Photo: Gov. Jay Inslee and Trudi Inslee meet with students at Fort Vancouver High School

“Everyone was really excited just knowing that the governor was coming to our school.”

That was the mood at McLoughlin Middle School and Fort Vancouver High School on a soggy morning last March. As you just heard Fort senior Jose Scott describe, spirits were high for Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s first official visit.

At McLoughlin, the governor and his wife, Trudi, visited classrooms and saw how one-to-one technology is transforming our district. They also learned about how our teacher mentor program helps retain new VPS educators and gives them tools to develop strong instructional practices.

Here’s what McLoughlin physical science teacher Katie James had to say about her experiences working with Denise Bekkedahl, a full-time teacher mentor who helped James recognize both areas for improvement and strengths:

“She sees techniques I’m using and interactions with kids that are good, powerful teaching strategies that maybe I don’t realize I’m using.”

The governor was impressed by the support our new teachers receive:

“Improving and helping teachers with programs like the mentoring program here that’s going on in this district can make a huge impact on students, and I’ve known that because when you have a quality teacher, you have magic in the classroom.”

Later in the day, he visited Fort, a school where nearly 73 percent of students receive free or reduced-price meals—a higher percentage than at any other high school in Clark County. As a former child of generational poverty, I know that growing up poor can create many barriers to learning. But at Fort, the school is committed to giving its students a way through those obstacles.

“I think that we’re headed in the right direction as a school to get our on-time graduation rates up.”

That’s Principal Scott Parker speaking about the school’s efforts to increase its number of on-time graduates. Programs like the Freshman and Success academies, Pyramid Response to Intervention, and Advancement Via Individual Determination are lowering course failure rates; keeping kids enrolled and engaged in school; and helping prepare students for college, careers, and life.

Governor Inslee complimented the work:

“This is dynamite because these students are getting something that I never had, which is training and teambuilding and consensus-building and leadership. These are so fundamental. It doesn’t matter where you work, doesn’t matter what endeavor you have in life. … I’m very intrigued by this progress.”

And it’s not only at Fort that we’re making progress. The district’s on-time graduation rate increased from 64 percent in 2010 to 73 percent in 2013. Our extended graduation rate went from 69 percent to 77 percent during the same period.

Additionally, the extended graduation rate for Hispanic students jumped from nearly 55 percent in 2011-2012 to nearly 70 percent in 2012-2013, and the extended graduation rate for African-American students rose from 59 percent to 69 percent.

Governor Inslee wasn’t the only one with high praise for our schools. The following week, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt returned to Fort, his alma mater, to deliver this year’s State of the City address. The former Trapper had this to say about the caliber of local education:

“We are extremely blessed in Vancouver to enjoy top-quality schools.”

Mayor Leavitt also paid tribute to his old stomping grounds:

“Today Fort is a thriving campus. … The environment here is rich with diversity. It is brimming with the energy of youthful aspiration, and it is teeming with pride. As mayor of our city, I am inspired each and every time I get to come to Trapper Nation.”

I, too, am inspired by the progress both at Fort and district-wide. Hearing the governor and mayor’s comments just affirms my pride in our talented, hardworking students and professionals.

I hope you have a well-deserved, relaxing spring break. Let’s take this time to refocus and reflect on what’s important in our lives as we get ready for the remainder of the school year.

See you April 14.

Take care,

Image: Steve signature