes. We also want to ensure that none of our students feel excluded from school-based activities because they are not part of the majority culture.

 

Several years ago, the celebration of Christmas in our schools became a point of controversy. This was due in part to new attendance boundaries. When families and staff moved to different schools, they learned (and District leadership learned as well) that our practices were not consistent from building to building. The Christmas conversation was further motivated by a sincere desire to make all of our celebrations as inclusive as possible, not leaving any child or family out.

 

To address both the school-to-school inconsistencies and the mission of inclusion, the School District commissioned a Holiday Guidelines Task Force made up of community members and district personnel. The goals of the Task Force were to explore current practices both in our own school district and in others, to review pertinent laws, to listen to community opinions, and to draft a set of district guidelines. This work was completed and the guidelines were distributed and discussed with school staff. (they are also available on the district website.)

 

The guidelines provide room for considerable flexibility. They allow staffs, student bodies, and/or PTOs to make December plans for their own schools, which reflect aspects of their own community’s culture. Winter music programs include a mixture of music, some of which is holiday-themed. Several of our schools sponsor holiday themed dress-up days, art projects, sing-alongs, and lesson activities. In addition to honoring Christmas traditions, we also encourage the recognition of winter holidays from other cultures in our schools.

 

On the front page of the current issue of the Ferndale School District Community Newsletter, we have highlighted the various holiday celebrations that are happening in our schools during December 2015