The first school board meeting of the year for Federal Way Public Schools was packed with updates, celebrations and hopes for the 2023-2024 school year. Several Valhalla Elementary students in grades 3-5 started the meeting by reading to the audience about their hopes. One scholar wants to “become an orange level reader and be respected by my classmates.” Another hopes for everyone to be happy, and yet another advocated for more inclusion for students with disabilities, suggesting “more braille and sign language books in the library.”
Improvements and new resources
Members of the FWPS cabinet shared their annual back to school updates.
Parents will notice that there is a new system for communication and a website refresh, both designed to facilitate easier and more targeted messaging.
Technology updates have also reached teachers and students, including new smart interactive panels that are now present in all classrooms. In addition, 1,700 new certificated laptops were provided to educators to use with the interactive panels.
Security improvements including perimeter fencing and CCTV were set up over the summer. High schools already have radios and key cards, and these are now being deployed to all other schools.
Students at Olympic View Elementary started the year in their brand new building. Several other construction projects are underway including Ilahee Middle School. This is the next school in store for a full remodel, but they have a few more months to go while they start the year in their temporary location.
Other projects include the new Federal Way Memorial Stadium and the Thomas Jefferson High School softball and fastpitch field renovation.
Nutrition services shared that they will now be offering a halal option for every meal served. This is a response to seeing a community need for this option, especially due to a recent increase in Afghan families in our area.
Welcoming new staff
New administrators were welcomed as part of their commitment to recruiting and retaining talented staff. District communications chief Whitney Chiang introduced Amber Cox as the director of Student Support Services. A few highlights of her recent roles and achievements include supporting multiple special education programs, designing and implementing reading intervention programs, and a variety of other accomplishments as a learning specialist, teacher, program manager and supervisor. “It’s my personal commitment to support the equity of all scholars,” she said at the meeting.
Chiang also welcomed the new director of budget and grants, Billy Wessell. He has previous financial leadership experience at multiple school districts and companies.
In total, 184 new certified staff and 135 classified staff are joining FWPS for the 2023-24 school year as well as 10 new bus drivers and 39 guest employees.
A special education residency program began over the summer with a summer institute through the Washington Education Association. These eight paid residents will begin gaining their classroom experience this school year.
Approximately 400 more students enrolled at Federal Way Public Schools this year, although enrollment levels have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. The number of students in a district is one factor in the complex equation of how funding is allocated which means this increase is an encouraging sign.
District leaders shared that kicking off the school year they are focused on creating “an increased sense of belonging, positive connections with peers and adults and helping every scholar realize the possibility and promise around the new year.”
Some ways they are doing this is through their new social and emotional learning competencies, a program called Character Strong.
They’ve also been focused on intentional family and community outreach, and shared that they were able to locate 2,000 scholars who disengaged during the pandemic, using funds from a grant.
A few community members shared their thoughts and concerns for students in Federal Way. One noted the high percentage of students who have experienced violence and encouraged the district to find more ways to give them a voice. Another stated a variety of concerns about celebrating diversity, criticizing “Safe Space” stickers and highlighting a bumper sticker that concerned her that stated “I \3 Inclusive Schools.”