What’s working well in the Chehalis School District and what can we improve? These questions were asked of parents in the fall. In fact, anyone could respond to these questions. They were posed in an online conversation using the engagement tool called Thoughtexchange.
Nearly eleven thousand ratings were made of the 212 comments shared by 282 parents.
Additionally, in a separate survey, staff were asked, How can we support you? With nearly 200 participants sharing over 100 thoughts, and over 4,500 starred responses to shared thoughts.
“These annual online surveys are an effort to hear more voices in the school district and Chehalis community, encourage greater participation, and increase the transparency of district improvement efforts,” says CSD Superintendent, Dr. Christine Moloney. “Our school board holds the positive engagement of our staff and community as an important goal – and so do I.”
In fact, the Chehalis School District uses a variety of strategies to engage staff and parents including:.
- Recently, a Google Forms survey was used to ask parents about next year’s school calendar.
- Superintendent Moloney schedules regular “Coffee and Conversation with Christine” meetings for parents to attend.
- The District Leadership Team goes to schools for drop-in conversations with staff.
- Teachers meet face-to-face with parents in scheduled conferences. (Heads up: Parent/Teacher Conferences are coming up at the end of February!)
In addition, CSD uses Thoughtexchange as a method for parents and community members to provide feedback in order to gauge satisfaction with specific educational programs and initiatives taking place in Chehalis schools.
Thoughtexchange allows participants to share thoughts confidentially to ensure all voices are heard and all divergent views can come to light around a shared topic of interest or concern.
However, Thoughtexchange is not just a place for posting comments. Participants are given the chance to read other people’s comments and see what is important to them. After considering other thoughts, participants are given the chance to add up to five stars of agreement to those comments they feel most strongly about. In this way, the ideas most important to people rise to the surface and earn a higher ranking than others.
When we looked at the data gathered from the exchange held in the fall, several themes emerged including:
- Student Needs
- Staff Needs
In recent years, it has become more and more challenging to hire bus drivers. This is not unique to Chehalis, but it certainly is having a great impact on our schools, students, and families. With limited staff, the school district moved from a fairly common bell schedule among schools to a two-tiered schedule with staggered start and end times for schools. The two-tiered schedule was the only way, with our lack of bus drivers, to get students to school. The two-tiered schedule allows buses and drivers to be scheduled several times each day – lengthening driver work days, and using the existing fleet of buses more frequently. This two-tiered system is not likely to change soon. If you are interested in becoming a bus driver please click here.
Beginning in the 2023-2024 school year, the district will implement a ninety (90) minute early release each Wednesday. Calling this “Professional Academic Work for Success” (PAWS), Chehalis teachers and administrators will focus on professional development, collaboration, and the formation of Professional Learning Teams at each school. They will spend time examining student achievement data and designing instruction and intervention to help students be successful.
Scheduled weekly, PAWS will replace seven early release days sporadically spread throughout the current district calendar. Similar to nearby school districts, Chehalis School District will devote 90 minutes each week to focus on professional activities within a teacher’s work day.
Traffic and transportation remain a concern for many parents and staff. District and school administrators evaluate traffic flow at each school campus on a regular basis, and make changes to drop-off and pick-up procedures in an effort to ensure student safety and smooth transitions before and after school.
The district has been fortunate to have an outstanding School Security and Safety Officer on staff for several years. Todd Thornburg provides support and direction for students and staff across the district. Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year we were able to hire additional security staff. We are pleased to have Troy Thornburg joining forces with his brother in serving our community.
Bus drivers participate in several training sessions each year – ensuring our staff are well-versed in keeping students safe during transport. This year, parents were provided with the ability to track school buses using a new phone app. This helps families know where their children are, even during inclement weather or severe traffic.
Construction of new fencing on the W. F. West High School campus will begin soon, connecting the CTE building to the main building, thus directing walkers between buildings with a secure area. Furthermore, the high school is having all door locks rekeyed to ensure control of those able to enter.
Several topics have emerged regarding student needs. Some of the top thoughts of interest include transportation, discipline, sense of belonging, opportunities for advanced coursework.
Transportation – While Chehalis continues to seek drivers for our transportation department, the reality is there is a national shortage of applicants. It remains very difficult to provide consistency in daily routes to and from school. In addition to this dilemma, survey results show an interest in more transportation for special events and athletics. Reliability in communication about changes in transportation also bubbled up as a concern among parents.
District leaders have been aware of challenges in transportation and therefore contracted with an outside evaluator to analyze the transportation department serving both Centralia and Chehalis school districts. As we consider the results of the evaluation, as well as the financial implications in the recommendations made, changes may begin to become evident to parents and students. We have already instituted several of the recommendations to become more efficient and effective. Our priority continues to be in providing safe and reliable transportation as our annual budget and human resources allow.
Discipline – With a common interest in providing students with a safe learning environment, district staff join parents in their desire to make behavior management a priority. Expectations for student behavior are outlined in detail in each school’s student handbook, and administrators follow school board policies in correcting inappropriate behavior. However, survey results indicate an interest in more visible consistency in responding to behaviors of concern. Administrators are diligent in follow-through, but because of student privacy laws, consequences for individual students cannot be made public.
Teachers and administrators are challenged to ensure classrooms are safe and free from distractions. They monitor student behavior daily as a matter of routine. Responses are developmentally appropriate and aligned with the choices students make.
Aligning their work with each other, administrators meeting together regularly to share concerns and their current effort to help students make good choices. Although social norms have changed significantly over the past few years, educators believe that students can learn to respect others and themselves as they navigate the various environments in which they live and grow. We will keep this a priority, and with the support of parents, create learning situations which help students find success as they interact with others.
Students have been engaged in helping create welcoming and inclusive environments for their peers as evidenced by many events and activities at the schools.
Social interactions and sense of belonging – Parents and staff continue to share an interest in helping students feel a sense of belonging. Some suggested the importance of social interactions, stating “Positive social interactions with peers and staff helps them feel more comfortable to reach out in times of need.”
Many celebrated the return of extracurricular activities, noting the impact on social and emotional health. Others praised teachers and counselors, thanking them for their time and dedication.
Social and emotional learning will continue to hold a place of importance in Chehalis schools – on a daily basis.
Opportunities for advanced coursework – In general, Chehalis School District is well known for the emphasis placed on preparing students for post-secondary opportunities. With the Student Achievement Initiative impacting coursework and curriculum at all schools, rigor remains a top priority. However, survey results show some concerns regarding consistency from classroom to classroom. It also shows concern for equal access to such classes.
One parent expressed a thought regarding access to Honors and Advanced Placement courses, College in the High School, and Running Start courses at Centralia College, stating, “Rigor matters. I hope our district will continue to focus on the purpose of schools; instilling rigorous application of core academic subjects, K-12.”
“Our school district is committed to rigorous coursework,” says Director of Student Achievement Rick Goble. “Our goal is to ensure all students are adequately prepared for post-secondary education opportunities, whether it be in college, university, trade schools, or certification programs.” The district is examining current communication systems regarding advanced courses so that students and parents are well-prepared for registration which takes place each spring.
Many parents have expressed an appreciation for Chehalis teachers and staff:
- “Staff is dedicated and truly care about students”
- “Highly qualified teachers: Without highly qualified teachers the education would be sub par”
- “Caring teachers: Youth need to know they are cared about/ important”
- “The teachers seem to really care and they really appear to put in a lot of effort”
At the same time, many staff members expressed a sense of overload and exhaustion:
- “Teachers are overwhelmed — BERC, AVID, UDL, MATH DISCOURSE, PILOTING A NEW ELA CURRICULUM. We need focus and time”
- “We’re already all “full” and overwhelmed- and feels like we are continuing to be asked to do more”
- “Staff needs more collaboration time and prep time to ensure we are able to make it work”
- “We are on board for these things, but we aren’t given the time to make it work”
Chehalis teachers are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. Educators across the nation are finding their work extremely challenging. Forbes magazine recently reported that burnout is an educator’s top concern stating that “71% of educators are worried about teacher burnout during the 2022–23 school year” (Perna M.C. 2022. Burnout Is Educators’ Top Concern. Here Are 4 Ways To Help. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcperna/2022/11/08/burnout-is-educators-top-concern-here-are-4-ways-to-help/?sh=fd53d1d37659).
In general, parents and community members consistently support teachers and staff in Chehalis schools. Teachers are working hard for their students, but clearly we need to ensure they are receiving the support they need.
Although nearly three years have passed since schools across the country sent students and staff home and closed their doors, the impact has changed the education system forever. The pandemic caused a major disruption in the educational system, and thankfully, classrooms are looking more “normal” than they have in years.
Teachers and staff will continue to do their best to help students recover, grow, and thrive. They will succeed, as will Chehalis students, with persistence, understanding, and support.