Java with Jim

Grab a cup of coffee and get filled in on the latest campus news and events. Come fill up on a warm cup of coffee and the latest news and events from Blackwell. This morning gathering is designed specifically for parents to hear directly from Mr. Eaton about what’s happening here at Elizabeth Blackwell. Mr. Eaton will also be available to field questions about our school, the district, and the state of education in Washington.

It’s also a great time to meet other parents and hear from the PTSA. We will be meeting 9:05 - 9:40 a.m. in library every fourth Monday of the month:

Month Information Presented Questions & Answers
September 25

Mr. Eaton discussed what's currently happening in classrooms. The focus right now is getting to know the students and some light assessing. Another topic discussed was the success of our Fun Run, which has brought in about $65K, not including matching funds!


Why is Blackwell so highly ranked?

Answer: Most all sites that do school rankings are private entities that pull test scores available through OSPI. We feel it's due to great teachers and a very involved community. The culture of our school also focuses on soft skills, i.e. how to be inclusive, talk things out, etc.

What Community Service opportunities are available for students?

Answer: Several drives throughout the year...Sister Schools in November, Food Drive in February to help with Pantry Packs, Candy collection after Halloween to send to the troops.

Are students taught safety in case of a school shooting?

Answer: Yes, we follow and teach the ALICE protocol.

Why are children not allowed on campus prior to 8:45?

Answer: We don't have staffing to supervise children before then. Students with parents on the playground attract other students who don't have a parent and this can also cause more supervisory problems.

Are there any plans to add or drop classrooms after the school year has begun?

Answer: No, we do not have any plans to do that. If a class needed to be added or dropped, that would happen in the first day or two of school. It's a rarity.

October 23 The focus this month has been on Goal Setting Conferences. Unity Day is 10/25, we make it a whole week of activities and lessons surrounding anti-bullying. We had an earthquake drill last week and have kicked off the year for Watch DOGS. Blackwell by the numbers: We have 558 students, 91 Pull Out Quest students and 57 staff members. For full presentation, click here.

Comment: Glad to see the principal out front in the mornings greeting people!

Why does the school not have an art teacher?

Answer: The district has art teachers for secondary schools, but not elementary. We do have an art curriculum the teachers are trained in called Deep Space Sparkle. Our PTSA also has a curriculum used by parent volunteer art docents. The Bellevue Art Museum is bringing an exhibit to us in January and some of our docents will be trained to aid in this exhibit.

Is it possible to have more Before-School Activities?

Answer: PTSA President, Cherish Fitterer, discussed the challenge of getting enough kids to make additional classes worthwhile for vendors.

How are we prepared for Emergencies?

In the event of a catastrophic emergency, first responders would come to schools first. Should we need to host students for some time, we have a trailer out back with water and food supplies as well as tarps and other equipment. Comfort kits are provided by parents to aid in keeping students calm.

November 22 Discussion of our Blackwell CARES, Letter "A" focus for December. Our Sister Schools Drive was a big success. We had a truck full of items from our generous community. They will be shipped to Uganda to support schools and orphanages. They will return in the spring for a follow up assembly. Watch DOGS is up on the website, encourage dads to sign up! Full presentation can be found here.

Question about age for choir.

Answer: currently it is only for 4th and 5th graders. Other grade levels have performances during the school year. Choir will perform Dec. 1 at the Sammamish Commons.

What is Jim's vision for Blackwell?

Answer: He goes back to our vision statement, creating a community of limitless potential. This has been our vision for the past 10 years. Our community includes well-educated, generous and multi-cultural families. How can we use that to encourage limitless potential? The change in our cultural demographic provides opportunities for new experiences. Our role is to guide this and be open to new ideas. Putting kids into leadership situations is intentional and part of this process. Things like Choir, Big/Little Buddies, Student Council and Safety Patrol give them a safe place to try out leadership roles.

How can we integrate the Quest program requirements more fluently into the rest of the school?

Answer: 40% of our students in Quest come from Blackwell, 30% each from Mead and Dickinson. Once they join Quest, Blackwell is their home school. GEAC is a district-wide group like PTSA for Quest students. There followed a discussion of ways to integrate Quest and non-Quest students more organically.

December - no meeting
January 22

These notes were compiled from specific ideas and concerns shared at the meeting. The questions and answers are not verbatim, but themed based on the conversation. This Java with Jim meeting ran longer than normal based on the number of questions and the conversation with Jim.
Information Presented:
Discussion of our Blackwell CARES, Letter E for Effort for January.

Teachers are gearing up for report cards and conferences.

We are in the process of becoming a King County Level 1 Green School. 4th and 5th graders can sign up to be on the Green Team.

We just had our first National Geo Bee for 4th and 5th graders. We had approximately 30 participants.

Will host the Incoming Kinder Parent meeting this week in preparation for kindergarten registration on Feb. 1st.

Continuous Improvement Plan – Mr. Eaton discussed the process for developing this plan. Each year, several “big picture” goals are identified by staff and submitted to the school board. Once approved in January, they are [published on our website. Unique goals are chosen each year to be reported on. These goals reflect just some of the overall goals of our school. Mr. Eaton then fielded questions from parents, most of which centered around the goal of supporting struggling students in a timely manner

The full presentation can be found here.

What is the expectation of teachers to differentiate their instruction to meet individual needs of students?

Answer: Any concerns should first be brought directly to the teacher. Parents should check to see what supports the teacher may already be using. If needs are not being met, the principal and/or our school guidance team would get involved to assess whether formal supports may be needed. These may result in IEP or 504 Plan to set goals and show growth. If needed, teachers and/or Para Educators could receive additional training if a specific need is identified. Teachers may also communicate an identified need.

What is the vision of the school?

Answer: The vision of the school is based on the belief that we know the strengths and challenges of our individual students, then leverage these to differentiate learning in the classroom. We use Blackwell’s Continuous Improvement Process Plan and district strategic plan to work toward realizing our school’s vision (to create a learning community of limitless potential). We appreciate the support the PTSA gives us (financial, volunteers, and events) to provide many of the supplemental materials, opportunities and resources at Blackwell.

What is the focus of the school? Is there a cohesive way the PTSA/parents can support Blackwell’s vision?

Answer: Our focus in on providing for each student’s individual needs within our resources (district and PTSA provided). Right now, our PTSA provides donations to support our school. Our PTSA also offers staff a competitive grant process is to provide additional supplemental supports to school. There is not an all-inclusive identified need sought by staff, rather there are many individual/grade level, nice to have supplemental needs. Our district does a good job providing staff with professional development, standards-based curriculum resources, and the other essentials the school needs. This doesn’t mean that we could not identify an area need for more cohesive, purposeful support.

Can we use our own PTSA financial support as a resource to help fill the needs of struggling students?

Answer: Based on district policy, PTSA cannot fund staff positions. Current levels of Special Ed support come from state and local level funding. The district has prescribed methods for distributing these funds and we can only follow what the district has laid out for us. To maintain parity among the LWSD schools, the district does not allow one school to purchase additional instructors/support staff. This does not mean that we can’t look for alternative, creative options to find a resource.

How can we get more staff and resources at Blackwell?

Answer: Staff are provided based on district guidelines. This is true for all positions. There are staffing ratios for classroom teachers, case load guides for special education and special services, and staffing for specific student needs. These are funded through the state and through local levies. We use these sources to best fund our needs across the district. There is always an argument for increasing staffing to better support students and learning. We do the best we can with our resources.

How does the request of a 3D Printer aid our students?

Answer: This request was made by a member of PTSA through Mr. Eaton to enhance a potential STEM program. As we don’t currently have the program in place or staff requesting this technology, this request was not granted.

How can we support new families moving into the district from other countries?

Answer: As with the other questions asked, it is important that we engage our community to best support students. Many of our families are from different places and may not be very familiar with American or Washington schools. We should have a larger conversation about how we support the needs of our students and families to include this in the discussion. Mr. Eaton will look at ways to gather this information to help address these issues.

A concern was expressed over the recent Lockdown Drill and instruction to students to throw things at an intruder.

Answer: Mr. Eaton reviewed how lockdowns used to be conducted and then added that based on advice from law enforcement and current best practices, the district adopted ALICE protocols to give more choices to staff for the best way to react in a situation based on the info they have. Counter, the “C” in ALICE, is an option that’s taught if an intruder is physically in the room and no other options are available. Safety improvements for all schools in the district are planned and ongoing.

February 26 Cancelled due to Snow Day

March 19 Mr. Eaton presented district and Blackwell safety information. Please click here to see the presentation.

What are the staffing ratios for recess?

Answer: We staff one staffer per grade level for supervision. We also staff para educators to support specific students. This roughly means that our recess staffing is between 2:155 at a minimum.

Do we do drills when students are on the playground?

Answer: Have not yet this year, although we have in past years. Will discuss this with staff. As we consider new situations arising, we will develop our drills accordingly.

There were several questions surrounding our school layout and monitoring of the front door. PTSA is working with Mr. Eaton to explore manning a volunteer check-in desk outside of the office. The district is assessing issues surrounding monitoring of doors and security of school premises, including buzzers and security cameras. There are standards that must be met. Mr. Eaton will contact district officials regarding funding by our PTSA as one of the questions was whether our PTSA can raise funds to purchase needed security items. Another question is how long might we expect to get an answer from the district concerning security questions. Hopefully we will have answers by June of this year. Update since the meeting: The district is conducting a feasibility study regarding “buzz in” systems with cameras. The plan is to have these systems installed at all sites by the fall of 2018.

What is the response time for Sammamish Police? Answer: they have told us 3-6 minutes.

Are Watch DOGS here for security?

Answer: No, that is not the intent. Watch DOGS are to provide a father (father figure) a structure school volunteer experience.

Can the Watch DOG day be shortened to accommodate more dads? We will look at this. The nationwide program is day long, but we may be able to make adjustments.

Has the community been made aware of ALICE and its impact on neighbors? Answer: the district has not done this yet. This will be something we consider.

Is there any type of mental health training for staff? Answer: We have full time counselors in all schools. They work with teachers and staff on identifying issues with students and/or families. We did have a comment from a parent about the impressive responsiveness of both the counselors Blackwell has had recently.

Can teachers provide parent education and support? Answer: it is not part of the teacher’s job to provide global parent education. However, our PTSA as well as the district, does bring in parent educational opportunities.
Are the number of students in a class based on actual classroom space? Answer: no, class sizes are based on staffing allocated by the district not the physical size of the room. We use educational size specifications when building classrooms.

April 23 Mr. Eaton presented a Power Point presentation. Click here to see it.

Question: How do we do class placements to ensure equity in all the classrooms?

Answer: We have a process using differing factors such as gender, energy, academic strength, and special needs to balance our classes. It is expected that there is a different climate and culture in every classroom. Of note, our 5th grade uses track time to rotate students through each classroom and teacher. They all get to know the students quite well and provide grades for the subjects they are responsible for. This process has worked very well at Blackwell for the past several years.

Question: What does 4th grade do to ready students for 5th grade?

Answer: Teachers work together as a team. The talk about all the kids and the challenges so each is familiar with the group as a whole. Each grade level may do different things to help support levels for all students while maintaining standards and curriculum. Teachers will meet to share expectations and readiness for the next level throughout the year formally and informally.

Question: What training do teachers receive for differentiation?

Answer: They spend quite a lot of time completing formative and summative assessments and are taught how to look at data to determine what it’s telling us and question why one group may have performed better than another. This information is shared when grade levels meet in PCC (Professional Community & Collaboration) on our Wednesday LEAP days. They also sometimes meet up or down a grade level to assist each other and establish expectations. Informal conversations happen between every adjacent grade level and are done as needed. As a side note: All our curriculum materials contain resources for added support and extension of learning. These are used as needed by our teachers.

Question: What are the homework norms?

Answer: There is some new research regarding elementary level benefits and practices. No official word yet, but conversations will be taking place surrounding the issue. We need to strive to make sure that everyone know what standards are and what parental rights are regarding homework.

Question: Are there resources for immigrant families on how to navigate the school system?

Answer: LWSD is working on this currently. Earlier this year, the district held workshop for families new to the country about how American schools work and how to best navigate LWSD.

May 21 Mr. Eaton's Power Point this month focused on our recent KITE Stem Challenge, a discussion of the new Dreambox Learning application and also looking at best practices for setting the optimal amount of homework. Our staff will be diving into this over the next couple of days. Any changes to our homework policy will be based on current research. The entire presentation can be found by clicking here.

Question: Do we have a standard communication tool regarding homework?

Answer: We are in process with our teachers to look at ways to streamline our communication processes. Both the topic of newsletters and homework are part of this work. My hope is to have clearer and more concise communication systems across the school. We all want to know what to expect and when to expect it.

June - no meeting