It’s hard to believe that the school year is almost over. Excited seniors will soon be walking across the stage and heading out for new journeys in life.
As I reflect on my second year as Superintendent of Battle Ground Public Schools, we have had our share of challenges; but for me, the successes of our students certainly outweigh any temporary setbacks.
This school year has had many highlights. One of our goals for the past several years has been to increase the social and emotional support that we provide students to meet their needs and in turn improve their academic performance. Four years ago we were fortunate to secure a federal grant that made available mental health providers at all our schools and provided prevention/intervention counselors to all our middle and high schools and district behavior coaches. In addition, we made it a priority this year to add school counselors at our primary buildings and student behavior deans at our two large high schools. These staff work to build a safe and supportive environment for all students.
We have tracked data using Climate Surveys and Healthy Youth Surveys over the past four years, and are pleased to say that we see positive results in several areas. From 2012 to 2016, we have seen a positive, upward trend in the number of students reporting that they feel safe at school. Instances of bullying have decreased by over 30% as reported by 12th graders. We are also seeing a significant decrease in alcohol and marijuana use among our 10th and 8th graders. While the data shows that more students are displaying feelings of depression, access to mental health services has increased dramatically. We have not lost a student attending our schools to suicide in over two years—something that just a few years ago was happening at an alarming rate.
Academically, more students are having success. This year, four of our schools will be recognized with Achievement Awards from the State Superintendent’s Office for either academic excellence or academic growth in math and English. We continue to focus on student engagement in the classroom, and the majority of students responded in our surveys that their engagement is high—as are feelings that teachers care about students.
We know that we still have work to do in these areas, and we are committed to using our precious resources to make sure all of our students feel safe and secure and that they all have an opportunity to walk across the stage.
As we look to 2019-20, we see more challenges ahead. While we engaged our community this year in a discussion and decision around boundary changes to address overcrowding in our southern schools, I see this as a temporary fix. Even though we did not see the student population growth this year that we had expected, we know that the new housing and apartments that are going up every day in and around Battle Ground will eventually produce some overcrowded schools. The question has to be, when and how do we prepare ahead for growth? Additionally, we know that we have inequities in some of our existing schools. While the 2005 bond built several modern, safe campuses, some of our older buildings continue to need physical plant improvements and are inadequate for 21st-century learning. Again, the question becomes how long do we keep putting money into fifty- and sixty-year-old buildings, and is that a wise investment of taxpayers’ dollars?
Our budgeting process for next year will also be challenging. The state legislature gave us little relief in next year’s budget from the increase in costs we continue to see in special education, staffing, transportation and fuel, building and maintenance and everyday materials and supplies. What they did do was increase our costs for state-administered employee benefits, and place the burden of increasing revenue on the backs of local citizens. The school board and I will need to make some difficult decisions in the coming months as we prepare our budget for August approval. How do we continue to provide services and quality education to our students, staff and community within our fiscal limitations as expenses continue to grow?
There are definitely some interesting times ahead. I hope that if you have questions, comments or concerns that you continue to reach out to our district communications team, myself or board members. Nobody can do this important work in isolation. Together we can do great things for the students of Battle Ground Public Schools. Have a wonderful summer!
Mark Ross is superintendent of Battle Ground