The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Tracy Thompson
the Times 

Coffee with the Superintendent proves informative

Test score data, delicious donuts and more


November 7, 2019

Waitsburg School District Superintendent Mark Pickel welcomed a small group of parents to a coffee hour this past Friday at the Waitsburg Elementary music room. With chocolate donuts, and fresh hot coffee, he shared recent test data from the district with the five mothers who attended. Four of the mothers had elementary and pre-school aged children, and one was a mom to a seventh grade student. The pre-schoolers in attendance added a level of industry and volume to the gathering as they rearranged the extra chairs in the room and gleefully ate the donuts.

Mr. Pickel shared state assessment data for the district, which unfortunately showed downward trends. “The numbers (on the test scores) really represent a snapshot of that student on that day,” Pickel shared. “They reflect everything from how the student was feeling that day, to what they had for breakfast.” he continued.

“The math scores are a concern at the K-12 level, we are trying to beef up what we can do to increase those scores,” he said

One new tool in his kit is the addition of the third-party assessment tool iReady. Described as ‘a suite of intuitive reports that provide a common language through which both teachers and administrators can work toward the shared goal of student achievement,’ the program helps identify what students don’t know, and helps the teachers fill in the gaps through instruction.

An online adaptive test - the more students answer questions, the more difficult the questions become; it informs teachers about subject area strengths for individual students, as well as where individual students need further instruction.

“iReady is an approved curriculum for the state, and it aligns with the state-mandated curriculum,” said Pickel. For mathematics, there are four domains, Measurement and Data, Algebraic Thinking, Computation and Geometry. The individualized nature of the instruction is an important feature of the program, students can work on it from home, at their own pace. Teachers have a dashboard to track students progress.

There is a bit of a learning curve to the program for both teachers and students; there is quite a bit of text involved with the math problems, as many of the questions are story problems. Since the program is K-12, Pickel and the teachers have discovered that not every kid has home access to a computer, and many students need to learn how to use a computer mouse.

In addition to iReady, Pickel stated that he is in the process of hiring a LAP-Title I assistant who will work in the middle school. Other STEM offerings coming in the future include a robotics class with Mr. Starling, the addition of three 3-D printers to the high school, and a small gas-engine repair class.

A parent inquired about plans to retain the students who are currently attending in the district, and Pickel said that he is working together with the Board of Directors to provide opportunities. He mentioned a new offering from Ms. Leid at the High School who applied for a grant to offer a Composition 101 class that follows Walla Walla Community College curriculum and provides five college credits to successful students. Next year, she will offer Composition 102 and the opportunity for students to earn 5 more WWCC credits. Mr. Kiefel at the high school will also offer a science class in the future.

The question of adding a music teacher back to the district was brought up. Pickel noted that small districts face a tough hiring challenge in finding a teacher with broad musical knowledge, able to teach both vocal and instrumental music. He mentioned that after the winter break he intends to visit Seattle, Spokane, Ellensburg and Cheney on hiring missions, and that there are programs at area universities that train teachers for rural districts. Another option suggested would be to share the skills and time of the band teacher in Dayton.

Sports participation was also discussed, with Pickel noting that kids are turning out for the teams, but at times lack other teams to play. He mentioned the possible startup of an ESports League at the high school, which would put students in competition with others in online computer game matchups. Ms. Wooderchak is working on that addition to the High School.

Coffee with the Superintendent proved to be very informative and engaging, parents are encouraged to take the time to attend these monthly gatherings for the latest on what is happening district-wide.


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