Superintendent Dr. Dani Pfeiffer speaks at the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Nov. 3. Photo courtesy of Federal Way Public Schools

Superintendent Dr. Dani Pfeiffer speaks at the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Nov. 3. Photo courtesy of Federal Way Public Schools

Superintendent Pfeiffer delivers first State of Education address

Federal Way Public Schools navigates learning disruptions, behavioral challenges caused by pandemic.

Superintendent Dr. Dani Pfeiffer delivered her first State of Education address on Nov. 3 at the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Over 100 people attended the event at the Performing Arts and Event Center to hear updates about the district.

“Since March of 2020 we have all been significantly affected by the pandemic,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s important to recognize the impact COVID had on all of us, especially our scholars, staff, and school community. But it is equally important to shine the light on the strength, perseverance, and collective efforts that resulted in successes in the most challenging of times.”

FWPS, along with all districts across the state, has navigated school closures, strict health guidelines and staff shortages since March 2020.

Despite the challenges, the Federal Way district has served over 1 million meals to local students and families. The district has also provided over 14,000 computers and 1,205 WiFi hot spots to families in need during months of virtual learning.

In the past year, the district has expanded its Bright Futures Kindergarten program to five sites in total and the Bezos Academy in Federal Way opened this fall. The Montessori-inspired, tuition-free preschool is serving 40 students.

Over 1,000 students participated in summer learning programs from early learning to Career and Technical Education (CTE) certification courses.

Last school year, over 2,000 students passed an Advanced Placement, IB or Cambridge course, allowing them to earn college credit while in high school.

In the coming months, the district will launch its second school-based health center and further develop its pre-apprenticeship program preparing students for trade careers, industry certifications and STEM/CTE courses. Certifications included barber licenses, flagger certifications, forklift operating, and nursing assistant certifications, among others.

Pfeiffer emphasized that the district has a vision for equity and excellence, and aims to be an actively anti-racist institution to remove barriers of students’ success.

Because of the pandemic’s disruption, Pfeiffer pointed out that a current high school senior’s last full, normal year of school was their freshman year of high school. For an eighth-grade student, their last normal year was as a fifth grader in elementary school, she said.

Combined with a lack of social interaction, students — especially younger students — have limited context for how to behave in school and how to behave with one another, she said.

“This struggle to transition is not isolated to Federal Way Public Schools,” she said, adding that it is a nationwide concern. “This struggle is the result is isolation, trauma and underdeveloped social skills caused by the pandemic.”

Students must relearn how to interact with other students and their teachers again, she said, through conflict resolution and learning ways to de-escalate situations.

The district is also providing various mental health resources to help students, including the addition of eight mental health counselors from Valley Cities Behavioral Health Center to meet with students in small groups and one-on-one.

“It is our job as adults within our community to help them with that,” she said. “These are our children.”

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