PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles School Board has renewed its annual agreement with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and approved an update of the schematic design for Stevens Middle School.
Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe Chairwoman Frances Charles, Vice Chairman Russell Hepfer and Councilman Anthony Charles joined Board President Sarah Methner, Vice President Sandy Long and directors Mary Hebert, Katie Marks and Jacob Wright attended the Nov. 9 government-to-government meeting.
Assistant Superintendent Michelle Olsen said the district supported Native American students and their families with a wide range of programs and services with the goal of improving a range of outcomes such as graduation rates by connecting families with resources, by developing Klallam language and history curricula and by providing Native American education advocates at schools.
About 14.20 percent of the district’s students identified as Native American or Alaska Native during the 2022-2023 school year, Olsen said.
Olsen said improving attendance, which is one of the biggest determinants of student success, had been a primary area of focus for the district. Last year just 40 percent of Native American students attended school regularly — that is, they had fewer than two absences a month. This was a lower rate than for Asian students, of whom 89.5 percent attended regularly and for white students (64.3 percent) and Hispanic students (55.3 percent).
“Our Native American educational advocates are reaching out to our families and encouraging them to come to school that day or the next day if possible,” Olsen said. “In addition, the schools are sending out robocalls, [and] they send out letters to let parents know about the absences.”
Every school in the district had a student assistance team that monitored the attendance of all pupils and met weekly with staff.
“They’re brainstorming and talking about barriers, supports, resources and then all of the team take on a particular task to support that family,” Olsen said.
One area in which the district had seen great improvement over the past two years was the readiness of Native American students for kindergarten, said Native American liaison Carmen Watson-Charles.
Hepfer asked what role the Children’s House of Learning, the tribe’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs, had played in that success.
“It’s been quite phenomenal to see the hard work that is going on at the Head Start,” Watson-Charles said. “Everything is working, so we’ve got to keep building on that.”
Programs, family navigators, curriculum development and instructors are funded with federal monies the district receives that is linked to the number of enrolled Native American students and for the number of students living on tribal lands. Director of Business and Operations Kira Acker reported that, in 2022-23, the district received $217,930 in grants and aid to provide support for Native American students, as well as general and SPED students.
Frances Charles acknowledged the instructors, staff and administrators at the meeting for their work and Superintendent Marty Brewer and the district for their efforts.
“It’s building those relationships and it’s continuing on with the partnerships and the collaborations,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do and we’re not done yet.”
Stevens Middle School
The board unanimously approved an engineering report and schematic design for Stevens Middle School that included a recommendation for changes that would lower the overall cost of the project from the current $67,191,228 estimate to $56,959,849.
That amount is still above the $51,590,541 capital levy voters approved in February 2020. Brewer said skyrocketing construction costs are behind the price jump, but the district would not look to the community for more funds.
Instead, it would look for ways to reduce costs like those in the updated schematic design. Key changes include reducing the length of construction time and constructing a brand new school rather than renovating the existing one.
While a gap still exists between cost and budget, Will Crothers of Integrus, the firm developing the design scheme, said moving forward they would work on closing it.
“This is still pretty early in the design process, so there’s a lot of opportunity to continue to refine and tighten the design,” Crothers said.
The district also anticipates collecting about $18 million in School Construction Assistance Program funding from the state, Brewer said. The SCAP funds would pay for the project’s soft costs, he said.
The board also approved unanimously a collective bargaining agreement with the Public School Employees union representing custodians and bus drivers that runs for three years until Aug. 31, 2026, and a collective bargaining agreement with the Port Angeles Educational Office Professionals representing administrative and support staff that runs for two years until Aug. 31, 2025.
The board approved a contract with the Port Angeles Education Associating representing teachers on Sept. 21. The district and the Port Angeles Paraeducators Association continue to bargain; the PAPEA contract expired Aug. 31.
Paula Hunt can be reached at 360-425-2345, ext. 50583, or by email at email@example.com.