Photo by Eric Mathison
Highline Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield addresses community members at Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac.

Update: New Highline superintendent offers 'big, inspiring goals' at first ‘State of the Schools’ speech

Nobody can accuse new Highline Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield of thinking small.

At her first “State of the Schools” presentation to community leaders on Nov. 19, Enfield outlined “three “big, inspiring goals” for the district.

The first goal is that 95 percent of the students entering Kindergarten in 2013 will perform above grade level in reading, science and math by the end of third grade.

Enfield’s second goal is that 95 percent of students entering 9th grade in 2013 will graduate successfully.

The final big goal is eliminating out-of-school suspensions by 2015.

“We know what to do, we just need the collective will to do it,” Enfield declared.

To make the third-grade goal, Enfield said the district will invest more in early-learning staff training, hire an early learning director, and expand high-quality preschool and full-day kindergarten for all students.

To help entering 9th graders stay on track to graduate from high school, Enfield said the district would develop a specific five-year post-secondary plan for every student starting in 8th grade. Students will be given a portfolio of the district’s high school options. Highline educators will also provide a “college-ready culture and engaging pathways at every school, blending college and career.”

On suspensions, Enfield lamented that schools are “pushing out students at an alarming rate who are not a threat to other kids or schools.”

She added it doesn’t make sense to deal with truant students who are not coming to school by kicking them out of school.

The district will continue programs that concentrate on developing positive behavior, finding interim placements and keeping students in school, according to Enfield.

Responding to a question from arts advocate Barbara McMichael, Enfield said that all the money now going to remediation could go to school arts and other enrichment programs if the big goals are met.

Enfield, who came from the much larger Seattle School District where she was interim superintendent, noted Highline has 35 schools, 2,300 employees and 18,000 students.

Seventy percent of Highline students qualify for free or reduced meals, 13 percent are in special education programs and 21 percent are in English Language Learner programs. Highline students speak some 101 languages and dialects.

Hispanics, at 35.5 percent, make up the largest ethnic group, followed by Whites, 25.3 percent; Asians, 14.6 percent; Blacks, 11.1 percent; Multi-racial, 8.1 percent; Pacific Islanders, 4.2 percent and American Indians/Alaska Natives, 1.1 percent.

Enfield named teachers, principals, family and community partners, and central office staff as the four essential groups for success.

She noted great teachers must not only know each student by “name, strength and need” but also ensure that each student makes at least one year’s worth of growth each school year—more if the student is below grade level.

Enfield reported the district is working on a new “robust three-year strategic plan.” The school board will adopt the plan this summer.

Enfield identified the district’s challenges as providing rich learning environments, championing equity and eliminating achievement gaps, planning to meet construction and technology needs, responding to enrollment growth and monitoring the impact of budget cuts.

She asked the assembled community leaders to help the district find better ways to connect with families and community partners, provide feedback, offer student internships and support the Highline Schools Foundation.

Enfield also reported district officials are planning to place a school construction bond issue on the ballot in 2014.

Responding to questions, Enfield said the district is planning to schedule testing for gifted programs during the school day, instead of Saturdays.

She admitted that students do better when they have parents engaged in the schools.

“But that can’t be an excuse for students whose families can’t be engaged.”

Enfield added, “I have never met a parent who didn’t want their child to be successful in school.”

She also noted, “We don’t expect all our students to go on to a four-year college but we expect them all to be ready to go. We also expect all students to have a definite plan for post high-school.”

Enfield said the “State of the Schools” presentation was something started in Seattle and promised it would be an annual event that reports “what’s good and bad” in the Highline district.

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