Nooksack Valley thankful for many things in 2022
NOOKSACK VALLEY — Steve Jones recently said the new Sumas Elementary School is “a real source of pride,” not only for the Nooksack Valley School District but also for the border-town.
“After the difficult years of COVID-19 and flooding, it was very special to open a brand new school as a center of education and community gathering, said Jones, president of the district’s governing board.
It’s hard to top opening a new school on an educator’s list of things to be thankful for.
However, the official opening of the new Sumas Elementary School in August is not the only thing that put smiles on the faces of everyone at Nooksack Valley School District in 2022.
From professional development to leadership that starts at the top, from a new principal at Sumas and a new title for the previous Sumas elementary principal, from K-5 learning labs to an induction program for new teachers, the folks at Nooksack Valley Schools had plenty to celebrate in 2022 – and plenty to look forward to in 2023.
It starts at the top
In July 2021, Matt Galley took over for longtime Nooksack Valley Superintendent Mark Johnson. Formerly the district’s high school principal, Galley has provided the district with “outstanding leadership,” Jones said.
“Not only does Matt think about our main goal of educational equity for all our students, but he also figures out how to involve all of our people in that mission,” Jones said. “Matt is great at distributing and sharing leadership with the team around him while holding us all accountable. Our community sees the value of our school system and the people who are responsible for it.”
New Sumas campus
Formerly one of the district’steachers on special assignment (TOSA’s), Sumas Elementary School Principal Sarah Condreay said the new Sumas Elementary School “has been so much fun to settle into.”
“I love being a part of this school community,” Condreay said. “The building itself was very purposefully designed with collaborative spaces called learning pods. These spaces are being utilized all day long for small groups of children at every grade level to receive academic interventions in reading and math. It’s so much fun to walk by the pods and see how we use every space in our school to make sure each child is getting timely interventions, support, and adult connections.”
According to Condreay, the teachers at Sumas Elementary have made their classrooms “a home-away-from-home for themselves and their students.”
“You definitely get a sense of community and belonging when you walk into those spaces,” she said.
Condreay also said Sumas Elementary has hosted several events on campus that have brought in more people from the community.
“We’ve hosted a back-to-school carnival, Reptile Man, basketball practices in the evenings, and curriculum night,” Condreay said.
Sumas Elementary was also the site of a community dinner near Thanksgiving to remember the one-year anniversary of the flood.
Embedded professional development
A school year is akin to half the previous year, the other half the current year. For that reason, Galley said the school year “can seem like two separate years in one.”
When asked which accomplishments he was most proud of in 2022, Galley mentioned two programs put on hold at the start of the COVID-19 school closures in March 2020: K-5 learning labs, and the new teacher induction program.
With Megan Vigre’s transition from Sumas Elementary School principal to the district’s director of teaching and learning, K-5 learning labs are now in her capable hands, as well as the hands of TOSA’s Jenn Niemann, Barbi Som and Augie Potter.
Galley explained that the four educators have “mapped out embedded professional development for literacy and math for the entire year.”
“The labs involve 1-2 grade levels at a time and are usually half-day blocks,” Galley said. “The classroom teachers work with each TOSA on a planned topic/content, then spend time in a classroom putting that topic/content to practice, and then discuss the effectiveness and possible improvements. The ultimate goal being to improve teaching practice and student learning.”
According to Galley, the purpose of the new teacher program is to support new teachers, especially the ones who are new to the profession, as they progress through the year.
As director of teaching and learning, Vigre said that the new teacher program afford educators the opportunity to “unpack what you would see, hear, feel in a classroom that is proficient.”
“Teachers reflect on an area for growth and design some step-by-step instructional moves to improve instruction each time we meet, reflecting on the goal from the time before,” she said.
In the past three years, Nooksack Valley Schools has close to three dozen new teachers who are new to the profession, according to Vigre.
What’s in store for 2023?
In the Nov. 8 general election, Nooksack Valley voters supported a resolution to rearrange board director districts from five director districts to three director districts and two at large director districts.
With a school board election scheduled for this year, the new arrangement should make it easier to find interested people to serve the district, Jones said.
“As we move into 2023 we look forward to keeping first things first: teaching and learning,” Jones said. “We are proud of our facilities, our athletic teams, our music and drama departments but most of all we are proud of our students in our classrooms. they continue to shine and are a positive reflection of our community.”
For Galley, 2023 is an opportunity to “finalize work we have been doing around student voice and community engagement to develop a vision for student experience.”
“We want to get closer to the classroom with our aspirations and articulate this in a vision statement that is a holistic description of what we want students to feel and encounter over the course of their time at school,” Galley said. “We feel now is the time to reach out and talk to students, ask for their input, and make changes where we can.”
Looking into the new year, Vigre said Nooksack Valley will continue with the K-5 labs and new teacher seminars, as well as ongoing professional development through early release times at all levels.
“We have teachers learning and growing in many ways across the district,” Vigre said. “Just like our students.”
-- Contact Bill Helm at firstname.lastname@example.org.