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Work will continue to ensure our youth will find success in Sunnyside schools

As part of Washington's Focus on Education Week, I would like to take a moment to discuss the importance of high-quality education, and what the Sunnyside School District is doing to provide that in our community.

The philosopher Aristotle once wrote, "All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth." His words are entirely true; the future of our community, as well as our nation, is completely dependent on the cultivation of excellence within our youth, today.

It is with this important responsibility held by the public education system that we find our sense of unified duty in ensuring that our community, our nation and our world are left in the hands of those capable of creating a better world.

About four years ago, the Sunnyside School District Board of Directors developed a vision that mandates success for all students. Since then, that vision has resonated in every classroom throughout our district and is the focus of every decision we make as leaders. While we still have a ways to go in achieving our overarching goal of success for all students, we have also come a long way in taking some major steps toward that goal.

With the resources provided by the district-wide Summit Grant and high school focused MERIT Grant, we have had the opportunity to develop tools and strategies to improve teaching and learning. We have developed curriculum guides that align to Washington state standards. Our teachers and administrators are developing a more effective assessment system that will quickly provide them with the data they need to adjust instruction based on their students' understanding of what is being taught. We have ensured that our administrators are spending more time in the classroom to support high-quality instructional practice.

We have also forged a unique partnership with Gonzaga University to bring a tenured professor of education on as the principal of Sunnyside High School with the focus of improving academic and behavioral supports needed for every SHS student to succeed and graduate.

While this work has been difficult and demanding, we are now beginning to see the fruits of our labor. One of the most visible and gratifying successes was the graduation of a record 327 SHS students this past June. In the 2006-07 school year, we had a 41 percent graduation rate. While the state is still calculating the rate for this past year, we expect it to be over 70 percent.

We have also seen the graduation rates rise remarkably for English Language Learner (ELL) and Special Education students. ELL graduation rates have gone from 16 percent to 44.3 percent, and Special Education's rate has gone from 46.6 percent to 92.9 percent, all in one year.

There have also been gains in math at every grade level, the most exceptional of those increases being in the middle school and high school grade levels. These successes are a testament to the hard work and determination of our staff and students, as well as the incredible support from our community.

Each of us recognize the importance of educating Sunnyside's youth, and that is why we will continue to do all we can as a school district and community to support them and their success. Our future deserves nothing less.

- Dr. Rick Cole is superintendent

of the Sunnyside School District.

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