South Sound Education

The South Sound is home to some of the best schools, teachers, and students working toward building a better future. Educators from public and private schools are finding innovative ways to engage with students. From study- abroad programs to science expos, local schools are making an impact on the next generation. Here’s our roundup of what’s happening in education.

Stadium High School’s graduation

Stadium High School’s graduation

Raise Those Graduation Caps, Tacoma!
The Tacoma School Board set a bold goal in 2012 — to have 85 percent of district students graduating by 2020. That goal is now within reach as 82.6 percent of the Class of 2015 graduated. It’s Tacoma’s highest graduation rate since the state began officially tracking the statistic in 2003. It’s also a huge improvement for the district. In 2010, Tacoma’s graduation rate was at 55 percent. One national report coined schools in the area “dropout factories” in 2007.

The Lions’ New Den
Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma is in the process of finishing its new 19,470-square-foot Connelly Campus Center. Similar to student centers at universities, the building will serve as “the heart of the campus,” said the school’s director of communications, Craig Coovert. It will house a new expanded kitchen, a modern lunchroom with a cafeteria that can seat up to 500 people, and meeting spaces for student clubs and groups. The new center will open before and after school with “grab and go” food options. It’s scheduled to open for the 2016-17 school year.

An Initiative for Positive Thinking
In Tacoma, 10 percent of students are suspended or expelled each year. African-American and Hispanic students are twice as likely to be suspended or expelled as white students. According to the University of Washington-Tacoma, many of these students start to feel misunderstood in the classroom, and are more likely to act out. Tacoma Public Schools and UW-Tacoma have teamed up with a new initiative to encourage students to be more self-motivated and well-behaved. A cohort model of the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative is now a part of 26 elementary and secondary schools in the city. It encourages staff and faculty to support students not just academically, but socially and emotionally. Still in its early stages, it seems to be working, according to officials.

HNT-academyA School for the Body and Mind
Healthy, Nurturing, Training-Minds Academy (HNT) for middle- and high-school students is another new, alternative Tacoma Public School in the planning stages. The school will revolve around physical education. According to HNT, “Research shows that both reading and math skills increase when students are physically active on a daily basis.” Students will be physically active three times a day and will work with an advisor who will help them meet their academic, fitness, and nutrition goals. HNT is expected to open in the 2017-18 school year.

Principal Jon Ketler has gained a reputation for using the community — its location and residents — as a resource to build alternative public high schools. Along with a passionate team he’s opened School of the Arts in downtown Tacoma, and the Science and Math Institute at Point Defiance. Now, they are planning to open The Tacoma School of Industrial Design, Engineering and Art (iDEA) as early as the 2016-17 school year. Located in South Tacoma, the school will also be a studio and lab for design, engineering, and industrial professionals. An instructor program will allow professionals and leaders in different design fields to teach semester-long classes in advanced subjects to smaller student groups of 12 to 16.

Annie Wright’s New Global Academies
Annie Wright Schools is making new efforts to develop global business leaders of the future. It’s planning to start a new academy for its all-girl high school in September 2016. The global business and entrepreneurship academy, will potentially allow students to participate in international internships around the world. Head of Schools Christian Sullivan said there will be high expectations for students going abroad, especially when it comes to learning a foreign language. “You can’t be in global business without language skills,” he said. Locally, Annie Wright Schools is planning to build a new gym and field in Tacoma.


Alexa Shanafelt, courtesy Peninsula School District.

Super STEM Girls Unite
Hey girls, want to test a LEGO tower on a shake table with engineers or scrub into a heart repair simulation with a surgeon? The Peninsula School District is taking steps to encourage girls to pursue classes in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Girls from all four district middle schools will gather at Harbor Ridge Middle School on April 2 for the Career and Pathway Expo (CAPE). About 250 girls will connect with influential community leaders in nontraditional fields during innovative workshops to hopefully increase long-term enrollment of girls in STEM. There will also be several speakers to motivate girls into pursuing STEM careers.

carla-santorno-2Tacoma Superintendent Wins Woman of the Year School Award
Carla Santorno, superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools, earned the title Woman of the Year from the School Superintendents Association, AASA. She presides over what is the third-largest district in the state, educating more than 30,000 students.

“I deeply appreciate the honor. I also know that this recognition is made possible by the hard work going on every day back home in our schools. Our 5,000 employees and the people of Tacoma have embraced innovation in ways that are changing children’s lives in powerful ways,” Santorno said, at the award presentation in Phoenix.

Under Santorno, Tacoma Public Schools has thrived, and most notably seen a rise in graduation rates to an all-time high of 82.6 percent for the class of 2015.

Alternative Education Abounds in Olympia
From the heyday of the Riot Grrl music scene to the thriving Artswalk, Olympia has always epitomized alternative, and the education system there is, too. Olympia School District hosts a variety of alternative schooling options from elementary up to high school.

One such example is Lincoln Options Elementary. At Lincoln, students K-5 learn in multi-age classrooms. They also stay with the same teacher for two or more years. Stressing heavy parental and guardian involvement, Lincoln Options teaches cooperation, social justice, sustainability, and multiple types of intelligence. Lincoln Options promotes projects-based learning, incorporating several disciplines into one lesson.

By Lauren Foster and Karen Miller

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