Time can make all the difference. Just ask Debbie LeBeau.
Today marks the start of the fifth school year in which LeBeau has presided over the Clover Park School District. When she took the reins as superintendent in 2008, both test scores and morale were lagging.
Now, she said, things are on an upward swing – and she intends to keep them that way.
“There is no substitute for time,” she said. “People believe it when they see it.”
And this year, they’re going to see new assessments; curriculum being facilitated across grades; staffing changes – and continual student growth.
“We have some great structures in place,” LeBeau said. “I couldn’t be more pleased.”
This year brings 10 significant administrative changes in CPSD – seven from within the district. Beachwood and Park Lodge Elementary Schools have new principals; Evergreen Elementary and Hudtloff Middle School added assistant principals; and three Central Office employees have new roles. Only Lakes High School and Lochburn Middle School made outside administrative hires.
“We very thoughtfully were looking for administrators with content knowledge,” LeBeau said. “The job of a principal and vice principal has drastically changed over the last 10 years. They have to be an instructional leader and be able to work with teachers to improve their repertoire of learning.
“They really need to know their stuff – not just be an excellent manager, but a great teacher, too.”
CPSD is also looking at science materials for kindergarten through fifth grade; continuing professional development to improve curriculum, analyses and assessments; and piloting the new state teacher evaluations.
Hudtloff Middle School will be finished at the end of the year, and construction is beginning on three new elementary schools.
“That will be really nice to look back on in three years or so and say a third of our schools are than 10 years old,” she said.
~ FOCUS ON ACHIEVEMENT ~
And, of course, the district’s greatest focus is on student achievement.
LeBeau said she is encouraged by the recently released state assessment results, especially in math. Between 2011 and 2012, CPSD improved in every grade level except fourth grade.
“We’re not caught up to the state standard, but we’re very encouraged by the scores,” she said. “We’re on the right track. There are a lot of people putting time into it. Our teachers work more than just a school day.”
Science scores were also up, and reading results were mixed. Writing brought the district’s weakest result – scores declined in all three grades assessed. LeBeau said the scores are indicative that the district must update its writing standards.
“When we have the schools choosing how they want to do things, and are not following the district curriculum, that’s the kind of results you get,” she said. “We have to have that focus (and) ensure that the same content is taught at every grade level across the district.”
LeBeau said it is hard to change the stigma of low test scores once they’re out, but she pointed out that there is a gray area. Lochburn’s English Language Learners and special-education students are in the bottom 10 percent of the state for Title I schools – but those students are not on grade level to begin with. And Tyee Park Elementary School would have been out of school improvement under the old Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) standards.
“We have to keep adjusting our baseline,” she said. “It’s a balance.”
~ MAKING HEADWAY ~
LeBeau admitted that it wasn’t easy when she took over in 2008 since community members were adamant that they wanted an outside perspective.
“It’s never good for your ego,” she said. “In 12 years, (they) either don’t know enough about you, or don’t care. But I had 12 years invested.
“It’s fairly typical – if people don’t think this is the best thing ever, they don’t want someone from inside. There was an opportunity to make a big change, and the board was very brave to go against the community.”
Now, five years later, LeBeau “knows the buildings, knows the material and knows so many people … I can say, ‘Look how far we’ve come.’ ”
Among the challenges have been making sure the community is aware the district is making progress, even when it is constricted by state curriculum guidelines – “we’re not going to make a change until the state does” – and presenting the composition of the district as not just being high-poverty, disadvantaged students.
“That can’t be the first thing out of your mouth,” she said. “We heard that message loud and clear.”
So is it working?
“I keep hearing from the community and feedback through the board that the community is satisfied – that they see things are progressing and that we’re making progress,” LeBeau said. “We’re making great headway. Our work is never done, but we’re getting good feedback, and the city is very involved and we have strong working relationships.”
One thing hasn’t changed in the last five years: LeBeau’s work ethic. She often starts her day before the sun is up, and on School Board nights, isn’t home until after 7 p.m. And while she has learned to delegate to her staff, she still has an endless list of things to do, including clocking more than 100 visits to the district’s schools over the course of a year.
“I feel like I’ve always worked hard, I just work on different things now,” she said. “I have very competent administrators I have worked with over time, so I can entrust things to them.”
Ironically, when LeBeau was just starting out, she thought she could just coast through work; that it would be 9-to-5 every day; and she wouldn’t think about work at home.
Now, she knows better.
“That never ever happens,” she said. “It comes fast and furious, but there are no more hours in the day.”