State of education in Mason County
January 26, 2023
Three school district superintendents, two with replacement levies on the Feb. 14 ballot, shared what's going on in their classrooms at an "Education in Mason County" forum sponsored by the Shelton-Mason County Chamber of Commerce Jan. 19 at the Mason County Public Works building.
Shelton Superintendent Wyeth Jessee, Hood Canal Superintendent Jose-de-Jesus Melendez and Pioneer Superintendent Jeff Davis took turns talking about their districts.
Jesse outlined his district's replacement levy on the Feb. 14 ballot, which covers about 11% of the district's budget and would replace a levy that expires at the end of 2023. If passed, the levy will collect $7.1 million in 2024, $7.6 million in 2025 and $8.2 million in 2026.
Jessee summarized the district's four top strategic plans: college and career readiness, a safe and welcoming environment, investing in effective educators and leaders, and high-quality literacy instruction.
The district recently bought 70,000 books for school libraries for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, Jessee said.
"Why? Because we are focused on literacy," he said. "Like my colleagues, we really need to boost our scores. If you're going to be college- or career-ready, you have to read. And it's not just reading, you have to like to read. Reading is so fundamental, it doesn't matter what profession you're in." He added, "You need to know how to apply for a job."
The plan to create a safe and welcoming environment includes "supporting the whole child" and "creating culturally and linguistically welcoming environments."
"We do have a number of students who have experienced trauma," Jessee said. "We're at 70% free and reduced lunches. We have quite a few kids who live in poverty. There's a lot of students who don't have access to books, and sometimes they're two to a bed or couch surfing. That is this community. So when they come to school, they need to feel welcomed, because they're like, 'Why should I come to school if I'm not going to be treated respectfully? I can get that at home.' It really breaks my heart."
Davis has worked for 45 years in education, 35 in Oregon and 10 in Washington, and is in his first year helming the Pioneer School District.
"I failed once at retirement ... I'm not done with leadership," he said.
If the district's replacement levy passes on the Feb. 14 ballot, property owners will be assessed an estimated $1.28 for every $1,000 of assessed property value from 2024 through 2027. The owner of a home valued at $300,000 would pay about $384 per year, or about $32 per month, the district states. The levy would collect $2,802,110 in 2024, $2,886,173 in 2025, $2,972,758 in 2026, and $3,061,940 in 2027.
The district has 745 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade. Of the 137 employees, one-third are new this school year, a "huge turnover," Davis said.
"It's been a few tough years at Pioneer, but we're in good shape," he said.
The district brought music education back this school year, and attracted a huge crowd for a recent school concert, Davis said.
"It was great to see our parents, grandparents out to support our programs," he said.
The district doesn't have a strategic plan, but the school board in late spring will begin working on a five-year plan, he said.
The district employs reading and math specialists at both the elementary and middle school.
"We have some delayed learning, like everyone else," Davis said.
Melendez said the Hood Canal School District's mission statement is "cultivating a safe, inclusive, supportive learning environment that engages the whole student in a community that promotes collaboration, communication and academic achievement through critical thinking and problem-solving. Reaching our highest potential. Together."
The district has had an empty seat on his five-member school board since July and is looking for someone to represent the Lake Cushman area. Melendez said he's hearing people don't know "what the district is about," and believe it is "low performing."
The district has 335 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade, and 19 preschoolers. The district has 28 classified employees and 32 certified.