With a new superintendent, new teachers and a new Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, the Skykomish School is preparing for an advantageous school year.
When former Superintendent Edwina Hargrave made the decision to take a position at Springdale Elementary School in Eastern Washington, the district hired Martin Schmidt to take over the position on an interim basis. Schmidt brings to Skykomish over 33 years of experience in education and will serve as the Skykomish Superintendent at least through the next school year.
The Skykomish School, located in downtown Skykomish, serves kindergarten through 12th grade students from the Skykomish community, along with Timberlane, Mill Town, Grotto, Baring and Index. Widely acknowledged for its small class size, the school has approximately 40 students, who are accommodated by 10 teachers.
“We have probably one of the best student-teacher ratios in the state of Washington,” said Schmidt. “A lot of our classes have four, five or six kids.”
One of the reasons Skykomish appealed to Schmidt was his positive experience as the superintendent and principal in Gorman, Calif., which is located in Los Angeles County. When Schmidt took over the helm at Gorman Elementary School in 2009, the distressed school district, which served kindergarten through 8th grade, was failing and looking at possible dissolution.
Schmidt arrived on the job and focused intently on raising student achievement levels. His perseverance quickly paid off. He received high praise from then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wrote a letter celebrating Schmidt’s efforts which resulted in a significant attendance jump and a huge advancement in student academic performance.
Schmidt shared that, in some respects, the rural community in Gorman was similar to that of Skykomish.
“That’s what drew me to Skykomish; I really enjoyed working in a small, rural school district,” said Schmidt. “I really enjoyed getting to know every kid and all their families.”
He was also attracted to Skykomish because of its outdoor environment and close proximity to Stevens Pass.
“I’m a pretty big outdoorsman,” said Schmidt. “Living up here is just great for me.”
Schmidt shared that he enjoys hiking, fishing, camping and skiing. He plans on doing a lot of skiing this winter with his daughter, who is a nurse at Wenatchee Hospital and lives in Leavenworth.
So far, Schmidt has spent a lot of time meeting with folks in the community, teachers and members of the school board. It has been important to him to try and learn the ins-and-outs of the district; particularly what has been working well for them as well as what may need some improvement.
One thing that he’s heard consistently is that the students who attend the Skykomish School are of a very high caliber, both socially and academically.
“When I talk with teachers, that’s probably one of the things I keep hearing, is that the kids at our school are really great,” said Schmidt. “We don’t have bullying issues and we don’t have drug issues. Because of the small community, we’re able to avoid a lot of that.”
He has also been impressed with the school’s level of technology, and is very excited for the new Career and Technical Education (CTE) curriculum.
“I find Skykomish is probably ahead a lot of a lot of school districts in Washington as far as technology goes,” said Schmidt.
In addition to having “smart boards” in all the classrooms, the high school students all work with laptops and students in the lower grades will be using tablets. Through the new CTE program, the school will be adding several new classes for high school students including a culinary arts class, an introduction to foods and nutrition, business math, and a Microsoft academy.
The Microsoft academy will also give students the opportunity to take an exam to obtain Microsoft Certification in programs like Excel, Word, Outlook and PowerPoint.
“Marcia Dempsey is our new CTE teacher and she is very well qualified,” said Schmidt. “She’s got a tremendous background in computers and technology. I’m really excited about the Microsoft academy.”
Dempsey was with the Skykomish School last year as a paraeducator, and has now achieved her CTE certification. The teaching staff at the Skykomish School has already impressed Schmidt with their level of responsibility to the students.
“There’s a real commitment there,” said Schmidt. “From what I gather, teachers spend a lot of extra hours going above and beyond what is required of them.”
He is hoping to work with the teachers to be able to use the outdoors as a natural classroom. Biology students could perform water-quality testing in the nearby streams and rivers, and they could utilize local hatcheries along with the hiking trails to provide students with hands-on experiences.
“We live in this beautiful setting up here with mountains and rivers and fish hatcheries and hiking,” said Schmidt. “It’s all part of what I think is a great classroom environment for kids.”
He would also love to incorporate skiing into the school’s physical education curriculum.
“That’s another thing I want to do at the school is re-establish the ski school program,” said Schmidt. “We have enough ski equipment at the school to equip almost every one of our kids.”
“I’m hoping Stevens Pass will work with us a little bit on that,” he continued.
Another one of his goals for the upcoming school year is to master the new state teacher evaluation system, which will also include a student assessment component. The added assessment component will incorporate student growth data into the evaluation. Schmidt explained that the new system will involve him working collaboratively with the teachers and facilitating student assessment on a regular basis.
Schmidt explained that he doesn’t want to wait until the end of the year to learn where students are academically, but will try to encourage monthly assessments.
“The state assessments are certainly very, very important to us,” said Schmidt. “We’re going to want to use that as one of many assessments to evaluate how our district’s doing overall, and how our kids are doing, so that we can make program improvements along the way.”
The Skykomish School will be welcoming a total of three new instructors, including CTE instructor Dempsey. The new 4th and 5th grade teacher is Sultan resident Lanette Diaz, and the new 2nd and 3rd grade teacher is Dallas Robinson.
The district has also hired Dan Bubar as the new athletic director. Schmidt is planning on keeping the sports program at the school very similar to what it’s been in the past. Provided there are enough students, the school will host its own boys’ and girls’ basketball teams and a girls’ volleyball team.
For participation in other sports, like football and soccer, Skykomish students are provided with free transportation to Sultan where they are able to play on the Sultan School District sports teams.
“I’m excited about the year,” said Schmidt. “I think we’re going to have a good year.”