Superintendent Dr. Tammy Campbell captivated an audience of students, elected officials, district administrators and employees, and community members as she delivered the 2018 State of the Schools address at the Greater Federal Way Chamber luncheon on Nov. 7 at Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club.
“I want you to walk away understanding the journey we’ve been on as a school district and what we’re doing to continue to get better,” she said, commending the crowd for their support of education that filled the room to capacity. “School district improvement is not like each year you do one thing and all of a sudden you’re going to see these leaps. It’s a [winding] path for improvement.”
Campbell, who is entering her fourth year as superintendent, presented updated statistics of graduation rates, assessment scores, and curriculum within the last four years, despite the setback of under-funding from the state.
Campbell recounted her first year, when there was no strategic plan in place, each school had different plans for improvement, there was a steady decline on the state assessment scores, and there had not been a district-wide adoption of curriculum in 20 years, she said, which most other districts do every cycle of five to seven years.
Now, the district operates by a strategic plan that focuses on five main goals to line up with the developmental stages of a scholar throughout the K-12 system to target all the core educational aspects, according to the district.
Over the past 10 years, FWPS district students have received $76.7 million less than students in surrounding districts, Campbell said.
“However we have done so much more with less than many of our surrounding districts,” she said, delivering the metrics.
The district serves more than 23,000 scholars in 37 schools with 62 percent of students on the Free and Reduced Lunch financial aid program. One in two students has received English Language Learner services, meaning they speak two or more languages, which contributes to the 117 total languages spoken throughout the district.
Within the district, many schools shine, she said.
Sunnycrest, Valhalla, and Lake Grove earned recognition in the top 100 elementary schools in the Puget Sound region, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal.
For the seventh year in a row, TAF @ Saghalie was recognized as a School of Distinction for their improvement of student outcomes, an honor received by only 1 of 26 schools in Puget Sound region.
For the third year in a row, the FWPS School Board earned Board of Distinction honors given to 29 out of 295 in the state. The district is amid various phases of construction processes for multiple schools in the area, due to the passage of a $450 million bond approved by voters in November 2017, Campbell said.
Several schools will be rebuilt in the next six years, including Mirror Lake, Lake Grove and Wildwood elementary schools in 2020; Thomas Jefferson High School in 2021 with Star Lake Elementary and Totem Middle School to be completed in 2021 and 2022.
The last round of schools involve Olympic View Elementary in 2023 and Illahee Middle School in 2024, as well as a “facelift” for Federal Way Memorial Field, she said.
Goal 1 pertains to “The Early Years,” with focus on building a scholar’s foundation, she said.
For third-grade assessments compared to fall of 2017, the district saw a 5 percent increase in scores on the IRLA assessment and a 2 percent increase in the iReady assessment scores, she said. The district has also seen an increase of 4 percent improvement on the Smarter Balanced Assessment English Language Arts (SBA ELA).
“It’s the first time we’re starting to see it and these are the kids who would’ve been there at the very beginning when the changes started as a result of the strategic plan,” Campbell said.
Goal 2 is centered on the whole child to develop thriving, confident and responsible individuals.
As of spring 2018, on average more than 20,000 families (approximately 94 percent) attended student-led conferences, with many schools at 100 percent parental participation, compared to spotty attendance in past years, Campbell said.
CEE safety survey results from the 2017-18 school year asked scholars how safe they feel at school and in their classrooms, Campbell said. Overall, elementary students responded with a 71 percent positive feeling of safety, 63 percent at the middle school level, and 55 percent at high school age.
“This particular survey tells us that our elementary scholars are the ones who have the highest feeling of safety and as they get older, that safety decreases,” she said.
The district has launched school-wide efforts to intensity their safety efforts by partnering with local law enforcements for procedure plans and providing professional development training for teachers.
“One of the things I know I hear out there is that the schools are wildly unsafe and all of this misbehavior is happening,” she said.
However, data shows of the more than 23,000 scholars in the district, nearly 94 percent of students have had no major discipline at all, she said.
Moving on to Goal 3, which highlights critical thinking for active learners, Campbell discussed the increased participation in STEM and art programs across the district.
A high importance has been placed on STEM/STEAM programs evident in attendance of more than 5,000 students and families at STEM Exploration Night in 2017 and 2018, to nearly 830 participants in Summer STEM programs and 1,675 scholars in STEM/STEAM programs in schools. At the middle school level, the participation of 454 students proves a 55 percent increase in Middle School Robotics this school year.
“We believe that when our community sees our scholars [art], they’re connected,” she said. “It’s hard to deny excellence when you see that right in front of you.”
“I will tell you, we have room to grow,” she said about the district’s SBA scores and how this data point tends to receive a lot of negative publicity.
The Washington state English Language Arts portion of the Smarter Balanced Assessment (ELA SBA) scores on average show a pattern of decrease, Campbell said. On average, students across the state scored 67 percent passing in 2015-2016, followed by 67 percent in 2016-17, and 2017-18 shows a passing of 59 percent statewide.
In the Federal Way School District, the scores show 56 percent passing in 2015-16, 50 percent passing in 2016-2017, reduced to a passing of 46 percent in the 2017-18 school year.
But, the surrounding school districts show similar patterns of decline, she said.
Auburn School District nearly matched with the state average with 67 percent passing in 2016-16, followed by 64 percent in 2016-17 and 56 percent in 2017-18. Highline School District showed a competency of 52 percent in 2015-16 with minimal decline into 51 percent for 2016-17 then 49 percent in 2017-18. In the Kent School District, scores showed 65 percent passing in 2015-16, 63 percent passing in 2016-17 and 57 percent passing in the 2017-18 school year.
As for the math SBA scores, the state average, along with results from individual districts showed a plateau in passing scores with minimal changes in either direction. As a state, the average passing in 2015-16 was 48 percent with a one percent increase to 49 percent which showed no changes in the 2016 through 2018 school years.
Federal Way school district maintained a 35 percent passing in 2015-16 and 2016-2017 school years with a 1 percent drop to 34 percent in 2017-18. In the Auburn School District, scores for 2015-16 showed 49 percent followed by a slight peak to 51 percent in 2016-17 before returning to 49 percent in 2017-18. As for Kent , district scores showed 49 percent competency in 2015-16 and 2016-17 followed by 48 percent in 2017-18.
“We know this is not good enough,” she said. “We know that we want to continually improve and we’re going to be relentless about it.”
But, once the average numbers have been teased out, the success of individual schools in the district is more obvious, Campbell said. Of 36 schools, 16 schools are outperforming like schools for meeting standard on the State Math Assessment for the 2018 school year, which is double the amount of schools from 2017.
For the State English Language Arts Assessment, 12 schools are outperforming like schools, which is a 25 percent increase from the nine schools in 2017.
“Now Goal 5 is an area where I would say in the local young person’s vernacular – we’re killing it,” she said, followed by chuckles from the crowd.
As of 2018, the district reached an all-time high for graduation rates at 86.2 percent, a jump from the 80 percent graduation rate in 2016, Campbell said, with Thomas Jefferson High School already at the 90 percent mark and TAF@Saghalie with a 100 percent graduation attainment rate.
As of 2017, Federal Way also had the highest graduation rate of any other district in the road map region with 83 percent, beating the state average of 79 percent. FWPS also leads the state in enrollment of FAFSA and two or four-year college programs, she said.
Last year’s graduating class received $11,947,984 million in scholarship funds to pursue higher education.
“Here’s how you really tackle graduation, you tackle it years before they walk across the stage,” she said, including that 87 percent of FWPS ninth graders in the 2017-18 school year were on track to graduate.
“Federal Way Public Schools is ours,” Campbell emphasized to the enticed crowd. “The school district sits inside a city with adults who live and work here, and they leave their children with us for six-plus hours a day, five days a week. It is an incredible responsibility we have, but it is a shared responsibility with every citizen of the cities we serve.”
Schools are merely a reflection of the investment the community and it takes ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help a district succeed, she said.