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Superintendent’s Update, December 2017

December 2017

Dear Friends:

I would like to take this opportunity to update you on a few areas that we haven’t talked about lately, due to trying to keep you updated on all of the construction that has taken place over the last couple years. I am happy to report that we are seeing tremendous results not only in the area of building improvements but also, most importantly, in preparing our students to college, career and life ready. 

What a great time to be a Panther fan.  This fall we saw tremendous success from all of our athletic teams beginning with the recording-setting varsity football team. They set a school record with 10 wins, while winning the OK Red Conference and our first ever District championship. Our girls’ swim and dive team also won the OK Red Conference and finished 8th in the state. The girls’ cross country team improved 5 places from last year’s state finals to finish 16th in the state. Our boys’ tennis team had a good year finishing 2nd in the conference and 2nd in the region.

We are seeing high levels of engagement in grades 6-12 with our Chromebook initiative made possible with our 2014 bond. Our promise was to use these devices as something more than a $500 pencil, and I am happy to report that we are being highly successful in that goal.  When using Chromebooks, students are highly engaged and interested in their coursework, learning in the manner that works best for them and better mastering the materials they are presented. Most importantly, it’s preparing them with skills necessary for success beyond high school.

We are also seeing the fruits of a long-term investment in the Spanish Immersion program, with our original class now in its 10th grade year. As we all know, in this increasingly global economy, it is essential we provide our learners with language skills that will serve them well into the future, and our Spanish Immersion program does just that.

As I have mentioned on many occasions, we are three years into our construction program resulting from the bond issue. I am pleased to report we have completed 80 percent of the first phase of bond projects – upgrades I know are felt by students and teachers alike across the district. As we see phase one through to completion and enter phase two, I encourage you to visit our bond update page to stay up-to-date: http://www.westottawa.net/bond-2014-update/.

We continue to look at ways to improve the transition from elementary to middle school – a challenge at nearly every district in the state. One solution I look forward to reporting on in the months to come is the introduction in 2018-2019 to a new program designed specifically for sixth grade students, which will offer the unique support they need for a successful transition. At the same time, we plan to shift to a six-period day for seventh and eighth grade students, offering them more time to focus on classes in their areas of interest. A question this may raise is what the change means for teachers: I am pleased to note no teachers will lose their job as a result of this shift. We anticipate teachers will welcome the adjustment, allowing them more time to guide students through each subject.

As our families know, safety continues to be of the utmost importance to us at every one of our schools. With skilled resource officers in every building, coordination with local police and the implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS), we are highly engaged in keeping students safe so they can focus on learning. As a former high school principal myself, I am always pleased to see how respectful and courteous our students are in the classrooms, in hallways and on the playgrounds.

Along those lines, I know our elementary level students have been hard at work enjoying the beautiful new playgrounds at every elementary building – I’ve even learned some students have created their own playground tour. The new facilities, themed to match the schools they are housed at, are front and center in this 2017 Playground Upgrades video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLADJVD0r2g.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the great work of our anti-bullying curriculum team, whose annual full-day anti-bullying session, catered directly to the needs of our students, took place in October. The curriculum is developed from scratch, based on feedback received from more than 2,000 kids in grades 9-12. Teachers and staff spend nearly 20 hours throughout the school year and summer to evaluate student data and develop a plan to cultivate this curriculum to offer students the resources they need to thrive.

I am proud of all our students have already accomplished in the 2017-2018 school year, and look forward to great progress continuing in the months ahead. Thank you for your continued partnership and support.

My Best,

Thomas K. Martin
Superintendent of Schools
West Ottawa Public Schools

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