There are subtle quirks on the walls inside Salish Coast Elementary School. One in particular caught my eye.
A paper taped near a classroom door depicted a cartoon battery with a plus sign on the top and minus below. The smiling battery had a speech bubble that read, “I’m thinking positive today!”
I laughed, and I looked around for other signs. One had a rotary phone sitting on a table — “I phone” — and an old tube to its right — “You tube.”
The cartoons were thought-provoking not just because of their simple nature but in the way they combined technology and social media with language kids can understand.
I went on a three-hour tour of Port Townsend schools Jan. 24 to learn more about the district and how it’s approaching education. Two measures on the Feb. 12 ballot ask voters to replace the district’s expiring levy with funds that will be focused on educational programs and school support as well as safety, technology and facilities improvements. The cost to taxpayers if both pass would be the same the district collected in 2018.
Salish Coast was the first stop on the tour led by Sarah Rubenstein, the director of communications for Maritime Discovery Schools. Superintendent John Polm and Assistant Superintendent Sandy Gessner answered questions from about a dozen participants.
We were led down hallways and into classrooms, where we watched fifth-graders make science observations in a group setting.
Farther down the hall, a full-time art teacher led a discussion with third-graders about how to draw a bird step-by-step. A separate assignment included different shapes, and there was a final assessment on the board, showing students what they would be graded on. Was there an outline? Did the shapes overlap? Was there texture? Was the composition balanced? Was it interesting? Maybe even more importantly, did students like what they created?
Port Townsend schools are working on students’ abilities to engage in complex subject matter. Fifteen teachers in the district have attended a Thinking Strategies Institute, and others have a few hours of training and are starting to implement new methods.
At Blue Heron Middle School, a technology class connected different objects, such as clay, to a laptop to play different musical notes. One group attempted to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” When they were finished, the teacher asked the group to take feedback from the other students, and what followed were carefully worded sentences. The students clearly had been trained how to provide and receive feedback.
The mosaics on the wall stood out at Blue Heron. The artwork was hung in the hallways that lead toward team learning environments called pods. And as we went around a corner to a history class, we saw several timelines that highlighted periods during the Roman Empire.
We ate lunch at Port Townsend High School, a stir fry meal created from scratch. And as we ate in the school library, we spoke with students who shared their thoughts on what makes the district unique.
The Maritime Discovery School initiative was high on that list because it teaches students skills they can immediately use toward a career in the marine trades. The initiative contains more than 80 place-based learning projects that are supported by more than 80 community partners.
The McCleary decision puts the burden back on the state to pay for “basic education” functions, such as teacher salaries and transportation to and from school. That’s a good thing because local levies initially were supposed to cover enhancements like music and the arts. But over time, the levy funds were relied upon to pay for teachers.
Local levies should impact our classrooms, connect common areas for community meetings and enhance education through targeted programming.
There are 1,200 students in the Port Townsend School District, and they should have the same chance at success as any other high school graduate in the state.
They’re on the right track.