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Eagles flying high on first school day

SUQUAMISH — Children of all shapes and sizes scurried throughout freshly renovated hallways, some confidently and some with uneasiness, but all with uncertainty.

Returning to their local school, almost 500 students along with 30 teachers and a support staff of 30 more, are doing their best to get back into the routine, as classes got underway around North Kitsap School District Wednesday.

At Suquamish, however, “routine” is viewed a little differently — that’s because a traditional one hasn’t happened in a few years.

A $4.8 million renovation modernized the school with many structural, lighting, and heating improvements, cramming students and teachers into portables and creating a chaotic coexistence between construction workers, students and staff over the past two years.

By the time the tardy bell rang at 9 a.m. Wednesday, a calm had fallen on the school, with just a few stragglers running for their new classrooms.

It is a good time to be a Suquamish Eagle, Principal Joe Davalos said. The school is coming off of its best — as well as having the NKSD’s best — Washington Assessment of Student Learning scores.

“I can’t think of us riding at a higher time,” Davalos said.

Coupled with the scores and a polished up building to boot, the staff echoed Davalos’ sentiments.

“It’s so calm this year,” said Suquamish Librarian Jan Jackson. “Each year’s always a new beginning. I get so excited, I always wake up too early.”

“I wish I was a second grader right now,” added Daphne Davies, this year’s new North Kitsap Education Association representative, who was visiting area schools the first day. She was also visiting Bonnie Vahcic, the former NKEA rep, who was returning to the classroom at Suquamish.

The beginning of the school year also marks the first time 10th graders — the class of 2008 — will have to pass the WASL in order to graduate. But with Suquamish’s scores coming in so high, there’s reason to believe students — and teachers — will meet the challenge.

“To me, the WASL scores have been a stair-stepping approach,” Davalos said. “The valleys are never as big as the peaks.”

Davalos said that one of the changes made in the past few years has been the establishment of a more inclusive leadership team, that includes members from all facets of the school.

“It has made us more focused on instruction and professional development,” he said.

Davalos added that instructional improvement days, hiring a few consultants here and there, and tribal and district grants have also helped WASL improvement at the school. Though outside help to improve the scores does require financial backing, the principal commented, “When you make learning and teaching your priority, you find a way to pay for it.”

One such program that may have paid off is the early morning reading program, where students can come to school early and receive tutoring.

But has it helped the scores?

“It’s a piece,” said the school’s learning specialist Jon Torgerson, who oversees the early morning program. “But we definitely think we had an impact.”

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