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From new schools to fires to acing exams, district sees ups and downs in 2012

by: TIDINGS FILE PHOTO: JORDY BYRD - Trillium Creek Primary School opened in 2012. The library features an indoor tree fort and slide.

Trillium Creek opens

Thanks to the passage of the 2008 bond, which funneled about $98 million in capital projects to the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, West Linn welcomed its newest school, Trillium Creek Primary School, in 2012.

The sleek new space and environmentally friendly design is a sight to behold. The building collects its own rain water, features a rooftop garden, a wind turbine and a twirly slide in the library. Charlotte Morris, a longtime principal at Boeckman Creek Primary School in Wilsonville, was named the new principal. This fall, students chose their school mascot, an owl, and school colors, forest green and creek blue.

Giving food for thought

The school district re-examined and changed its nutrition services program several times in an attempt to cut costs and provide healthy meals.

In fall 2011, the district eliminated its hot lunch program at primary schools to save money and improve nutrition. Instead, the district installed a “community lunch” where students could bring a sack lunch from home or purchase a sack lunch from the district and eat in classrooms. In March, following a special audit from the Oregon Department of Education, the school district transitioned back to a hot lunch program.

Despite the changes and federal incentives, the school district struggles to not only attract student patrons, but break even financially. The nutrition services program costs the district about $1.5 million each year. This year, the district developed real-time tracking sheets that track food, labor and overhead costs per school. The sheets are intended to help the district identify trends, maximize efficiency and participation, and provide consistency in menus and delivery methods across the district.

by: TIDINGS FILE PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Firefighters extinguish flames atop the gym at West Linn High School. The fire ignited due to sparks from a welder on Oct. 8.

Fires strike West Linn High School

The high school ignited several times in 2012 — luckily, no one was hurt.

Students were evacuated from the high school after a fire was ignited in the bathroom on Jan. 27.

West Linn Police Sgt. Neil Hennelly said a number of fires occurred in 2012. Prior to the Jan. 27 incident, a fire occurred on Jan. 17, prompting the high school to hire a private security company to patrol the campus following the second incident.

Although no one was injured, one staff member was transported to Providence Willamette Falls Hospital to be treated for smoke ventilation on Jan. 27. Despite clearing the smoke out of the building, the air was deemed unsafe and students were dismissed for the rest of the day.

Officials from Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and Clackamas Fire District and West Linn Police Department believed the fire was intentionally started. The fire was considered a first-degree arson, which is a felony, however no arrests were made.

A small brush fire caused by a welding spark from a maintenance worker also caught a nearby arborvitae on fire, causing a three-alarm fire at the high school on the afternoon of Oct. 8.

The fire’s 15- to 20-foot flames entered the HVAC vent over the kitchen and into void spaces above the gym. To access the fire, firefighters had to cut through walls and the roof. The fire was contained in the gym area thanks to a firewall. No injuries were reported.

Students and staff were evacuated and school was released for the day. Students returned to school Oct. 10.

Damaged areas included the auxiliary gym, the main gym and locker rooms. The kitchen received the bulk of the damage, however extensive electrical damaged was found throughout the building.

District officials said the damage will be within the $3 million range when completed. The building will be fully operational by Jan. 7.

Enrollment was on the rise

Enrollment in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District increased by 243 students compared to the last school year. The district has swelled to a total of 8,702 students.

School district officials said they can’t fully explain the surge in students. Significant growth was noted in kindergarten and first grade. Last year, the district offered 11 all-day kindergarten classes and 10 half-day kindergarten classes. This year, the district has 16 all-day kindergarten classes and nine half-day kindergarten classes. A large class of fifth-graders and of eighth-graders have also moved into the middle schools.

Several teachers were added to relieve overwhelmed primary schools, some part-time staff members were bumped to full time, blended classrooms were created and instructional assistant time was increased in high-stress areas.

by: TIDINGS FILE PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Eighth-grader Amber Mitchell played the part of Mabel in the annual middle school production.

The show must go on

After 18 years, the annual middle school musical’s lead director stepped down due to district budget constraints. Barbara Vardanega, Athey Creek Middle School’s choral music and drama teacher, decided to retire from directing the musical when the district announced it could no longer afford to release her from daytime teaching duties to work on the musicals.

The community feared with Vardanega’s stepping down the show would end — but the show carries on. In 2013, seventh- and eighth-graders will carry on the the tradition and perform “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” under the direction of Dana Edvalson.

The production started in 1995. Between 130 and 150 students participate in the production each year. The program, which costs between $15,000 and $20,000 each year is mostly self-sustaining. Former productions include “Peter Pan,” “Annie,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Footloose.”

Open enrollment numbers set

The West Linn-Wilsonville School School Board voted to approve space for 180 non-resident students in addition to out-of-town students who already attend its schools on Feb. 21. The decision was based on new legislature.

Originally, the school board voted to allow 255 slots, however the district scaled the number back.

The open slots allow for 50 students in kindergarten through first grade, 50 slots in second through fifth grade, 30 at the middle schools and 50 shared between West Linn and Wilsonville high schools. The district did not accept any non-residents at Lowrie and Trillium Creek primary schools, Arts and Technology High School, or into the language immersion program or in 10th and 11th grade.

District makes the AP Honor Roll

The West Linn-Wilsonville School District was placed on the third annual national Advanced Placement Honor Roll. This is the second year the district has received the recognition.

The AP Honor Roll is maintained by the College Board — a nonprofit organization that provides educational programs such as the SAT and Advanced Placement coursework.

A total of 539 school districts across 44 states in the United States and six Canadian provinces achieved honor roll status. The West Linn-Wilsonville District was one of only two school districts recognized in Oregon. Pendleton School District was also recognized on the AP Honor Roll.

School districts on the AP Honor Roll are recognized for their efforts in increasing access to Advanced Placement coursework to students while increasing the percentage of students earning scores of three or higher on AP exams. The AP Honor Roll recognition is based on the last three years of AP exam data.

According to data from 2012, 73 percent of West Linn High School’s students received a score of 3 or higher on AP exams, which is 2 percentage points higher than the year before.

by: TIDINGS FILE PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - First Student and West Linn-Wilsonville School District employees reviewed safety procedures after a 5-year-old was left alone in the rain for an hour in October.

Bus policies re-examined

A series of missteps left 5-year-old Taytem Bowers alone for an hour in the heavy rain on Oct. 15. The family friend that was supposed to pick her up that day forgot, and a substitute driver with the bus service company, First Student, failed to follow its rules and regulations related to safety for young children at bus stops.

Bower’s mother, Jessica Johnson, was infuriated by the incident, and said she no longer trusted the bus company. Officials from First Student investigated the incident and the driver was suspended. All First Student employees also reviewed safety procedures and protocols.

According to school district policy, kindergarteners are to wear badges with their names and address and sit at the front of the bus. If a kindergartner is not met by an adult, the child is to be taken back to school, where administrators reach out to emergency contacts.

District grieves student loss

West Linn schools and the community were shaken by the suicide of two students in 2012.

West Linn High School freshman Sierra Grill took her own life on Feb. 1 at home. Grill was one of five children and the daughter of Pat and Cheryl Grill. She was known for her sense of humor and playing rugby and the mandolin.

West Linn High School freshman Taylor Combs took her life at home Nov. 25. Combs is the sister of Kaylee Combs and daughter of Joshua Combs and stepdaughter of Kim Rydbom. Combs ran cross country and took classes in art, photography and Advanced Placement human geography at West Linn High School.

by: TIDINGS FILE PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Gu Zhe teaches Mandarin Chinese at Sunset and Bolton primary schools.

Languages abound in the district

The World Language Program launched in September in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.

Students at Stafford, Sunset and Bolton primary schools started learning Mandarin Chinese and students at Willamette, Trillium Creek and Cedaroak Park primary schools started learning Spanish.

The Chinese language teachers arrived from China in September. The teachers speak both Chinese and English and are positioned into the school district through the Portland State University Confucius Institute Program. Gu Zhe teaches at Sunset and Bolton primary schools and Yang Lei teaches at Stafford Primary School.

The district began implementing world language into the primary schools approximately 10 years ago, however the program disbanded until this year due to unsuccessful models and curriculum, administrators said.

In addition to the World Language Program, the district also relaunched the Language Immersion Program at Trillium Creek Primary School. Due to high demands, students were selected through a lottery.

Students receive instruction in Spanish 50 percent of the time and in English the other half. The program was initially launched at Sunset Primary School but was deemed financially unsustainable two years ago.

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