By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
“People go on and shop for schools, and it's a competitive market,” Stewart told about 30 people at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon Monday.
“Parents get online and select a school where they think their child will benefit the most, and they move into that community,” he said.
“So if your school doesn't look good, they may choose another place.
“They may go to Sequim or Port Angeles to be in a particular school.”
Stewart said when a school raises its average test scores, it positively affects real estate value.
“Every time we raise our test scores, it makes a $7,000 increase in your assessed valuation,” Stewart said.
“The more our scores go up, the better it is for the community.”
Stewart said a rural school often qualifies as the largest employer in its area, a distinction the Chimacum District, which has 154 employees, has earned.
He isn't a fan of long-term strategic plans, Stewart said, “since things get put on the shelf and are then forgotten,” but his short-term goal is to achieve academic excellence for the district.
“We want to provide a broad academic experience for our students, and I have to say that right now, we are not,” he said.
Stewart, 65, was hired in June to replace Craig Downs, who resigned in May to take a job in Arizona.
The timing of the resignation made it hard for the district to find a permanent replacement, so Stewart was hired on a one-year contract.
The process to hire a permanent superintendent will begin in 2014, according to School Board member Cammi Brown.
Stewart said early literacy is one of the most important aspects of education.
“I want every kid to be able to read by the end of third grade,” Stewart said.
“If a student goes into fourth grade without knowing how to read [at the grade level], they have a significant risk for dropping out of high school.”
“Our graduation rate has increased. It's about 85 percent, but when you think of it in terms of 100 kids, that means that 15 aren't going to graduate, and that's unacceptable,” Stewart added.
When Stewart began his educational career 40 years ago, the teaching model was a one-way communication process from teachers to students, he said, while today, it seems that the teacher is doing most of the learning in the classroom.
“What I want to see is students talking to students and having critical, analytical conversations about what they are learning, with the teacher facilitating the discussion,” he said.
Stewart said teacher evaluation has become more complicated. Once demanding five hours a year, evaluations now require between 40 and 50 hours annually.
Security also has become an issue. The rear of the Chimacum School is now unsecured. Plans are to install card readers to increase protection.
Stewart also provided an explanation for the identification cards that school personnel are required to wear at all times.
“I used to think these were so the kids can know who the teachers are,” he said.
“But they are actually for the first responders. If you have a badge on after a disaster, they won't throw you on the ground and push you into a squad car, since an adult in a school always draws attention.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.