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Welcoming new students and staff

School Beat

Last month I had the pleasure of meeting and greeting our students and parents as we began the new school year. Stationed in front of Hopkins Elementary, I encountered happy voices, smiling faces, handshakes and hugs. The total feeling of positive energy on the first day of school is hard to describe. What a great time of year!

Our kids are excited to be back in school. As I made the rounds on the first day, I was struck by how our teachers immediately went to work with their new charges, rapidly building connections and stressing the importance of positive relationships, one of our key district goals. Also, visiting class by class, I had a brief moment to reflect on the many ways Sherwood's schools are different this year.

We have an inordinate number of new teachers this year. All of our new teachers, hired this spring and summer, appear to be a great fit. You may be surprised to learn that we have more than 30 new teachers on board, taking the place of those who recently retired and accommodating our unprecedented growth in enrollment. Another surprising fact: Almost half of our professional staff has been hired in the last three years. This is another reflection of our rapid growth in Sherwood.

Sherwood principals have done a marvelous job of recruiting and hiring the best. Most of our teaching openings this past summer had 50 to 100 applicants. The competition to join our high performance district is getting tougher each year. I am very impressed with our newest professional members. In all cases, I see staff who are energetic, eager to be here, and anxious to prove they belong in Sherwood's increasingly rigorous environment. Our parents and students will be pleased with these newest staff members.

Along with many new adults, as expected, our student numbers have skyrocketed again. Since the end of the school year in June, enrollment has increased by almost 300 students, more than 100 above our official projection of 3,997. As of mid-September, total district enrollment stands at 4,106. All five Sherwood schools have exceeded their projection for the year, and all five are significantly over their designed capacities. Currently we have 29 classrooms placed in modular buildings. About 720 Sherwood students are housed in these temporary structures.

We have many other significant developments to report. Last year a Wellness Committee was created to examine food and nutrition practices in our schools. This large group, represented by students, parents, staff, and community members, met throughout the winter and spring, making several recommendations to the School Board.

One key area of change is in the nature of our food offerings in our school cafeterias. New menu items have been carefully screened to account for sugar, calories and fat content. Earlier today I received an update from our Food Service Director, Jan Delany. Not only are students not complaining about the new menu choices, sales are up dramatically, with middle and high school students more than doubling the cafeteria sales over last year. This is welcome news.

On a similar front, we have reassessed vending machine choices, with major changes in available items. All vending machines are turned off during the school day, and we now see greater delivery of juices and water. Carbonated beverages are all but eliminated, with the exception of a few diet sodas. This too, presents a major shift in delivery to our students, one that is long overdue.

Some interesting work is unfolding in the area of technology. Our staff is working hard to redesign the District web page to make it more user-friendly and less "clunky." Judging from the initial rollout of the newer look this morning, most patrons will be pleased to see a customer-oriented layout that provides greater information with easier access.

Our work on the web page will also provide new opportunities to share different innovations with our community. By October we will open a virtual tour of the design features of the proposed new elementary and middle schools, and the high school expansion. We believe this may be a first for a school district to deliver this type of access to the larger community. While still only in the general conceptual design phase, we believe patrons will be pleased with what they see.

We also have some great news on the academic front as well. Of all the developments this year, I am most excited about the addition of reading specialists at the secondary level. Besides coaching content area teachers, these key staff will be working with students who struggle to read grade level secondary material. Reading is the gateway academic skill set that students need to develop for post-secondary and workforce success. I anticipate these key reading specialists will have a dramatic impact with a number of students who need help.

On a larger level, we are challenging our students and staff to elevate academic rigor. Some may be surprised to learn of this commitment. It is tempting to rest on our laurels, and with good reason. Our students outperform their counterparts from Oregon in all 20 grade level state tests given in reading, math, writing and science. Dropout rates and high school completion data reveal the same. The recent release of SAT scores indicates that Sherwood High students score higher than national and state averages on both the verbal and written portion of the test. One could easily make the case that our performance is rock solid.

With this being acknowledged, we simply believe we are capable of better. Sherwood has so many factors in place that should distinguish and shape our collective expectations. We benefit from incredible levels of parental support, an amazing partnership with the City, community groups that are oriented to serve youth, as well as young, energetic, and talented staff. Most importantly, our students arrive in our schools ready to learn and eager to succeed. All of the key supports and drivers of a successful school system are in place.

This year we are establishing elevated academic goals across all disciplines. In addition to higher targets in reading, math, science, and writing, we are also working to shape higher goals for post-secondary performance, and extended learning opportunities in the community. There are many measures of successful schools. We should aspire to deliver the best on all fronts.

As a community we are preparing for a pivotal bond election, one that will shape and determine the quality of our schools and community for many years to come. While much of our collective work in the last year has been devoted to dealing with the challenges of growth and overcrowding, great effort and energy continue to be channeled into the improvement of teaching and learning. We remain resolved to deliver the best for our children.