- Kent School District
- Monthly Updates
Updates from Superintendent Dr. Calvin J. Watts
August 29, 2019 marked the beginning of another school year. I am honored to begin my 5th year as our superintendent and I proudly serve alongside some very talented, joyful, smart, and thoughtful school-based central administration and school board leaders. We’re excited to join the more than 25,000 young people and more than 3,600 “older” young people in support of our core business of teaching and learning—with an emphasis on learning. And that learning emphasis is not only designated for our students. The week of August 12 provided multiple professional learning opportunities for our teachers, paraeducators, principals, assistant principals as well as district administrators and support staff.
As we welcome each and every student, including the “book end” classes—from our rising Senior Class of 2020, to our budding Kindergarten Class of 2032—we must establish a sense of urgency and a commitment to continuous improvement because time is limited—literally. In fact, beginning September 4th our Kindergarten students will have 2,340 school days with us, so we must make each moment count. And so, our respective KSD Communities and Teams remain committed.
We are committed to creating learning environments that are welcoming, challenging and full of care; committed to increasing opportunities for two-way, meaningful communication that supports teaching and learning; committed to refining organizational systems and structures; and committed to improving recruitment, hiring and retention practices all for the purpose of ensuring that our students, staff and families get what they need, when they need it. That is the simple and profound description of equity, shared with us by esteemed author, speaker and professor Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade’ during our TALK 2019 signature learning event.
As Superintendent of KSD, a practicing learning organization, I'm incredibly excited for our first days of this new school year and the opportunities this year is sure to bring. However, we must take advantage of these opportunities by providing a welcoming environment where all students have access to high quality learning opportunities and challenging course offerings. When this happens they'll be one step closer to achieving and helping us achieve our mission of successfully preparing all students for their futures.
Welcome back to 2019-2020 school year! I am excited for KSD, excited for our families, excited for all of our school leaders and our students. Together we can make 2019-2020 the best year yet.
June 2019 Update
As the school year comes to an end, we have much to be #KSDproud of over the past year: 1) 83.7% of our class of 2018 students graduated in four years; 2) our three highest graduation rate gains occurred among our Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Inclusive Education student groups; 3) with the exception of our class of 2018 Native American/Alaska Native student group, each federally recognized group increased its graduation rate; 4) since 2012, more KSD students from the class of 2018 graduated within four years; and 5) our State Audit Exit Conference was recently published and produced no findings from 2017-2018, strongly indicating that our district is on a path toward continuously improved financial health.
As a leader and a learner, I constantly reflect upon these questions: a) What are we doing? b) Why are we doing it? c) Whom should we support? d) How should we provide these supports? and e) When should we adjust? Answers to these and other similar questions can be challenging. However, I choose to believe that we have everything (and everyone) we need in Kent School District to solve every problem we have. We have incredible students and families who trust us to provide them our very best efforts and our very best selves on a daily basis. We attract, recruit, employ and develop thousands of teachers, administrators, and support staff who work tirelessly to ensure that others have what they need to be successful.
Until 100% of our students are successful and ready for the futures they choose, however, we must continue striving to achieve our mission and our vision. We must also guarantee that our core values of equity, excellence and community serve as the foundation upon which we achieve racial equity—when race and/or ethnicity no longer serve as a predictor of success or non-success among our student groups. In order to accomplish this worthy goal we must ask a few more questions, including: What actions will we take? What learning needs to occur? And how will we work together to accomplish this goal?
In fact, our three Action Learning Projects for 2019-2020 require that we begin asking some of our students, teachers, school administrators, and central office staff these very important questions: a) How might we create a more welcoming environment, and a culture of care within our schools and central office? b) How might we increase access and opportunity for students to enroll in more challenging courses?, and c) How might me significantly reduce disproportionate discipline rates among all student groups, particularly among our Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino and Inclusive Education student groups?
When we are able to answer, “Yes!” to these questions then we will know that our students are well on their way to success based on the future they choose!
May 2019 Update
Our instructional model in Kent School District is Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA). This year we have worked with our leaders to understand and begin implementing this instructional model which serves to benefit all leaders of KSD. Embedded in the model is an approach for continually improving processes and for solving problems. Our leaders in KSD are committed to continuous improvement and feedback from our team members and colleagues. Both individually and as a group, we take constructive criticism seriously as this is part of the performance culture we are co-creating. Another important part of our culture is recognizing those who serve our students, staff and community and those who live out our district’s core values of Equity, Excellence and Community.
We take great pride in recognizing the many contributions made on behalf of our students by committed, passionate and caring adults. This spring we are launching a new #KyeSD award that will be given to those who are modeling our core values.
Also, recently, we recognized two leaders at the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) 110 Regional Awards Ceremony in Renton at the Puget Sound Educational Service District. Principal Cynthia Green of Ridgewood was recognized for her instructional leadership to improve student achievement. Principal Green leads with clarity, persistence, and passion. In her tenure as Principal of Ridgewood Elementary School, Ms. Green has utilized continuous quality improvement to transform how staff identify and review data. Each team within the school implements PDSA prioritize instruction, create flexible groups based on data, and design targeted interventions to meet the needs of all students.
In addition to focused data cycles, Principal Green has led her staff in embedding explicit instructional practices to ensure that each teacher is prepared to deliver rigorous instruction to each and every student. Principal Green has accelerated student performance (as reflected in recent iReady data) and stays focused on the core business of teaching and learning.
Also recognized at the WASA Awards Banquet was Mr. Paul Bogel, president of Kent Schools Foundation, in recognition of the foundation’s outstanding contributions toward education. The mission of the Kent Schools Foundation (KSF) is to engage with families, educators, businesses, and the broader community to fund innovative and supportive learning opportunities for every student in the Kent School District.
The first auction launched by KSF in September 2018 was a huge success! The inaugural fundraiser, Shine On!, raised over $63,000 gross. By January 2019, KSF was putting the money raised at the auction right back into KSD Classrooms. KSF announced its first annual Classroom Enrichment Grant cycle on January 2. The purpose of the Classroom Enrichment Grant program is to fund projects such as art, music, STEM, reading, field trips and unique experiences that enrich student learning in the classroom. Thanks to the generosity of our KSD Community, the foundation awarded 18 grants to classrooms across our district totaling over $9,000. The Foundation then opened a second cycle in April and is awarding an additional $8,700 in May. A total of 28% of the proceeds from the first event is going straight back into the classrooms. The second annual fundraiser is scheduled for October 12, 2019.
Our students benefit when our adults work together to support each other’s success, make student-centric decisions, and work collaboratively toward the common goal of high achievement for all.
April 2019 Update
Instructional Leadership Matters
As Superintendent of Kent School District, the fifth largest and most diverse in Washington state, I am responsible for leading, supporting and engaging with 46,000 Team KSD members--including 25,400+ students, 18,000+ families as well as 3,400+ teachers, administrators and support staff. I also have the pleasure to serve alongside our five School Board Directors who are collectively responsible for a) approving our district's budget, b) approving district policy, and c) evaluating my performance as Superintendent. To better understand our Board's role as compared to the Superintendent's, it is often stated that the Board recommends "What the school district should do," and the Superintendent (along with staff and community input) recommends "How the school district should do it."
Regardless of roles and responsibilities, leadership is at the core of what I do. As challenging as my role is, however, I cannot lead this organization by myself. For that reason, I am very fortunate to be supported by an outstanding team of leaders within our classrooms, and at both the local school and central administration offices. While there are nine employee groups and eight labor units in KSD, I often remind our community that there are really only two types of employees--those who effectively teach our students, and those who effectively support those who teach.
Effective instructional leadership requires our commitment to intentional and observable practices (ie. clearly identified learning targets, reviewing performance data, and regularly monitoring student performance) so that each and every student, teacher and administrator will be better equipped to learn, teach and support those who teach. In fact, on Tuesday, April 16, I joined Panther Lake ES Principal, Pam Pogson, Assistant Principal, Erica Aulava, and Executive Director of Learning Improvement, Dr. Marion Smith for an in-depth coaching conversation, followed by a "Learning Walk."
Learning walks help me to better understand what is going on in each learning environments. On that particular day as we walked through, I witnessed examples of teachers providing high-quality instructional practices, students who were engaged as problem solvers and critical thinkers, and I even observed and asked questions of our teachers as they effectively used planning time to create and improve lessons based on their students' current performance. It was a pleasure to see our core business of teaching and learning in action. I am grateful to our administrators, teachers and support staff at Panther Lake ES for their instructional leadership, and I look forward to my next learning walk.
March 2019 Update
Throughout my career in education, I have read a lot about leadership, and I've had many opportunities to share my thoughts, experiences and opinions on how and why leadership matters. I have also been fortunate enough to learn from colleagues and mentors, and I use every possible opportunity to practice and improve upon my leadership skills. Through it all, I have learned that effective leadership will never occur without the presence of one important component--a relationship. In order to lead and follow effectively, a positive relationship must exist between both the leader and the follower. Here are a few recent examples that have reminded me of why this is true!
Over the past two weeks, I met recently with impressive teams of young people in KSD, including 4th, 5th and 6th grade leaders from Meridian Elementary School Ambassadors, 9th - 12th grade leaders from our Men on the Move Program, 6th grade leaders from East Hill Elementary, and 11th and 12th grade leaders from our KSD Student Leadership Advisory.
During each session, I asked each group to respond to the question, what is leadership? Their answers ranged from being a good example for others, to helping others learn, grow and improve and taking care of those who are following you. I was impressed by their responses.
During each session, I reminded our student leaders why we follow leaders. For example, we may follow a leader for a moment, simply because of their title or position. We typically follow leaders for significantly longer periods of time when we trust them. We naturally begin to trust leaders only after we know them. And as I connected and engaged with each student and continued listening to their responses, they began to ask even more questions and share concerns and provide solutions that may very well help improve KSD. These moments reinforced what I already believed. Yes! Our youngest leaders clearly understood the most important aspect of leadership. These elementary, middle and high school leaders fully recognize that leadership is about relationships! I applaud our student leaders for recognizing this awesome responsibility and for continuing to set positive examples for our youngest and our most experienced leaders in KSD.
February 2019 Update
Our record-breaking winter storms in February impacted our entire KSD Community. I am so appreciative of our KSD Staff, particularly our Operational Services Community, including our Maintenance and Custodial Staff, and Safety Services teams who addressed our facilities and maintenance issues brought on by the storms, including power outages, clear snow, slush and debris from sidewalks and parking lots to ensure all buildings are safe for reentry. I also want to thank our labor partners who have worked closely with us to make decisions about the early release on Friday, February 8. We appreciate the collaboration and we are grateful for our partnerships with each of our labor partners. And I want to thank our Communications and Public Affairs team for working diligently to ensure all families, staff, community members and the media have accurate and timely school delay and closure information.
As both a member of #TeamKSD415 and a KSD parent, I recognize the impact that school schedule changes may have on your families. Please know how much I personally appreciate both your partnership and flexibility during these unpredictable weather situations. Due to the January wind storms we had already announced, we would be using the school closure make-up day on March 29. Our student calendar, revised 1/11/19. states “In the event of school cancellation by the district, the make-up day shall occur on April 29. If more days are necessary, they will be added to the end of the school year in June.” It is important to keep in mind that make-up days, including any changes to our current school calendar, are determined through a bargaining process with our labor partner, Kent Education Association.
As I shared in a Winter Weather Update earlier this month, there are certain circumstances when school districts are able to apply for a waiver to the 180-day school year requirement. We will apply for this waiver once all threats of snow have passed. We will not know if we have the waiver for several weeks as we still need to follow an application approval process through our state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). At this time, please plan for additional snow days to be added to the end of the school year calendar.
Again, I thank each and every member of our KSD Community for your patience and support as we continue to prioritize the safety of all students and staff across the district each day.
January 2019 Update
To kick off the new calendar year I have had the opportunity to see evidence of our instructional framework in action. The introduction of the framework was done at the August 25 Board Retreat, during the Teaching and Learning Community Update to the Board led by Chief Learning Officer, DeNelle West.
The Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle (Continuous Improvement Cycle) is a process designed to embed data-driven instructional moves, align formative assessments, and provide comprehensive support in developing the knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed to reach each and every student effectively. After introducing this framework to our board, our Teaching and Learning leadership team this fall led a range of KSD leaders through training to engage, learn, and reflect on the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle utilizing school and district data.
Several schools are early adopters of the framework and working closely with teaching and learning to provide evidence and feedback on the model. In my recent classroom visits and Ridgewood and Scenic Hill Elementary Schools, I was very impressed with the instructional leadership of both principals as well their teacher leaders who showcased responsibility, accountability and ownership of their students' data as well as their ability to improve outcomes for each and every child. Specifically, at Ridgewood, I was able to observe effective use of literacy data, formative assessment, vocabulary instruction and student talk during my classroom visits. At Scenic Hill, Continuous quality improvement in action looked like the students and teachers being skillfully empowered to reflect upon their own learning and identify where and why they achieved or struggled. We look forward to continuing to partner with schools, working towards implementing the instructional framework districtwide.
December 2018 Update
As the calendar year comes to an end, the school year continues to bring many opportunities to celebrate student learning and achievements. Already this month I had the opportunity to meet with our 2018-19 Student Leadership Advisory. Our Kent School District Student Leadership Advisory is a two-year student leadership program that provides opportunities for high school juniors and seniors in KSD to develop personal and organizational leadership skills and an awareness of community issues. Each month this group of students are given the chance to use their student voice and discuss concerns, present ideas, and advise me on how he can help improve the school district. The mission of SLA is to develop student leaders who embrace the function of leadership throughout their school and district by shaping culture and performance. I look forward to engaging with this group of highly motivated, energetic and thoughtful student leaders each month.
On Thursday, December 6, 2018 I was honored to attend the Schools of Distinction Awards Ceremony to celebrate Millennium Elementary for continued academic growth and improvement over time as measured by standardized assessments over a period of five (5) years. I commend our students, staff, and families for their commitment to excellence. I appreciated the opportunity to share in this honor with Principal, Tracie Watson and her staff, DeNelle West, Israel Vela, as well as President Maya Vengadasalam and Director Denise Daniels. Earlier in the week, Principal, Tracie Watson accompanied me as I visited with our Millennium teachers, paraeducators, office managers, nutrition services staff and our students. We observed high quality teaching and learning throughout our walk-through's. The care and concern for our children was most evident within this brief "snapshot" in time. My visit left little doubt as to why Millennium Elementary is a wonderful place to learn, teach and support those who teach. I sincerely congratulated each individual with whom I came in contact for helping to create a teaching and learning environment worthy of a second School of Distinction Award. Congratulations, Millennium ES students, staff and families! We are #KSDproud!
November 2018 Update
In this season of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the time and talent that our incredible educators share with our students and families. I wish to thank our teachers, paraeducators, school-based administrators as well as our support staff at the local school, district office and school board levels. Their commitment to teaching and supporting those who teach is undeniable. Every time I visit schools and classrooms, I am reminded of our continued focus on teaching and learning.
On Thursday, November 8, I had the opportunity to visit (former KSD Teacher of the Year, PSESD Teacher of the Year, and State Teacher of the Year Finalist) Ms. Denisha Saucedo's classroom to observe high impact teaching strategies and to engage with our incredible student learners and leaders. To begin the visit, I was graciously greeted in the main office by three student leaders and then led to Ms. Saucedo's classroom where I became a student. I am always a learner, and I welcomed this chance to gain new knowledge about our text, Percy Jackson, and to understand how our incredible Kent Elementary School students communicate, collaborate, and think critically about the information that is presented by their teacher, and from their respected student colleagues.
Our Kent sixth grade students reviewed learning targets, were involved in thoughtful discussion throughout the class period. I was even invited to share in the reading and learning, and observed students who notated the "gist" of what they read on a "post-it note" and placed it on each page. I appreciated our students' willingness and ability to cite examples of literary devices used by the author. They provided clear evidence and even inferred relevant ideas within the text-based upon what they read and what they knew about the plot, the setting and the definition of mythology. Throughout my entire hour and a half experience, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to our students read and discuss content from the literature.
Each week I prioritize my schedule to include quality time in our awe-inspiring schools. I enjoy capturing these visits through photos and sharing them on my own personal Twitter account and my new personal Instagram account. While social media could not ever entirely capture my day to day work, or accurately depict the interactions and engagement I experience such as in Ms. Saucedo's classroom, I am also thankful for social media platforms that offer us the opportunity to learn more about each other and more fully understand each other's perspective.
October 2018 Update
October brings welcomed cool, crisp air in the morning, and the opportunity to appreciate our Kent School District Principals, to honor those who represent Hispanic and Filipino Heritage, and to be mindful of how we should treat others during National Bullying Prevention Month. October is also the season that most colorfully represents the transition to the Autumn season. While change can be threatening to some and exciting for others, I am certain that continuous improvement never occurs without change. This is our “why?”
As I walk through our classrooms during weekly school visits, I notice examples of improved quality instruction and improved student learning. In addition to collaborating with our Board of Directors in support of policy governance, effective districtwide operations and accountability, my role as superintendent is to ensure that all students can learn content faster (based upon individual needs), retain it longer, and to be ready to excel in college, careers and life upon graduation.
I love public education and I fully accept the leadership challenges and opportunities presented to me as Superintendent. When I review our districtwide data, I notice that we have much to celebrate; however, I also wonder about several areas that must change to improve outcomes for our students. Yes, it is true that 82% of our KSD members of the Class of 2018 fulfilled their graduation requirements. The harsh reality for some of our KSD students and families in that same class, is that 18% did not. So, “how” do we change our beliefs and practices?
Our first change in belief and practice must recognize that “all means all”—until 100% of our students are performing at or above grade level, we have not met our obligation to each family and student enrolled in our schools. Our second change in belief and practice must ensure that each adult must take the necessary time to establish a positive, productive relationship with each student. We must know our students, first as individuals with unique talents, skills and abilities, and then as learners with distinct passions, goals and aspirations. Our third change in belief and practice realizes that each one of our students will never continuously improve their performance, until we change our districtwide instructional practices.
With this reality in mind, here is our “what?”. I am pleased to note that we will begin sharing a research and evidence-based instructional model that is grounded in the Continuous Improvement Cycle, also known as the “Plan > Do > Check > Act” Cycle. This model is already being implemented in a few KSD schools. I look forward to working alongside our Teaching and Learning Community as we introduce this model at an understandable pace to our entire district. I welcome change and I fully understand that change can be hard for some. Why? Because as humans, we tend to fully accept the status quo simply because “it is the way we’ve always done it.” Instead of admitting that achieving student success rates of 100% is impossible, however, I welcome the challenge to accomplish what has never occurred before in Kent School District to the benefit of all students.
To accomplish the unthinkable, we must change the way we think about our students and their learning. When we change how we think about our students and their learning, we will change the way we act. Once we change how we act towards student and adult learning, we will approach our curriculum (what our learners should know and be able to do), our assessment (how well learners show what they know) and instruction (what adults do when learners already know or when they presently struggle to learn) with an increased sense of urgency. In fact, our change in thinking on how we address this learning challenge can best be explained by one of the most complex thinkers of our time, Albert Einstein, who once said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
September 2018 Update
2018-2019 is well underway! On the heels of an eventful 2017-2018, Team KSD has emerged even stronger and I could not be prouder. You see, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and I’m used to the choppy waters and steady rains that life brings. I was also raised to believe that the rising tide of “hope and perseverance” can raise all ships. Even today, the thought of a ship brings me to a calm and comforting place as they purposely transport others from one place to another. In fact, as WASA’s theme suggests, and as my parents continued to teach me, we must embrace the power and influence of these “ships”—relation ships , partner ships , and leader ship .
My dad never knew a stranger, only friends he hadn’t met yet. According to the lessons he taught me, I learned how to reach and teach everyone as if they had my last name. As a U.S. Air Force serviceman, and as a salesperson for Coca-Cola Bottling Company, he continued to teach me the importance of determination to achieve your goals. Regardless of a person’s wealth, health or beliefs, my dad also stressed the importance of treating others equally--with grace, love and empathy.
Both my parents were the oldest sibling (my dad was the oldest of eight and my mom was the oldest of six). As parents of an only child, their vision of how to be a team member and how to collaborate with others became quite clear to me. They ensured that, as a young person, I was steadily involved in faith-based activities, dramatic arts, athletics, civic organizations, and formal student leadership roles. Each one of these experiences taught me the significance of collaborating with others to achieve a common goal.
Based on the lessons my mom provided me, I understood leadership as service to others. Almost 30 years ago, my mom was promoted to Chief of Disaster and Health Services, American Red Cross, Alexandria, VA. During what would be the last two years of her life after a bout with cancer, she enabled me to save money during my sophomore year in college by living with her. I recall asking her about her new job, and her response changed my world view. She explained that during a natural occurrence—a hurricane, flood, or earthquake, etc.—from Maine to the Bahamas, she was responsible for mobilizing volunteer units. I immediately noticed that she never referred to natural occurrences as disasters. She never diminished the fact that people’s lives may be lost, or their homes may be damaged, however, she made one point very clear. She said, “If I don’t respond appropriately to that call for help or that call to serve, one life lost may be 100; one home destroyed may be 1,000.” “Leadership is not measured in what happens,” she said, “it is measured largely in how we respond!”
May these lessons continue to teach Team KSD that no challenge is too great when met with strong relationships, collaborative partnerships, and transformational leadership!