As indicated by the big yellow buses and crowds of children, school is in full swing in Camas and Washougal.
From kindergartners with shiny lunch boxes to high schoolers taking their first Advanced Placement classes, there is an air of excitement about a new year.
“School has started out great,” said Aaron Parman, Helen Baller principal. “Our enrollment has increased about twenty-five students this year.”
A new addition to Helen Baller is Zola, a yellow labrador retriever and trained therapy dog. She was introduced to eager students at an all-school assembly on Friday.
The school also has several new human staff members, including Jo Candelore, associate principal, Scott Bristol, a fifth-grade math and science teacher; Natalie Burkard, second-grade, and Jesse Parbon, P.E.
New superintendent Jeff Snell enjoyed his “first” day of school as head of the district, where the student count is now 6,999.
“The start of the school year is such an fantastic time of excitement, anticipation and hope,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that goes into getting ready for the school year, from both staff and families. It’s such a great feeling to walk through the schools and see all of the students in their new classes ready for the year. I’m looking forward to the amazing stories that will come from each student as the year unfolds.”
In Washougal, Hathaway Elementary has 25 more students than last year.
“Things are going really well,” said Principal David Tudor. “We had a great turnout for our back to school night. Several classrooms had over 80 percent parent participation.”
To make things easier for incoming kindergartners, the school used a “staggered start,” with students coming in thirds Wednesday through Friday.
“This gives our four kindergarten teachers an opportunity to meet with students in very small groups, get to know students, and develop classroom rosters and instructional plans for students,” Tudor said.
The school district added one kindergarten and one first-grade teacher at Hathaway, along with two, full-time reading support specialists and another behavioral support specialist.
The school is also implementing a healthy lifestyle policy to reduce the amount of sugar and salt students are consuming, especially in classroom celebrations.
“For me, the most important new initiative is our ‘Strive for 5!’ attendance campaign,” Tudor said. “Last year, the average number of absences for a Hathaway student was about 12.5 days. Research shows that students are at-risk for negative educational outcomes if they miss 10 or more days of school. We decided it was really important to raise awareness about attendance and to have a very ambitious goal of students missing five or fewer days of school.”
Superintendent Mike Stromme had the opportunity to visit all of the district schools on the first day. He noted that the official head count was 3,188 students.
“It was nice to see students excited to be back in the classroom with friends eager to learn,” he said. “Students were busy with teachers and volunteers receiving tours of their school and spending time getting to know new classmates.”