Groups to shorten Washougal school days

Meetings aim to boost student achievement through sharing

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter



Wednesday release times by school

• Washougal High School: 1:45 p.m.

• Canyon Creek Middle School: 1:55 p.m.

• Excelsior High School: 1:45 p.m.

• Jemtegaard Middle School: 2:00 p.m.

• Cape Horn-Skye School: 11:50 a.m.

• Gause Elementary School: 12:45 p.m.

• Hathaway Elementary School: 12:40 p.m.

The Washougal School District is touting strength in numbers in maintaining a nearly decade-old program that brings teachers together after class.

Every Wednesday during the 2013-14 school year, teachers throughout the school district will meet — as they have since 2004 — in what are known as professional learning community groups. But this year the district is revamping its schedule to accommodate the groups, which are used to evaluate student assessment data and discuss areas in which their students are struggling to learn. Instead of releasing students three hours early one Wednesday a month, the district will release students 40 minutes early every Wednesday. What this means for parents is that their children will be released from school earlier each week, but they won't lose any instructional time, the district said.

David Tudor, the district's curriculum director, said the weekly meeting will give teachers the opportunity to more consistently work toward goals.

During that time, teachers will gather in small groups to plan and share instructional practices that are working in their classrooms.

"Through these groups, teachers can make the shift from teaching to learning," Tudor said.

Professional learning groups are intended to help the district bolster the number of students who reach their grade-level standards. The district said the groups allow teachers to improve communication, with the goal being a boost to student achievement.

Washougal isn't alone. Other school districts use the program, although it sometimes goes by a different name.

As part of the weekly meetings, teachers review student assessment data and discuss areas in which their students are having problems learning, as well as areas in which students who are mastering content.

Part of teacher evaluation plan

Those assessments are intended to go hand-in-hand with Washington's new Teacher/Principal Evaluation Program, a broad set of changes to the state's educator evaluation system that will go into effect this year. The state's new evaluation program is considered a more complex and rigorous way of evaluating teachers. The program will include student evaluations as a measure of teacher achievement.

Wendy Morrill, a first-grade teacher at Gause Elementary School, said the weekly meetings will be time well spent.

"We use the time to take our student work and do a deeper analysis of it," she said. "We share student work. We look at where their strengths lie and any areas of growth they may need to work on."

Parents also are included in all conversations about their students, Morrill said.

Ultimately, Morrill said, teachers will end up knowing all of the students better because of the weekly meetings.

"I communicate a lot better with my grade-level team," she said. "I feel like I get to know all of the first-graders instead of (just) the 24 in my classroom."

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517;;