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No. 1 expectation for schools: Learning

Post by Kim Bradford on June 25, 2009 at 8:13 pm with No Comments »
June 25, 2009 8:13 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

The Tacoma School Board is happy with its superintendent hire, and it has reason to be. But the board shouldn’t stop expecting more.

Art Jarvis, who was named permanent superintendent last July, has ably put the district’s house in order following the disastrous reign of former Superintendent Charlie Milligan.

The school board gave Jarvis high marks in both public and employee relations and financial management in its recent performance evaluation.

Jarvis’ financial leadership helped prepare the district for the region’s economic woes and buffer cuts to state education spending. Tacoma is among the few school districts not laying off teachers in the wake of the Legislature’s patching of a $9 billion budget hole.

He also has rebuilt relationships within and without the school district. Jarvis is, perhaps above all, a people person who understands that the district cannot succeed if it’s at odds with the community.

But good fiscal management and community relations only get students so far, especially in a district where half of them are poor enough to qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch and test scores typically lag the state average on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

All else is for naught if teachers aren’t getting through to students, and on that front, some groups are losing patience with the school district.

The Tacoma Chapter of the NAACP and the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance, frustrated over lagging minority student achievement, opposed the school’s March bond measure. Just as telling, the Tacoma Black Collective nearly choose to stay on the sidelines before belatedly endorsing the bond.

The bond, cursed also by bad timing and the recession, failed miserably. Before the school board floats another request for school-construction money, it will have to convince the community that what’s happening inside the classroom is just as compelling as the brick-and-glass facade outside.

On his evaluation, Jarvis fared least favorably in the "teaching/learning" category, scoring somewhere between "meets expectations" and "above expectations."

He has shown promise, recruiting a deputy superintendent to focus on student achievement and piggybacking on the district’s successful School of the Arts to launch the Science and Math Institute. A partnership with the state to develop a strategic improvement plan is also in the offing.

A year as permanent superintendent is not enough time to turn around student performance, but in future evaluations the school board should give increasing weight to how students are doing, especially now that Jarvis has demonstrated he has a handle on the job’s other aspects.

A district is ultimately judged on the simple question of whether families want to send their children to neighborhood schools. So, ultimately, should a superintendent.

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