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State SPI scopes out high school

POULSBO — Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson’s trip to North Kitsap High School Friday included visits to some of the district’s most unique programs, including Polaris International School and the NKHS Visual Communications class.

But Bergeson — an administrator with an established reputation for curiosity — made certain that she checked out a few things off the beaten path as well.

“What I like about her is she doesn’t walk the path you’d expect,” said NKHS principal Roy Herrera. “She likes to see what’s in the alley.”

Bergeson, who oversees 296 school districts and more than one million students in Washington’s public schools, couldn’t look inside every nook and cranny at NKHS, but her tour was disciplined, fast and furious, seeing as much of the school as possible within a day.

And she seemed to like what she’d seen.

“I think this school’s pretty cool,” Bergeson remarked after one particular classroom tour.

Her visit revolved around an ongoing project by teacher Theresa Aubin-Ahrens’ Visual Communications class, one that has been working to create posters to help educate the state’s students on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) exam, a test of which she is the chief architect.

Bergeson was so impressed with the student-made posters, she is exploring the possibility of using them in a state-wide campaign and decided to talk with their creators one on one.

“I just wanted to come and thank you for the work you did,” Bergeson told Aubin-Ahrens’ students.

Bergeson also gave the class additional incentive to continue the project. She mentioned that she’d taken the student’s WASL posters to a round-table discussion of Washington business leaders the morning of her visit, and that many of the participants were impressed.

“They thought the work you did was excellent,” she said. “You made a difference today with eight company leaders.”

As many of the posters deal with the negative outcome of blowing off the WASL, Bergeson also challenged them to create new posters with a positive message of why they should take the test seriously. She promised a return visit to North Kitsap — possibly with some of those same business leaders — if they did.

Bergeson told the students of her “crusade” to get more student input on what they’d like to get out of their own K-12 education.

“Do you know the story of why we changed the system?” Bergeson asked the students. Most indicated that they did not.

The superintendent explained that Washington was using a “curriculum of the past,” and that to meet the needs of a changing world, K-12 education needed a revamp as well.

As the appointed executive director of the Washington State Commission on Student Learning in 1993, Bergeson helped create the Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs) designed to provide a benchmark for student performance at each grade level.

The WASL was born as a measure of the EALRs and to ensure those getting diplomas in the state were meeting a standard.

“This whole thing started because we wanted to know if diplomas were real,” Bergeson said.

Explaining the meaning and purpose of the WASL is a task Bergeson will undertake countless times as the date for mandatory passing of the test to graduate nears. But the superintendent said she wants to emphasize the rationale for the test — to bring meaning and accountability to the diploma.

“We’re so obsessed with the test,” Bergeson said. “We forgot why we’re doing this.”

Bergeson was interviewed by NKHS sophomore Katie Freeman as part of the class’ video unit. Parts of the video will be shown on the school’s weekly TV show.

“A lot of people really don’t take the (WASL) seriously,” Bergeson told Freeman. “But when it becomes a graduation requirement, that’s going to change.”

Bergeson also visited North Kitsap’s first small learning community, Polaris International School, where she talked with students about the program. Upon leaving the Polaris classroom, one of the students remarked to the superintendent: “You’re welcome here anytime.”

Bergeson finished the day with teachers, administrators, and school board members, discussing a variety of education topics including how she’ll work with governor-elect Christine Gregoire, the impending legislative session, her successful re-election bid against Judith Billings, and of course — the WASL.

“As hard as it is to make the adjustment,” Bergeson said of the transition to having a statewide standardized test, “We need to support the teachers and we need to support the students.”

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