Superintendent offers glimpse into district

Superintendent Mike Nelson used a document camera to display communication a letter from a former student. He Skyped with his daughter Anna in California. He walked audience members through the district website using a SmartBoard and let everyone know “Mike is cool” by writing it on a SmartSlate.

From their seats, the audience was invited to click their responses tot a variety of questions where results were immediately posted on the screen.

Each piece is technology students and teachers are starting to use, or will soon be seeing, in their classrooms as part of a voter-approved technology grant. Nelson presented the update, as well as highlights from the past year and a look into the one coming, in his annual State of Enumclaw School District Address Thursday night.

Skype is a video conferencing system that allows people to communicate visually through the Internet. Nelson and the audience were able to converse with Anna Nelson from Chapman University in California. The audience was even treated to a tour of her dorm room. Nelson also wanted to Skype with EHS graduate Jake Christiansen, who is currently attending West Point Military Academy, but the Department of Defense would not allow the communication. Instead, Nelson let the audience read Christiansen’s letter along with him by using a document camera.

Teachers Doug Wolf, Doug Burnham and Caty Porter said Skype will be a boon for their teaching.

“It can quickly open doors to classrooms across the districts,” Brunham said. “And bring experts to my classrooms.”

SmartBoard bring the Internet to the classroom and allow interaction by touch and drawing. Teachers said they allow students to share work.

“It’s a more efficient, more to the point,” Wolff said. “I can vary classroom instruction with various sources.”

“I love my SmartSlate,” said Porter, who said the handheld computer allows her to quickly see how her students are thinking and processing the material she’s presenting. “I’m now mobile in my classroom.”

Immediate feedback is also the advantage of the clicker technology. A teacher can post, for example, a math problem on the board and after working the problem, students can click their answer. Each answer is tabulated and posted as a either a pie or bar graph, so a teacher can immediately see who gets it and who does not, but the answers are anonymous to the other students, so only the teacher knows who needs additional help.

Thursday’s audience took it on a test run with a few fun questions from Nelson.

Through the quick poll, Nelson discovered the majority of audience members get their school district information from the district website; they predict there will be more snow days this year; Harry Potter the most popular reading choice; and board member Chris VanHoof should grow a mustache and beard and shave his head.

All kidding aside, Wolff said, instantly knowing if kids are getting it or not and the anonymity, is a big plus.

“It’s also good to teach reading and interpreting graphs,” Porter said.

Nelson also talked about how the district is working to focus, especially at the high school, “What is your next step? What do you want to do?”

“We’re trying to build a system in our school district that sets our kids up for beyond high school,” Nelson said.

Part of the movement is to get more kids in Advanced Placement classes. He shared AP statistics with the audience.

In 2010, 209 students tested in AP classes with 83 percent scoring a 3 or higher, which can qualify them for college credit. In 2006, the number was 205 with 85 percent and in 2003 it was 48 with 39 percent. Today, 16 percent of EHS’s 1,298 students are enrolled in one or more AP classes. In 2005, there were 205 AP students out of 1,501 student population. For 2003, those numbers were 48 and 1,553.

Nelson outlined several points of pride for the district, with the staff at the top.

“I am humbled by the people of this district,” Nelson said of the 550 employees who care for 4,200 students. “There are kind, caring people who work in this district.”

During the past year, Nelson launched his Not So Undercover Boss series, where he spent time as a bus driver, food service worker, office worker at the middle school, teacher in a special education classroom and grounds crew member. He also took an EHS AP math class, and admitted he didn’t get one answer correct on the test.

The district’s Professional Learning Communities, math implementation, arts and vocational education programs are also sources of pride. The district also found energy grants to take care of repairs around the district, signed an agreement with developer YarrowBay and the city of Black Diamond to provide land for future schools and earned several transportation awards.

The district plans to continue to work on its math program, technology, literacy, early childhood and PLCs, while also preparing for growth.

Challenges facing the district in the coming year will include the lack of funding from state and preparing for growth, while keeping the focus on mission of all students achieving at high levels.

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