Nerland, Tarzian discuss ‘state of the schools’

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The mission of local school districts is “success for all,” whether it is students, staff or administrators.

That was the message of the annual State of the Schools address at the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday.

Camas Superintendent Mike Nerland and Washougal Superintendent Dawn Tarzian spoke about their respective districts after some good-natured ribbing.

“Last year, Superintendent Nerland was kind enough to bring me, as a new Washougal superintendent, a sweatshirt in Camas school colors,” Tarzian said. “This year, I know Camas is considering a mascot for their new elementary school, and I think a Panther (Washougal High School mascot) would be a good fit.”

After the jokes concluded, Nerland spoke about the mission of the Camas School District, which is, “to create a learning community where staff, students, and citizens are involved jointly in the advancement of knowledge and personal growth.”

“Our goal is academic success for all, a safe, inclusive and positive learning environment, and collaboration,” Nerland said. “We talk a lot about the ‘Camas way’ and we look at our district and the way do we do things, and communication and trust are key.”

Currently, the district serves 6,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“In the 18 years I’ve been here, the school population has more than doubled,” Nerland said. “And the average years of experience for teachers is 11. When teachers come here, they want to stay with us.”

Nerland added that unexcused student absences were among the lowest in the state, at 0.1 percent.

“We have a high standard and want to make sure our students are in the school and learning,” he said. “Parents are seeing what is taking place in the classrooms and they feel good about what we are doing, as 97 percent feel kids are getting a high quality education, according to a recent study.”

Nerland also touched on the upcoming replacement levies for technology, and maintenance and operations. Ballots will be mailed out to voters on Wednesday.

“Local levy dollars make up about 20 percent of our budget,” Nerland said. “This is not a new tax, it’s a replacement levy and that funding is critical. We’ve seen neighboring districts where levies fail and they have to make those cuts. Today, I ask you to get the word out.”

In Washougal, a community visioning process was recently completed, in an effort to see how educational success is defined.

“It was about the skills, experiences and district culture, and where it needed to head,” Tarzian said. “There is never ending pressure for us to demonstrate the value of what we do based on test scores. But when we talked to people, they want a strong academic foundation, but they also want students to learn time management and the skills they need to communicate in the world.”

Tarzian also touched on the new statewide teacher-principal evaluation system, which will be implemented in the 2013-14 school year.

“We’ve had the same system for 30 years, and starting next year, we’ll be on a statewide system with four categories instead of two. These will be unsatisfactory, basic, proficient and exceptional. (Adjusting) to this is some of the most daunting work we have to do.”

Professional Learning Communities are also a big part of the Washougal School District. Teachers are given time to collaborate to improve student learning.

“The work that teachers are doing is having a profound impact on student learning,” Tarzian said. “When I tried to do this as a teacher, I was doing it at home, alone. I didn’t have the benefit of other teachers around me.”