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Sunnyside principals share hopes for new school year

Incorporating a new math curriculum seems to be the biggest challenge facing many of the schools within the Sunnyside School District during the coming school year that starts next Monday.

That was the trend during a school board study session last night during which school administrators presented their goals and school improvement plans for 2007-08.

Pioneer Elementary School Principal Kristine Diddens said the biggest challenge will be improving standard test scores for students with limited proficiency in the English language (LEP).

"There's a huge achievement gap," she told the school board of 2006-07 numbers that show only 34 percent of 4th grade LEP students meet state standards in reading, while 69 percent of students who are proficient in English do meet standards.

The gap is even more noticeable in fourth grade math as only 19 percent of LEP students meet standards, compared to 54 percent of non-LEP students.

Over at Outlook Elementary School, administrators are moving ahead after an 06-07 school year that saw a fire and a math coach transition.

Principal Robert Bowman said the biggest concern is a drop-off in fourth grade writing, with students meeting state standards dropping from 56 to 27.8 percent.

To remedy that, Bowman and Assistant Principal Maria Hernandez will sit in on classroom reading presentations to help out wherever needed.

The school will also have specialists working in small groups with children who need reading help.

Teachers at Washington Elementary School will also receive in-classroom guidance from Principal Gwyn Trull.

She told the board she is looking forward to taking a turn teaching the new math curriculum so that teachers can observe and see areas where special focus will be needed in presenting the material. "You're welcome to come over and help me teach it," she told the board with a smile.

Trull also noted that Washington still needs money for its after-school program. In response, assistant superintendent Gary Vegar said the district was working on replacing the funds.

Chief Kamiakin Elementary School Principal Julie Schmick said the biggest challenge for her staff will be maintaining energy levels as a new math curriculum is introduced. Schmick said she wants to keep her staff from burning out and "keep the passion going until January when they see the fruits of their work."

Assistant Principal Tavis Peterson said the school will introduce a responsibility room this year. He noted that the room will not be just a time-out or detention area, but for any student in need of counseling or making better choices. A bear mascot will also be introduced to help students in making good choices.

Over at Harrison Middle School, staff have set a goal of helping at least 65.1 percent of seventh grade students meet or exceed the reading WASL standard and at least 59 percent meet or exceed the math standard.

Principal Janie Hernandez also praised a summer program for teachers that she said helped build team chemistry. Harrison staffer Angel Carrizales added that the exercise assisted employees at both middle schools to think of themselves as not "team Harrison or "team Sierra Vista", but as "team Sunnyside".

At Sierra Vista Middle School, Principal Doug Rogers said it helped staff to have a year's experience together at the new school, which opened at the beginning of the 2006-07 school year.

This time a year ago, he said, the school's eighth grade wing was wrapping up construction. "We were waiting for the dust to settle," Rogers added.

In 2007-08, Sierra Vista is working on improving cultural responsiveness, Rogers said. He noted the key will be balancing classroom instruction and building relationships with students and parents.

"We're committed to building relationships," he said, noting that would be the school's biggest challenge for 2007-08. "It's easy to look at numbers, but we have to find out what's going to make a difference in the kid's life."

Parental involvement is also key at Sunnyside High School, which is putting together a parent committee to help in developing a school handbook.

One task facing the school is upping WASL math scores. In 2006, 27 percent of students met the WASL math standard and the school's goal is to hike that number to 63 percent by 2009.

Principal Brian Hart said one strategy to help raise the math numbers is by helping students develop skills in questioning strategies as they solve problems and implement math journal entries.

The study session closed with an executive session to discuss a pesonnel matter. Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole announced there would be a brief board meeting next Tuesday at 6 p.m. to award the construction bid for the new elementary school.

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