Federal Way superintendent talks successes, challenges at State of Education

Dr. Dani Pfeiffer provided an update on Nov. 2 about students’ academic performances, district updates and a new volunteer program.

Superintendent Dr. Dani Pfeiffer presented the 2022 State of Education for Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) on Nov. 2.

Hosted by the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce at the Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center, Pfeiffer highlighted the district’s areas of successes, challenges and growth over the past school year.

“Over the past two years, we’ve all faced innumerable challenges and in many ways, we’re still feeling those effects,” she said. “But the outlook we choose to adopt in the face of difficulty shapes our attitudes and in turn, may either enhance or limit our perspectives.”

FWPS serves over 21,000 students. Of these students, 41% are learning English or have taken English Language Learners classes. Approximately 73% of students receive free and reduced lunch and 14% of all students receive special education services.

Pfeiffer said in her 30 years of experience in the education career field, she’s never experienced the types of obstacles brought forth by the pandemic.

In the last year, FWPS brought students back to classrooms with new guidelines and processes in place for classroom cleanliness, transportation, recess and other areas of students’ daily life. A national labor shortage was also keenly felt in the Federal Way district; At one point during the year, Pfeiffer said, there were 290 certificated staff members who were out of the office at the same time.

The district kept its 98 bus routes running and distributed over 2.5 million meals to students through school days and meal pickup locations during the summertime.

Through it all, construction projects pushed forward. The district opened four new schools in the past year, including Thomas Jefferson High School, Mirror Lake Elementary School, Star Lake Elementary School and Evergreen Middle School. In addition, the new Olympic View Elementary project also broke ground, which will serve kindergarteners through eighth graders.

Academically, FWPS matched national trends of decline in academic performance, Pfeiffer said. In math and reading, test scores of Washington students in fourth and eighth grades were lower in 2022 compared to assessments in 2019, according to the Nation’s Report card.

Results show 35% of students met the English Language Arts standards and 21% of students met the state’s math standards as of spring 2022, according to the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. In addition, only 27% of students met the science standards, according to OSPI.

However, early learning is critical for a student’s academic journey, Pfeiffer said.

“The earlier students establish literacy and math skills, the more successful they will be in kindergarten and beyond,” Pfeiffer said.

In this school year, 54% of incoming kindergarten students were not considered “kindergarten ready” in one or more areas, based on the state’s assessment.

To address the learning gap, FWPS is offering Saturday Scholar Community, a tutoring session for academic support in English, math and electives. Due to its popularity, two sessions are to come this school year.

The district is also launching the Volunteer Tutor Corps, which relies on local community members to step up and help students of all grade levels.

Participation in the district’s Early Learning & Kindergarten Programs (ECEAP) increased 88% from 158 students to 238 students this school year for the full-day session.

At the high school level, the district also offers several Career and Technical Education (CTE) options, including industry-recognized certifications in CPR, OSHA 10, forklift operation, Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC), among others. Last school year, students earned 989 CTE certifications.

The 1,520 graduates from last school year earned more than $15 million in college and university scholarships.

New this year, FWPS now partners with six Washington colleges and universities allowing qualified seniors direct admission to Western Washington University, Washington State University, Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University, and Evergreen State College, in addition to the previous guaranteed admissions agreement with Pacific Lutheran University.