Tahoma Matters: Ten themes emerge during listening tour

Superintendent Tony Giurado talks with Shadow Lake Elementary staff before they participate in the table discussion to offer their thoughts about what is working, what needs improvement and what is not working in the district. 
Superintendent Tony Giurado talks with Shadow Lake Elementary staff before they participate in the table discussion to offer their thoughts about what is working, what needs improvement and what is not working in the district. 

After hearing from nearly 900 staff, students, parents, and community members during a two-month listening tour, Superintendent Tony Giurado had a lot to say in his report to the School Board at its Nov. 20 work-study session.

Giurado presented results of the listening tour, which took him to every school and department in the school district and included two sessions for parents and community members as well as meetings with students. The listening tour was a priority for Giurado, who was hired last spring to the district’s top job after former Superintendent Rob Morrow retired. His goals were to learn more about the school district, develop relationships, and build on successes while also making meaningful change as needed.

During the tour, Giurado asked each group three main questions: What is working well and needs to continue; what still has issues and requires adjustments; and what is not working well and might need significant problem-solving or should be discontinued.

At each stop, participants were divided into table-discussion groups to work on those questions. “The engagement was really robust,” Giurado said. Responses were collected, shared and rated by each group. He then sorted group responses by topic to begin identifying common concerns or celebrations.

What emerged was a list of 10 themes, which then were further sorted according to how well they are working. Giurado told the Board that it is not practical to try to address every issue that was raised during the listening tour. Instead, the District will focus on how to address the more prominent areas of need identified in the process, along with attention to issues that can be more easily resolved.

The two student representatives to the School Board also spoke about the listening session with students at the high school.

Next steps include follow-up conversations with school principals and other administrators to review comments from the listening tour, investigate and gather information. After that, work begins to develop priorities and how to address them this school year and beyond. As the process unfolds, the district will communicate progress to staff, students, parents and community members.

“We’re not going to be able to work on all of these at once, but our goal is to find a few meaningful things that we can do to make a difference,” Giurado said.

The full report can be seen on the BoardDocs website for Nov. 20. Here are highlights:

Top 10 themes
1. Growth, overcrowding, and staffing
2. Climate and culture
3. Supports for students
4. Schedule
5. Contract
6. Instructional practices
7. Communication
8. Care for students
9. Technology
10. Safety

The themes were further defined by identifying whether they are working, need improvement, or are not working:

What is working well?
Culture and climate: Listening Tour participants indicated that a positive climate and culture was a strength and firmly in place across the District.

Contract: Many teachers expressed a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the newly negotiated contract and indicated that they feel valued as professionals.

Supports for students: A variety of supports for students were reported as effective, including Power Hour, extra academic support, logistical 5th to 6th grade transition elements, WEB (Where Everyone Belongs) program, and credit recovery options.

Vision: Many participants indicated there was a solid understanding and belief in the vision and goals at the school and district level.

Quality staff: Participants indicated that Tahoma School District has a strong foundation of high quality staff.

What needs improvement?
Schedule: Several proposed changes to class schedules were discussed at elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Growth, overcrowding, staffing: Though the school district as a whole is not overcrowded, two elementary schools in particular are concerned about enrollment growth and how that is affecting staffing support for students.

Supports for students: Discussion focused on how to improve or expand additional support for students in areas such as reading and math assistance, behavior, social and emotional support, and transition from elementary to middle schools and middle to high school.

Communication: Most staff comments focused on how to improve communication among teachers, support staff, and supervisors. Parent and community groups reported satisfaction with communication from schools and the district.

Technology: Staff identified several areas that could be improved to support teachers and students.

What is not working?
Growth, overcrowding, staffing: High enrollment at two elementary schools was highlighted, along with the need for equitable staffing to balance the needs of larger vs. smaller schools.

Instructional practices: Concerns from teachers about the pace of instructional change is too fast and more teacher “voice” is needed. Other concerns included the need for more professional learning time; and improving alignment of standards, report cards and assessments at the elementary level.

Supports for students: Many participants reported a high need to problem-solve impacts of scheduling and support for students from special programs.

Schedule: Among the areas of concern are middle-level blue/gold days, class periods that are too long, and student desire for more flexibility in scheduling classes.

Care for students: Additional resources and training are needed for mental health support for students.

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