Book highlights White River School District’s progress

“This is a children’s book. More accurately, this is a book about children and the kind of schools they need and deserve.”

– The opening sentences in the Introduction of “Every School, Every Team, Every Classroom.”

White River School District Deputy Superintendent Janel Keating likes to share White River High School Principal Mike Hagadone’s comments to elementary school leaders in the district.

“These kids are my kids, I just don’t get them until ninth grade,” Hagadone likes to say.

That these-are-our-kids attitude for every student is what Keating envisioned when she became principal at Mountain Meadow Elementary when her daughter – now in middle school – was a toddler. With a mother’s love, she started asking, “What would I want for my kid?” and then set about creating a school she would be proud for her to attend. Then she widened the range.

“Every school, every team, every classroom should be good enough for Taylor,” said soon-to-be superintendent Keating.

The title of the book, published in October through Solution Tree Press, reflects that concept and the White River School District’s work with professional learning communities. Keating partnered with Bob Eaker on the book, which is being used by districts across the nation and in college classrooms. Eaker, a frequent visitor to Buckley, is a professor in educational leadership at Middle Tennessee State University.

The framework of the book is based on the PLC concept created by Eaker and Richard DuFour.

For School Board Appreciation Month in January, White River School Board members received a of “Every School, Every Team, Every Classroom: District Leadership for Growing Professional Learning Communities at Work.” The group was acknowledged for their work in the opening pages.

Educators across the country are looking at White River as a leadership model. The book’s preface notes, White River was highlighted because of its leaders efforts to improve schools.

Thousands of administrators and teachers have toured the district during the past few years.

“Our teachers take tremendous pride in having these people come in and visit,” Superintendent Tom Lockyer recently said. “And for them it’s not a show, it’s what they do.”

For Keating and staff it’s a labor of love and common sense centered on learning for both adults and students.

In White River, learning is data driven.

Student achievement was lackluster at best, and in some schools, very low when the process began five years ago. As the district began to embed professional learning community concepts and practices there was improvement.

The book notes, by 2010, grades 3, 4 and 5 in White River had the highest math scores of the 15 districts and 126 elementary schools in Pierce County; math achievement in all of White River’s elementary schools ranked near the top 10 percent in the state.

Foothills Elementary, one of the lowest-performing elementary schools in White River, rose to become the highest-performing elementary school in Puget Sound and was named a 2010 Washington State School of Distinction.

The graduation rate in 2007-08 was 82.5 percent. By 2011, WRHS’s on-time graduate rate was 92 percent and had double digit increases in science and 88 percent of the students met or exceeded state standards in reading and writing. Nearly 400 students enroll in advance placement classes, compared to 60 three years earlier.

Keating said the key question is, “Can you improve learning across an entire district?”

“Yes, you can,” she said. “Are we there yet? No, but we are close.”


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