By Marcy Stamper

Kindergarteners in the Methow Valley School District will receive five full days of instruction starting in the fall, essentially adding almost two months of school for the district’s youngest students.

Adding a fifth day of kindergarten will cost the district $14,000, according to Methow Valley School District Tom Venable, who announced the decision at a school board meeting on March 26.

Older students will also get expanded instruction next year in a new elective called Careers in Construction Academy, which will provide high school students with hands-on learning opportunities in trades such as carpentry and plumbing and the chance to work with contractors at a job site.

Ten students, all with some previous experience in construction, have already signed up for the class, but the district hopes to extend it to students just learning carpentry skills in the future, said Bob Wilson, the design technology and construction teacher. The primary cost to the district will be for transportation to job sites.

Adding the two classes will not require the elimination of any existing subject offerings, said Venable. Funding will come from increased state contributions based on higher enrollment, and from discontinuing the district’s participation in two professional-development programs for science, technology and math teachers. Teachers said they can still apply the key parts of the programs but questioned the value of continuing to pay for formal involvement, according to Venable.

Adding a fifth day of kindergarten will not only have an educational benefit for students, but is also expected to have a direct financial impact on their families. Venable said parents have told him they will be able to work full-time or will save money on child care because they will no longer need to make special arrangements for Fridays.


Sifting suggestions

Venable has already tallied more than 70 responses to the request for suggestions about how to spend the district’s money, and more are still coming in. Most of the submissions have come from faculty and staff, but community members are also providing ideas, said Venable.

Venable asked people to propose a program or enhancement for the schools, as well as to name things currently being funded that could be eliminated. The vast majority of the responses are for enhancements to existing programs, with only five suggestions about expenditures that could be scrapped, said Venable. “There were about $850,000 in requests, far exceeding what we anticipate in additional revenue,” he said.

Proposals include increased school nursing; musical instruments, iPads and books; mental-health counseling; T-shirts and a snowplow. One person recommending replacing the kitchen’s ancient mixer (previously used at Allen Elementary School, which closed in the 1990s) so that cooks can prepare more meals from scratch. Other suggestions were for trips to music events and to colleges.

The district’s administrative team is going through all the suggestions and will come up with a prioritized list, which will be reviewed in conjunction with educational goals currently under development so that resources can be allocated accordingly.


Innovative ideas

Last week, Venable and the two principals attended workshops in Seattle organized by the International Baccalaureate program (IB), a framework for a continuous program of study throughout a child’s education. It is one of several programs the district is investigating.

The IB program emphasizes individuality and inquiry-based education, but is not a specific curriculum, said Venable. It encourages students to develop research skills, learn a second language and participate in community service.

IB is a nonprofit educational foundation that currently works with more than 3,700 schools in 147 countries, 29 of them in Washington. Becoming authorized as an IB school is an intensive, multi-year process. Schools pay an annual fee of about $8,000 to $11,000 per level of program (elementary, middle or high school, for example).

“If our car had wings, it could have flown, because there was so much energy coming out of that meeting,” said Venable about the workshop. A group from an IB high school in Federal Way is coming to the Methow Valley to speak to the staff during their professional development day in early May.

District administrators have also been consulting with Jeff Petty, executive director of the Puget Sound Consortium for School Innovation. Petty is also the founder and former principal of the Big Picture School in Highline, Wash.

At Big Picture schools, each student has an individual learning plan based on his or her own interests and needs, rather than following a traditional, age-based progression through grades. The schools emphasize internships and student exhibitions of their learning. “The schools replicate real life as much as possible,” said Venable.


Education in mindfulness

As agreed when the district put mindfulness education on hold last fall, a team of three Liberty Bell High School teachers and high school principal Deborah DeKalb have reviewed the Mindful Schools curriculum and researched the mindfulness programs at schools around the country.

In a memo to the superintendent, the committee proposed offering mindfulness instruction in the yoga class next year, since it is consistent with the breathing techniques taught in yoga. They also suggested including it in the advisory period for seniors. Both would be optional for students.

“This curriculum also fits with our beliefs, values and outcomes as a district focused on the development of the whole child,” wrote the committee.

The team recommended that instruction in mindfulness be provided to all staff, both for their own benefit and so that they can use it to help students focus. Venable will make the final decision on adopting the curriculum.