Ian Saltzman, Everett Public Schools’ new superintendent, says he plans to visit as many schools as he can when classes begin Wednesday. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Ian Saltzman, Everett Public Schools’ new superintendent, says he plans to visit as many schools as he can when classes begin Wednesday. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Changes inside and outside the classrooms as school resumes

As students return, they’ll find new leaders, new grad rules and, for some, required uniforms.

EVERETT — Ian Saltzman went to bed at 10 p.m. but couldn’t fall asleep until 3 a.m.

He woke up an hour later, too excited to sleep.

That was more than three decades ago, on the eve of his first day as a special education teacher. Saltzman has climbed the ranks since then. The Florida transplant is Everett’s new school superintendent and plans to visit as many schools as he can when classes begin Wednesday.

“In 31 years of public education, I still get butterflies,” Saltzman said. “It’s like a new season, a brand new season. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Saltzman described a sense of renewal as friends reunite and everyone gets a fresh start.

As more than 110,000 public school students descend on campuses across the county this week, it’s also a time of change inside and outside of the classroom.

Change at the top

Everett public schools are one of three districts breaking in a new superintendent.

Josh Middleton is at the helm of Granite Falls School District and Scott Peacock is at the wheel of Lakewood schools. For Middleton, it’s his first gig in the state following three decades of work in Montana and Idaho. Peacock arrived from Snohomish School District where he was an assistant superintendent.

Meanwhile, Mukilteo will need to start searching for someone to replace Superintendent Marci Larsen, who is decamping mid-year for retirement. And Edmonds will too as their chief executive, Kristine McDuffy, plans to retire at the end of the school year.

Digs, duds and debates

Everett’s newest and southernmost elementary, Tambark Creek, opens Wednesday for its inaugural year of operation. It’s the district’s first new school in 12 years and is going to be unique with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and an on-site wetlands.

Plus, when students arrive they’ll be wearing uniforms, making it and Hawthorne Elementary in north Everett the second and third schools in the district with such a requirement. Not every parent embraces this mandate and some have spent the past few weeks pushing back, thus far without success.

Elsewhere, students in several other districts will find new portable classrooms, freshly painted buildings and maybe signs of ongoing renovation and construction.

A little roomier here, a little tighter there

State rules aimed at ensuring small classes in lower grades kick in this year.

The goal, for every district in the state, is to average no more than 17 students to one certificated teacher in kindergarten through third grade. Some districts are already there. Others are hiring a large number of elementary teachers to get there, because the state provides extra bucks for districts that comply. It’s an incentive which can be worth millions of dollars.

But in some districts, students in upper grades may encounter larger classes. Edmonds, for example, is looking to add a couple of students to classes in grades four through 12. That’ll free up a few dollars to be shifted toward hiring elementary instructors and stabilizing the budget.

New path to diploma

The road to graduation will be a little less bumpy for thousands of high school students in Washington.

A new law eliminates a requirement that they pass standardized tests in English and mathematics in order to graduate. They’ll still take those tests and if they do get a passing score, great. If they don’t, they’ll have other options.

The law severed the link between a passing score on the assessments and the state’s graduation requirements which originated with the education reforms of the early 1990s. Students will still need to earn the requisite credits. Then they must complete the requirements of at least one of eight authorized graduation pathway options, of which passing the assessments is on the list.

Wages and working conditions

When spring rolls around, contract talks will get serious between teachers and administrators in several school districts in Snohomish County. Collective bargaining agreements are set to expire next August for teachers in the Edmonds, Lake Stevens, Marysville, Sultan, Lakewood and Darrington districts.

It is too soon to know how those conversations will play out. Things could get a little testy with pickets and board meeting protests, as occurred in a few districts in 2018. Or things may go real smooth as happened in Mukilteo and Northshore this past spring.

Teachers in Everett had a contract with an August 2020 expiration date. But, in a surprising move, union leaders and district officials hammered out an agreement to extend the current agreement through August 2021. The deal also contains pay raises for teachers, making their most veteran educators the highest paid in the state.

Ballot battles

Voters in several districts are going to have some weighty measures to decide.

In Arlington, Lakewood and Stanwood-Camano, renewal of multi-year enrichment levies are likely to be on ballots in February or April.

Formerly known as maintenance and operation levies, these provide funding for programs and positions whose costs are not covered by the state. Football teams and marching bands are two examples. Money can also go to hire more mental health professionals, social workers, nurses and other professionals.

A spate of construction bond measures are anticipated as well.

Everett may ask voters again to finance the building of a new high school. Not enough of them said yes last year. Snohomish officials plan to put forth a measure to raise money to rebuild aging elementary schools and reduce the use of portables.

Edmonds, Mukilteo and Arlington are also mulling whether to put bond bills in front of the electorate. Arlington tried twice last year and both times could not muster the 60 percent supermajority for passage. The district has a facilities advisory committee evaluating all options.

Benefits for all

A new statewide health insurance program for public school employees will launch Jan. 1. It’s a huge change for the workplace and no one knows with certainty how it will play out.

Part-time workers — those who work at least 630 hours — will be getting better medical coverage and less out-of-pocket costs. Full-time workers, especially those with families, should save as well, though there may be some employees who don’t.

It’s an issue that merits close watch, as not all of the financial impacts on the state and district budgets are known yet.

Fewer ways to opt out

Starting this year, parents can no longer cite a personal or philosophical reason for not having their child vaccinated against measles. Districts are working to get the word out on a new law that will allow exemptions only for medical and religious reasons. The law also applies to private schools and childcare facilities.

State lawmakers changed requirements for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine earlier this year as public health officials dealt with an epidemic centered in Clark County. By April, the state had seen 74 cases of measles, the vast majority in that county and involving children 10 or younger who were not immunized.

Last school year, 90 percent of all kindergartners in Snohomish County received the MMR vaccination, according to numbers from the state Department of Health. That’s higher than many other counties, but still below the recommended 95 percent for herd immunity — when enough people are vaccinated that it’s difficult for a disease to spread.

What, no McCleary?

This should be a school year where the landmark school funding lawsuit known as McCleary isn’t front and center. Money, or a lack of it, will still get mentioned a lot. But legislators, school administrators and teachers will likely spend their time discussing and tweaking what they did to comply with the Supreme Court’s demands last year.

“I think it’s going to be one of the quietest sessions on education that we’ve seen in awhile,” said Chris Reykdal, the state superintendent of public instruction.

As things cool down on the finance side, the emphasis will shift toward how best to boost supportive services to students and provide more pathways to graduation.

His message: “It’s going to get better and better for kids to be able to explore what their passions are,” he said. “Have a great year.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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