One thing that Sultan High School Principal Tami Nesting has maintained since arriving in Sultan last year is that Sultan High School is the “best school in the universe.”
This year she is expanding on the lively tagline by incorporating a school-wide administrative goal: to help students graduate without regret.
“Because when you say college-ready, that doesn’t necessarily inspire every student,” said Nesting, explaining that the goal is to help students move beyond graduation without any of the “I wish I would have’s.”
Nesting, an award-winning educator who came to Sultan from the Mukilteo School District, has been in education for over 20 years. Prior to the Mukilteo School District she taught at Mariner High School in Everett, where she was recognized and honored for her innovative teaching methods. This year in Sultan she is excited about the school’s new Career and Technical Education (CTE) offerings, the opportunity for students to earn college credits, and much more.
CTE classes feature a curriculum which is more focused on hands-on learning and practical application for the purpose of increased job-readiness. There is a greater emphasis on preparing students for a career along with a leadership component. CTE instructors haven’t necessarily gone down the traditional path to become educators, and due to their industry experience, bring with them a whole different skill-set.
“We just hired a sports medicine teacher,” said Nesting. “Isn’t that awesome?”
Nesting has also begun to shift other curriculum under the CTE umbrella, specifically things like physics and science classes. She shared that the school has such a capacity for hands-on learning in these areas, particularly with the salmon hatchery, the greenhouse and, quite literally, the great outdoors.
“Students are going to be building; they’re going to be creating; they’re going to be learning by doing,” said Nesting. “It’s an exciting way for us to be going, especially in our science department.”
Concepts like “best school in the universe” and “graduating without regret” are both ideas which Nesting feels are intrinsically tied in with Sultan High School’s student programs, both collectively and individually. One of the ways the school will be supporting these concepts is with a new student achievement program called Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID.
AVID is an elective course which offers students the opportunity to really zero in on student achievement and advancement. The program focuses on students who may face barriers when it comes to the pursuit of a college education, despite the fact that they are passing all their classes.
The AVID program, which started at Sultan Middle School, requires special training. Sultan High School staff received their AVID training over the summer.
“Our mission for our AVID site team is going to be to build an instructional program that inspires and supports kids to graduate without regret,” said Nesting. “We feel that’s our job as teachers.”
As far as college credits go, Nesting explained that Sultan High School has several different ways for students to earn them, and of those ways is absolutely free of charge. By taking either digital communications or personal finance, both part of the school’s business education department, students can earn a certain number of Everett Community College credits, provided they earn a B grade or above.
“Doing that we were able to get over 1,400 credits for our kids last year,” said Nesting.
Other traditional methods are available for earning college credits, as well, including College in the High School, Advanced Placement (AP) classes and Running Start. With College in the High School, the student enrolls in a qualified class, and also registers with Everett Community College, at which time they are required to pay the EvCC fee. This enables the student to be able to earn college credits without leaving the high school.
With AP classes students enroll in the class, and then arrange to take an exam at the end of the year. AP exams typically cost around $100 per exam and consist of multiple choice questions, as well as free-response or essay questions.
“They’re different ways of doing the same thing,” said Nesting. “Some kids don’t want all that pressure of taking the test. But College in the High School ties you to Everett Community, while, with AP, you can go anywhere.”
With Running Start, students actually register at a college like EvCC, and travel there during the day to attend the class.
Earning the credits through Sultan’s business education department, students can earn 12 EvCC credits for passing digital communications with a B grade or better, and three EvCC credits for passing personal finance with a B grade or better. This method costs nothing; it simply requires that verification be turned in to EvCC after the class is completed.
Nesting explained that she is interested in making things as easy as possible for students, and is taking a multi-faceted approach to facilitating student success. She has pursued various grant opportunities that she thinks will add value to the school, one of which is the Academic Acceleration program.
With Academic Acceleration, the school will essentially heighten student intentions when it comes to moving forward in their coursework. This means that once a student is enrolled in a particular class, they will be automatically enrolled in the next class in the progression. So a geometry student will be automatically enrolled in algebra II, and a chemistry student will be automatically enrolled in physics.
Nesting described the system as a shift in student perception which she feels should serve to help keep them moving forward. The funding initiated through the Academic Acceleration grant will be used to help students pay for things like college visits along with AP and SAT exam fees.
“The grant will help cover those fees,” said Nesting. “We probably won’t get everybody, but anybody who has a need.”
Another grant, known as the DEWIS Planning and Implementation (DPI) Model grant, will help the school incorporate the Dropout Early Warning System to help increase the graduation rate. The model is meant to provide intervention data, to help the school identify students who are considered to be at-risk for dropping out of school.
Sultan School District Administrative Secretary Marianne Naslund, who transitioned to the Facilities Department after Sky Valley Options closed at the beginning of summer, will have a key role with the new system. She will be serving as the district’s technology liaison and will be helping to implement the new DEWIS software which is designed to identify at-risk students based on various criteria.
The point is to examine key student risk factors, thus giving educators the opportunity to proactively intervene long before the student actually drops out of school. The software is comprehensive, and takes into account such things as test scores, attendance rates, disciplinary issues and more.
“This new software is supposed to make it so we can better understand what the data is saying and have a plan in place to provide help to students at an earlier point in time,” said Naslund.
Naslund, who started out in Facilities Support in 2002, is glad to be back.
“I am delighted over my new assignment,” said Naslund.