Port Angeles School District superintendent offers positive review of year

Brewer: Keeping kids in school a ‘herculean effort’

Marty Brewer.

Marty Brewer.

PORT ANGELES — Keeping students in the classroom for the entire 180-day school year was the goal of the Port Angeles School District last fall.

Achieving it came on the last day of classes June 15, when students headed off for summer break.

Making it happen was a challenge that took the collaborative work of teachers, staff, administration, the school board and transportation department, said Port Angeles School District Superintendent Marty Brewer.

“It was a herculean effort,” Brewer told members of the Port Angeles Business Association as he presented a summary of the 2021-2022 school year at a Tuesday morning breakfast.

Brewer said the district weathered the challenges of COVID-19, including waves of variants, staffing shortages and its impact on student mental health and learning, better than many other districts in the state.

Staffing shortfalls occurred early in the fall when the district did not have enough bus drivers or substitute teachers.

“We did ask ourselves, ‘Is this the time we have to close schools?’” he said.

The bus driver shortage required the consolidation of routes and calls to parents explaining the change. The transportation department’s mechanic, director and dispatcher all pitched in to get behind the wheel and get students to school.

“They made a personal commitment,” Brewer said.

When it became obvious the district would not have an adequate pool of substitute teachers, it recruited individuals who didn’t have a teaching certificate but who had an interest in education and passed the background test.

Brewer said the district was “on the path to recovery,” although it still faced challenges, including a decline in enrollment and a state-mandated pay schedule he said hurt the school district’s ability to hire and retain teachers.

The district’s enrollment of 3,416 is about 3 percent lower than its pre-COVID enrollment of 3,525. Brewer said that was still better than the overall state average decline of 4 percent over the same period.

“We are looking at a reduction of force if those students don’t return,” Brewer said. “Federal ESSER funds have kept us going.”

ESSER is the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund that was established in 2021 to assist schools through the pandemic.

Washington state’s teacher salary schedule that the state Legislature enacted in 2018 to address higher housing costs in certain areas by adding regionalization factors to base salaries has had an adverse impact on the district’s hiring ability, Brewer said.

“I don’t like the regionalization model,” Brewer said. “We can’t compete with those salaries if you’re within driving distance of a district that pays more.”

He cited the Sequim and Chimacum schools districts, where teachers make 6 percent and 12 percent, respectively, more than in Port Angeles, to illustrate his point.

“Regionalization brings out inequities,” he said.

The launch of the online-only Seaview Academy in January 2020, right before the start of the pandemic, was a timely investment in virtual learning that Brewer said the district would like to build upon.

“We started with 50 students and nearly 1,000 students were in Seaview at the peak of COVID,” Brewer said.

Enrollment was about 300 during the 2021-2022 school year.

Although the state apportionment is about $500 less per student in a virtual school than in a brick-and-mortar one, the fact that enrollment is not limited to Port Angeles means a student from anywhere in the state can attend.

Brewer estimated about 50-60 students from around the state enrolled in Seaview Academy, a number of them from King County.

When it came to school safety, Brewer said that, in addition to reactive strategies like drills and working with law enforcement on assessing threats, the district also has focused on proactive strategies.

Those include social and emotional learning to help students develop healthy relationships with the people around them, improve their interpersonal skills, learn how to take responsibility for their decisions and understand their emotions, he said.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at [email protected]

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