WASHINGTON STATE SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND
BOARD OF TRUSTEES
June 19, 2020
Board Members Participating: Greg Szabo, Brent Stark, Keri Clark, Reg George, Nancy McDaniel, Dennis Mathews, and Lily Clifton.
Board Members Absent: Berl Colley
Ex-Officio Members Participating: Jim Eccles (Washington Federation of State Employees Local #1225), Joleen Ferguson (Washington Council of the Blind), Marci Carpenter (National Federation of the Blind of Washington), and Krista Bulger (Parent Representative).
Ex-Officio Members Absent: Stephanie Face (Teacher Representative).
WSSB Staff Members Participating: Mr. Scott McCallum (Superintendent) and Janet Kurz (recording secretary).
June 19, 2020 – 12-1:15pm
Nancy called the meeting to order at 12pm. Nancy started the meeting by congratulating the class of 2020 and the great performance for commencement.
Approve board meeting minutes of May 7, 2020. Keri moved to approve the minutes as submitted; Reg seconded the motion. The minutes were approved unanimously.
Scott reported that all staff pivoted very well to the COVID-19 stay-home/stay healthy initiative. The food service department has been preparing and sending out food to students who are on the free and reduced lunch program. Due to the hard work from staff, students did not miss one day of instruction and ended up receiving additional days of instruction due to the extension of the regular school year through June 18.
The agency is continuing its work on updating the Strategic Plan. A second round of stakeholder feedback was just requested for internal and external stakeholders.
In April, Scott completed his superintendent’s program through Washington State University (WSU). Scott felt this was a wonderful learning opportunity and the connections that were made with fellow classmates across the state were very strong. The WSSB will be a learning site in the future for WSU which will provide the opportunity for 50+ program participants, around the state, to learn more about the WSSB programs and services.
The WSSB was mandated to do a ‘budget exercise’ whereby we had to identify a 15%, or $1.391 million-dollar reduction plan. The WSSB is extremely fortunate to have a healthy reserve account, along with tuition paying students from the state of Oregon. Due to those factors, we can lean on those funds heavily. However, with the large amount of cuts, this does impact staff. After the communication was shared with the impacted staff, we learned that this was an ‘exercise’. The Office of Financial Management (OFM) sent out instructions that the 15% reduction should be considered our ‘baseline’ for reductions in the next biennium. In addition, we learned that all state employees will be placed on furlough for 9 days starting in July.
The WSSB graduation ceremony was held virtually today. The ceremony was pre-recorded, and Scott commended our Director of Education, Sean McCormick, for doing a wonderful job.
Through the state’s capital budget, the Learning Independence for Today and Tomorrow (LIFTT) building is in the design and demolition phase. There is a little over one million dollars available for this phase of the project. Scott and Dave Zilavy, Facilities Manager, are working with the Department of Enterprise Services (DES) to identify and interview qualified architects for the building. At a recent meeting, there were 58 architects who expressed an interest in bidding the project.
In June of each year, we are required (by policy) to present the Betterment Account investments to the board. Due to the recent downturn in the economy, the funds have taken a hit. We are considering the recent volatility in the accounts and will align our funds according to the policy.
Scott thanked Nancy for her two-years as Chair of the Board. Scott thoroughly enjoyed working with her and her style of leadership. Nancy has been a huge supporter of our school. Nancy commented that it has been her distinct pleasure serving on the board.
Keri stated how much she appreciated the communication that the WSSB provides and Scott’s commitment to educating future leaders in the superintendent program regarding the services that the WSSB provides. Keri feels that what Scott is doing is relevant and will have a positive impact for future students. Scott said it is an honor to do what he does.
Jim remarked that on March 13, when the decision was made to send students home, our IT and assistive technology folks did an outstanding job making sure that every student had a device and it was equipped with proper technology and Zoom capabilities so that distance and continuing learning did not miss a beat. Jim felt it was a confusing time but, on another level, it was done methodically. Scott remarked that there were challenges with some families not having hot spots for connections and that the Vancouver Public Schools assisted us in acquiring several that we were unable to purchase. Scott commented that every staff member pitched in and that the Social Emotional Learning component for students was a priority to ensure that our students’ needs were being met.
Jim commented on WSSB’s Outreach Orientation & Mobility (O&M) instructor, Tracy Spohn’s Podcasts entitled “Homebound for Adventure”. These are designed for students who are receiving instruction at home. This series has been picked up and complimented from people nationwide.
Keri expressed her frustration regarding her daughter’s school district and lack of communication. Keri feels that the work that the WSSB does is so important. Keri stated they received a two-minute video, and no technology. Marci said she is sorry to hear that and unfortunately has heard that same sentiment from many families. Marci feels that it is extra special that WSSB students got technology and was able to maintain connections.
Reg said it was good to hear that the WSSB provided the technology to students and that the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) is working through similar issues as they are moving their programs to a virtual platform this summer. The DSB has twenty-four (24) students enrolled. Scott commented that WSSB students are allowed to keep the technology over the summer.
Scott reported that it is our goal to bring the students back to campus this fall, however there are a number of risks that will need to be mitigated. Currently, our biggest risk to consider is transportation. Our goal is to not share transportation with the Washington Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth (CDHY) to lessen the risk of exposure to COVID-19. This proposal will cost more money and will require re-negotiating our charter bus transportation contract with DES. We are also considering using our own transportation to get students back to the East side of the state instead of using airlines. Another option being looked at is having the students stay on campus for longer periods of time. Scott is requiring that all staff and students must wear masks while on campus and maintain six-feet distance and if staff must physically assist a student they may have to wear gloves, etc. In addition, to minimize exposure, we are considering not allowing volunteers on campus next school year.
Scott strongly believes in the programs we provide on campus and some are difficult to provide remotely. Scott will share our plans for reopening this fall with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the Board of Trustees, however the Governor’s office has the ultimate say-so. Scott is open to suggestions and feedback.
Marci appreciates everything Scott and the staff are doing and due to the nature of having medically fragile students, is thankful that we have the online learning option and hearing how successful it has been. Marci asked if we are considering using scent-free sanitizing and cleaning equipment for people who may be sensitive to scents. Scott stated that we will and will follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Department of Health (DOH) requirements. The WSSB is currently procuring foggers, disinfectants, etc. Scott said he anticipates some staff and families may be uncomfortable with returning this fall and our plan is to address each situation individually.
Election of Officers
Nancy nominated Greg as chair; Brent seconded the motion; the motion passed unanimously. Greg said he would be honored to be the Board chair.
Greg nominated Brent as vice-chair; Lily seconded the motion; the motion passed unanimously.
Education Committee: Chair-Brent; members Keri, Dennis, and Jim
Buildings and Grounds Committee: Chair-Nancy; members Greg, and Joleen
Management Committee: Chair-Greg; members Brent and Nancy
Legislative Committee: Chair-Marci; members Reg, Lily, and Dennis
Nancy stated that on-campus board meetings may not be possible due to COVID-19 risks and budget restrictions. Janet asked if Zoom meetings were possible instead of conference calls. Discussion was held regarding how to perform the buildings and grounds walk-throughs. Janet offered to assist in setting-up audio and video tours for the committee. Marci said she is in the high-risk category and will be participating virtually until there is a vaccine. Reg asked if our by-laws allowed for electronic voting. Scott said he was comfortable with electronic voting due to the fact that the board is advisory.
Lily asked Scott if we have the ability to renegotiate the union contracts if the school year was altered (i.e. keeping students on campus longer). Scott said we will have to work through that and that there are two unions that we work with. OSPI has asked us to remain flexible in how we do things, but we must provide 180 days of school and average of 1027 hours and for high school 1080 hours.
Scott thanked the board for their commitment to the board and agency.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 1:15pm. The next Board meeting will be held virtually on September 25 at 11am.
Nancy McDaniel, Chair Scott McCallum, Superintendent
· WSSB Outreach Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVIs) and Orientation & Mobility (O&Ms) contracts went out a little later this year as the state’s Attorney General helped us add language to recoup contract amounts. This will help us cover our Outreach expenses.
· Joe Dlugo, TVI/COMS/Stephen F. Austin University (SFA) mentor, helped shape the new and final Stephen F. Austin cohort. There are 7 people in the cohort from Kent, Renton, Seattle PS, Issaquah, Spokane, Bellevue, and White Salmon.
· Outreach used the school closures as a way to become even more cohesive. We met on Zoom at least monthly for Outreach updates and we met for social hours throughout the remainder of the school year. We have also created several channels to connect using Teams and Slack.
· Outreach continues to produce amazing work though the COVID-19 school closure. Tracy (Outreach O&M instructor) is finishing up with her ‘Home Bound for Adventure’ podcast. It is being recognized nationally. Bruce (WSSB Assistive Technology Specialist) has made numerous training videos that have been posted on the WSSB website. He is also updating technology manuals. Several of the teachers have presented or will be presenting virtually on webinars and at conferences.
· Two of the Outreach staff are working toward their Certified Assistive Technology Instructional Specialist for People with Visual Impairments (CATIS) through University of Massachusetts- Krista Bulger and Joe Dlugo.
· We have been working with Dr. Kathryn Botsford to create a Functional Vision Learning Media Assessment form that will be used across WSSB staff Outreach and On Campus. This will allow our evaluations to be consistent. The group plans to create tutorials on how to use the document and present a virtual training.
· We are planning for next school year and determining caseloads. We plan to begin next year with the same number of people in Outreach, 9 TVI, 7 TVI/O&M, 1 O&M, Bruce TVI/O&M/Technology Specialist and 2 Para/Braillists.
· Our final Outreach meeting was held virtually on June 5. It was wonderful to connect with everyone, but not the same. We are such a cohesive group and we thrive on connecting and support from within our team.
· 2020 Summer Institute (SI) has been cancelled. At this time there is not a virtual SI training planned. This is because of the nature of the event (hand-on), the paid staff, and planning.
· On-Campus Total (grades 6-12): 61
o 56 Comprehensive students 6- 12 grade
o 5 Registered distance learning
· Short Course Students (Year to Date): 24
School campus closure on March 13 threw the school’s programs in a tailspin that required significant pivoting. The health crisis required our school to implement remote emergency teaching practices. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) calls this Continuous Learning via distance learning, yet if this were true distance learning, our schools and programs would have had much more time to plan and implement these programs. The following information is included in WSSB’s Continue Learning plan submitted to the OSPI. Educational priorities considered the holistic needs of students, using Maslow’s Hierarchy to assist students in a developmentally and emotionally appropriate transition from in-person instruction to an emergency, remote instructional model.
Priorities for students began with considering provisions to meet students' basic needs, including food delivery to homes, and an emphasis on relationship and belonging with peers. The social emotional well-being of students, families, and staff impacted each decision made in this continuous learning plan. The next step for engaging students included gathering a baseline understanding of student access, technology skills, and feasibility of remote instructional tools and communication.
As students and systems engaged the routine for increasing effectiveness of remote instruction, more rigorous instruction was designed based on our school improvement plan goals in reading, writing, and math literacy skills. With those areas prioritized, student schedules were built to address their comprehensive needs in a remote delivery format.
· Week of March 16, 2020 (1 week) Students used technology at home to log into Zoom for social emotional learning, connection, and video conference technology instruction
· Week of March 23, 2020 (3 weeks) Students began daily educational activities through school-wide, interdisciplinary, project-based learning (PBL) unit. Daily schedule included social time, morning assembly, PBL group collaboration/coaching time, mid-day social time, tutoring in reading and braille, music/art projects, daily fitness instruction, and independent living skills lessons. Each week ended with school-wide presentation of projects from groups via Zoom.
· Week of April 16, 2020 (through June 19) Comprehensive remote learning schedule implemented for students. Students schedules may include:
o Zoom Synchronous Classes:
§ English Language Arts/Social Studies
§ High school science
o Electives via Google Classroom and office hours
§ Social Emotional Learning
o Tiered supports for
§ Math lab
§ English Learners
o Specialized Services
§ Individualized learning plans were developed for students in specific areas where instruction and service delivery vary significantly from the students Individualized Educational Program (IEP)
Youth Service Specialist (YSS)-Marcie Ebarb
· YSS assisted in the planning of several events scheduled to take place in March 2020 - including WSSB’s Career Fair, the “So You Want a Job” youth conference and a Pacific Northwest Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (PNWAER) Conference presentation. Unfortunately, the events had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
· YSS’ regular face-to-face program coordination with WorkForce South West Washington’s Partners in Careers (PIC) was put on hold while virtual programs were put in place. Student internships (with established payroll services funded by the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB)), job shadows, business tours and soft skills classes had to be cancelled. PIC staff provided virtual after school workshops that included a financial literacy series, a workshop on resume development and informational interview sessions with community businesses before the school year ended.
· YSS continued to work with contractor Melissa Small in the provision of generalized career exploration for youth with additional disabilities-funded by DSB. Services were put on hold until arrangements were made for Ms. Small to begin working remotely with several WSSB students before the school year ended.
· YSS completed the “Putting Your Best Foot Forward Trainer Workshop” sponsored by Mississippi State University National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision. Completing this training provides access to a curriculum they created to assist in preparing youth with visual impairments for the world of work.
· YSS continues to participate in the quarterly meetings of the Blind Youth Consortium, the DSB South Region and DSB Youth Services staff. YSS has also begun participating in the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) Transition Coordinators’ monthly meetings. Participants in this meeting are transition coordinators working in Centers for Independent Living around the country. YSS attended Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings to promote DSB youth and adult services for students who have not yet applied for Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services and made a presentation about these services at the February Parents Group Meeting at WSSB.
· In March, YSS participated in the Youth Employment Solutions (YES) program review to determine eligibility for summer programs. Due to COVID–19 restrictions, face-to-face summer programs had to be cancelled. YSS has been working with DSB YSS staff since this decision was made, to develop a 6-track virtual pre-employment summer program that will be available to youth between the ages of 14-21. The program will be 5 weeks long–beginning July 6 and ending August 7, 2020. Each track will meet on Zoom 1 day per week for approximately 2 hours that will include some short assignments for youth to complete prior to the next meeting. The YSS conducted a survey (via survey monkey) to poll youth known to DSB in that age range for their areas of interest. The track development was based on the survey results. Topics will include self-advocacy through song and podcast, financial literacy, career exploration (2 tracks with the second geared toward youth with additional disabilities with a guardian/caregiver component), a professional panel and a moderated social hour. Contractors (including PIC staff and Melissa Small), non-profit agencies and successfully employed adults with visual impairments will provide some of the content for the program. The YSS team is hopeful that creating meaningful virtual summer pre-employment experiences will translate into programming that can be used in the future to reach youth in more remote areas.
Health Center-Robin Williams
Wow, what a difference a few months make!
· The health center had to cancel the Pacific University Dental Mobile visit due to COVID-19.
· Nurses worked with residential staff to distribute remaining student medications in health center.
· Nurse Robin and Justine have completely organized and labeled the entire health center.
· Nurse Justine has done a fabulous job updating all first aid kits, disaster bags and updated med cabinets in the cottages.
· Nurse Justine is working on updating old health center policies and creating new policies/ procedures.
· Nurse Robin dug into the years of old student files in the records room and has separated out what we need to keep and what can be shredded. Awaiting confirmation from Janet regarding the record retention timeline before shredding commences.
Learning Independence for Today and Tomorrow (LIFTT)-Lori Pulliam
· LIFTT participants were sailing toward the ending of the winter term when most everything had to come to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. LIFTT was able to stay open until the winter quarter ended. Everyone went home for spring break not knowing at the time that they would not be back for the rest of the program year. Participants and staff have been learning new ways of working and taking classes remotely.
· Participants and staff have kept in touch through virtual meetings and phone calls, but the hands-on work of learning and practicing skills of adult independence have been minimal. It is hoped that the group can return late summer or in the fall to complete learning that was postponed. One participant was working with a Community Resource Provider (CRP) on job exploration and job search skills. This had to be postponed due to the health situation. Three of the participants and the Resident Advisor all took their college classes in the online environment. There was a learning curve with accessibility, communication and adjustment to a new reality, but they have all settled in and are making the best of it.
· We are very excited that the state approved our request for the design phase of the new building to house the LIFTT program as well as the regional office for DSB. We still have our fingers crossed that it doesn’t get caught in the upcoming budget cuts.
1. 2019-21 Operating Budget: We are on track to closing the year with a balanced budget. In Fund 19B, spending is slightly above revenue.
2. 2020 Capital Budget Supplemental: Our supplemental request for the design phase of the Independent Living Center ($1,192,000) and Campus Preservation ($655,000) was funded.
3. 2020 Operating Supplemental: Our request for $172,000 to hire an IT Customer Support professional to support the agency during relocation of the State Data Center/Cloud co-location was funded.
4. 2021 Operating Budget: In response to the state economy and financial outlook, the Governor directed state agencies under his authority to implement a freeze on signing new and amended personal services contracts and making nonessential equipment purchases. In addition, a freeze on hiring employees was also implemented. WSSB was specifically exempt from the hiring freeze.
In addition, we were also asked to complete an exercise and identify a specified savings of $1,391,000. Scott will speak more specifically about our proposed reduction plan.
5. Safety Net: We submitted a safety net grant application this year for over $400K. They will be making decisions on funding the week of June 13, 2020 and will know soon if we were successful in receiving funding.
6. Fiscal Year-End: As normal for this time of the year, we will be working on the usual close-out activities to close the year:
-Continue to closely monitor and track current year expenditures
-Year-end processing on various levels (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, Disclosure forms, Capital Asset Management report)
-Close out various grants and submit final reimbursements
-Prepare client service, facility use and tuition contracts
-Records storage and set-up vendor files for new biennium
· Deborah Supplitt – Substitute TVI - Outreach
· Justin Hedges - On-call Cook and Custodian
· Special ED Teacher – Irwin
· Museum Intern
· Substitute TVI
· On-call Teaching Assistant
· On-call Residential Life Counselor
· HR Managers Meeting – Facilitated by Franklin Plaistowe and Marcos Rodriguez
· Labor Relations Roundtable – Facilitated by the Office of Financial Management (OFM)
COVID-19 has impacted the ORC in several ways. Most staff are working remotely although Kandi Lukowski is working full-time in the office to continue braille production and answer the warehouse door for deliveries. Ian Goodrich is working on campus for Facilities 4 days a week with Fridays at the ORC for deliveries, warehouse duties and inventory.
We are fortunate that our prison program has remained open. The prison has implemented social distancing, so we have ½ a crew each day. The women rotate so that they are all still working although their individual hours are reduced by 50% which impacts the amount of braille transcription that we can handle. So far, we have managed to keep up with most projects.
We recently purchased the new Mantis Q40™ for the Instructional Resource Center. Here’s the description of the new device from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH):
Keep braille at your fingertips anytime, anywhere with the Mantis Q40, a Bluetooth® keyboard and 40-cell refreshable braille display. With the Mantis Q40, users no longer need to choose between a keyboard or a braille device – at the same time a student or professional is typing on the Mantis, the refreshable braille below the keyboard is providing a multimodal braille complement to the screen reader, making it easier to participate in, and succeed at, school or work. The Mantis can be used as a host or stand-alone device. Connect to other devices via USB or Bluetooth, or use the Mantis by itself to read books, edit and manage files, check the date and time, and make basic mathematical calculations.
Schools are busy requesting textbooks for next year despite not knowing exactly how school will be structured in the fall.
Demand for APH materials has also risen with school moving online. APH is able to ship directly to homes of students and/or teachers. Since April, 731 items have been shipped to 238 students around the state.
The APH Annual Census is complete and our numbers in Washington are the best ever. We had a grand total of 1,565 students for our census.
1. Our HVAC Control host, Barness Controls, (Dave Bartley) is in the middle of a system upgrade. We’ve installed new software on the main server, replaced controls in the ORC, and will soon replace boiler controls in the Boiler House, the Stenehjem Building, and Irwin. We will also be adding intelligent real-time meters to Old Main, the gym, and Irwin School that help alert us to and troubleshoot problems. Project total is about $30,000. We can expect energy savings due to several upgraded monitoring features.
2. The Cottage Renovation capital project is now in contract. We expect the work to be completed by August 23, 2020, if not before, as with Summer programs closed, we may be able to move construction schedule forward. Job scope includes new floors in kitchens/entries, new ranges, wall ovens, dishwashers, kitchen sinks/faucets, bathroom faucets, LED lights in kitchens, and some new storage casework replacing the old and unused computer desks.
3. Old Main will be getting 16 more interior doors retrofitted with card swipe access. This will greatly simplify rental access by eliminating key security vulnerabilities.
4. During these COVID times staff members who’ve run out of meaningful work (mostly online training) from home have safely been working on campus catching up on deferred maintenance relating to grounds, cleaning building exteriors, pressure washing hardscapes, painting, and cleaning and organizing spaces. Most people are working outside of their typical duties, out of doors, and have been enjoying the change.
5. With campus unoccupied, we are seeing a decrease in utilities of about 50%. Utilities normally run about $10,000 per month, so the savings since shut down are in the neighborhood of $5,000 per month. These are rough calculations, and the savings are increasing as the weather warms.
6. The COVID situation delayed delivery of the Peace Pole. We are expecting it and the associated commemorative plaque by mid-June.
7. You may have noticed some plantings and rock work on the south side of Irwin School breezeway. This is John Fleming’s (WSSB’s landscaper/plant mechanic) creation. He will continue with some plantings that will have tactile or fragrant interest for our BVI community.
8. During his Stay Home-Stay Safe time, Brian Kindblade (WSSB’s plant mechanic) fabricated a planter box and topiary armature that will spell out WSSB in greenery. In the coming month we will be installing this between Irwin School and Stenehjem Building to hide the green electrical junction box. The work is moveable for electrical access.
9. Regarding COVID measures: we have purchased and will begin installing higher grade air filters to help with indoor air quality; when staff and students return we will be following recommendations for increased outside air and air flow duration in HVAC systems; we are in line to purchase a fogging disinfection backpack and handheld device to ease labor burden and increase disinfection effectiveness across campus. These devices are expected in mid-August; we have ordered Plexiglas sheets for fabricating shields wherever staff has high interaction with the public, including along the cafeteria serving line; we are in the midst of following multiple agency guidelines to develop a hazard assessment and cleaning plan, and to develop educational materials for when staff returns, to include signage.
Update on supporting infants and toddlers including their families through COVID:
The WSSB Birth to 3 Program has accepted the challenge of supporting families virtually head on and have learned some very critical lessons that make us better early intervention (EI) providers. We started doing exclusive virtual home visits on March 16. A week later, the Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT), our Part C State Lead Agency, suspended all in person home visits until June 30. However, this date is expected to be extended into the fall. Currently we are serving all of our families through Zoom visits or other video conference tools determined by individual EI agencies, but a handful (about 5) families have turned down virtual visits. We are maintaining our contact with them through phone calls and texts on a regular basis. Overall, we have received positive feedback from families about this service change.
In addition to upgrading our technology skills, we have also upgraded our coaching skills. Since (EI) is a family centered and routine based approach, a coaching focus with parents rather than direct instruction to children can be directly translated to virtual home visits. Our team has committed to honing our coaching skills and this has made us better! Also, as we learn to do effective virtual home visits, it will allow us to diversify our services to families, even after the COVID crisis is over. Our team is feeling very positive about these outcomes.
Each month I will provide, in bulleted format, a list of the more significant activities of the Superintendent’s office. For each month, I will describe a highlight or two in more detail. If at any point you would like more information or have questions, please do not hesitate to call, email, or schedule a time to meet in person. I want to make sure that you have the information that you need to advise and guide what we do to meet the needs of students who are blind or visually impaired throughout Washington State.
March 9: WSSB COVID-19 Response Committee meeting
March 11: Meeting with Superintendent of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) re COVID-19
March 11: Meeting with Governor Inslee, OSPI and King, Snohomish and Pierce superintendents
March 12: COVID-19 meeting with administrators at the Center for Deafness and Hard of Hearing Youth (CDHY)
March 12: Labor/Management communication meeting (WSSB and Washington Public Education Association)
March 12: WSSB COVID-19 Response Committee meeting
March 12: Washington Sensory Disability Services (WSDS) meeting
March 13: Students sent home for the school year due to COVID 19
March 16: WSSB COVID-19 Response Committee meeting
March 17: Agency-wide Zoom meeting with staff
March 18: Meeting with Superintendent of the Ohio State School for the Deaf and Blind
March 18: Emergency protocol committee meeting
March 20: Council of Schools and Services for the Blind (COSB)-COVID-19 meeting
March 24: COOP (Continuity of Operations Plan) meeting
March 24: Staff reassigned to their home offices
March 25: Zoom check-in with WSSB students
As you all know, March is marred with the beginning of the end of on-campus programs for the 2019-20 school year due to the spread of COVID 19 across the state and nation. We were quick to establish a COVID response team that included leadership from Irwin, LIFTT, residential programs, health center, facilities and maintenance, and human resources. Initially, before the closure, we met daily to discuss what actions were necessary to keep all students and staff safe with the limited information we had at that time. We also remained in close contact with our friends at the school for the deaf and Governor’s office. Rick Hauan, Executive Director of CDHY, and I were provided an opportunity to advise the Governor’s office before the decision was made to send all students and staff home and pivot to remote (aka continuous) learning.
Such a decision was not made lightly, and we prioritized the safety and well-being of students and staff in our decision-making process. Fortunately, we had one day advanced notice of the closure and had some time to prepare and make sure students knew how to log on and access Zoom. Zoom was our initial platform that we used to maintain engagement with most children and families. All students were sent home with their devices (computers, laptops, braille displays, etc.). Teachers planned project-based learning opportunities which were initially implemented by support staff and leadership. I encouraged school leadership to prioritize social emotional learning opportunities for all students over academic rigor as we adjusted to our new normal. Once certified instruction staff returned from an extended break due to contract restrictions and the state’s requirement to add two weeks to our school calendar, some of our attention was able to be more focused on the curricular needs of our students. I am extremely proud of all WSSB staff during this unprecedented time. Everyone demonstrated flexibility, creativity, and an unyielding commitment to providing the best education possible during very challenging and unique times.
Throughout the closure, we have continued to send food boxes to students whose families qualify for free and reduced lunch. Our staff sent boxes and boxes of instructional materials and have spent countless hours honing their craft in a different way. A skeleton crew have maintained the facilities, while most people worked from home. It has not been easy for anyone, but WSSB staff and students have risen to the challenge.
April 1: Meeting with department managers (education-based) re memo from OSPI (Supporting Inclusionary Practices during School Facility Closure)
April 6: Strategic Plan planning session
April 10-11: Final Washington State University superintendent cohort
April 14: Statewide COVID updates and collaboration (OSPI and Washington state superintendents)
April 15: Extension of the school year discussion with Rick Hauan, CDHY Director
April 16: Strategic Plan planning session
April 20: Portland State University (PSU) consortium partner meeting
April 21: Statewide COVID updates and collaboration (OSPI and Washington state superintendents)
April 22: Meeting with Facilities Manager and Executive Assistant re status of outside facility renter groups
April 23: Strategic Plan planning session
April 24: American Printing House for the Blind (APH) quota funds/spending plan meeting with Director of the Ogden Resource Center and Director of Outreach/Statewide Vision Consultant
April 27: Learning Independence for Today and Tomorrow (LIFTT) capital project meeting
April 27: Meeting with Oregon Commission for the Blind, Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) to discuss virtual training
April 27: Strategic Plan feedback session-board member
April 28: Strategic Plan feedback session-IT department
April 28: Strategic Plan feedback session-Food Service department
April 28: Statewide COVID updates and collaboration (OSPI and Washington state superintendents)
April 29: Strategic Plan feedback session-Buildings and Grounds department
April 29: Strategic Plan feedback session-Ogden Resource Center
April 29: Strategic Plan feedback session-Business Office/Human Resources department
April 30: Strategic Plan planning session
April 30: LIFTT capital project meeting
We have also been deeply involved in strategic planning before and during the closure. We have a core team that includes all members of the leadership team, with some additions, who roles specifically focus on providing education services to students who are blind or visually impaired. We have also greatly appreciated the help, support, and wisdom of Dennis Mathews as a core team member to represent the board. Throughout the strategic planning process, I have requested that we engage a variety of stakeholders to advise our work. As you know, each of you were provided an opportunity to provide input and feedback at various points in the process. Again, this work has not been easy. I appreciate the honest and deliberate conversations we have had as a core team and with stakeholders. Initially, we were meeting in person (pre-COVID), and continued to meet via Zoom. Throughout the process, our work has been facilitated by Jim Clark of Mass Ingenuity who was selected during the state-required bid process. Our process is slow and steady, with a goal of a new strategic plan for the agency by mid-August. I anticipate sharing the updated plan with all staff at the all-staff, welcome back in-service in the fall of 2020.
One minor highlight worth mentioning is that April marked the conclusion of the Superintendents program portion of my pursuit of a Doctor of Education Leadership from Washington State University. The Superintendent program was a two-year program with most credits applying towards my doctorate. The program was an incredible opportunity to learn from seasoned Superintendents about the ins and outs of the superintendency. Not only was the learning beneficial and worthwhile, I made incredible connections with current and future superintendents throughout the state. WSSB will continue to host this program for future cohorts and I will have the opportunity to share with them about WSSB and the amazing resources we provide across the state. I will continue to work towards the doctorate and expect about one more year of classes before moving into the dissertation phase of the program.
May 1: Strategic Plan feedback session-board member
May 4: Strategic Plan feedback session-Deafblind project
May 5: Strategic Plan planning session
May 5: Statewide COVID updates and collaboration (OSPI and Washington state superintendents)
May 5: Strategic Plan feedback session-board member
May 7: COSB Board meeting
May 7: Access for All – RPP meeting
May 7: Board of Trustees conference call
May 11: Meeting with Director of Business and Finance re budget cut mandate from OFM
May 11: Pacific Northwest Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (PNWAER) board meeting
May 12: Strategic Plan planning session
May 14: Meeting with Superintendent of the TSBVI re COVID-19
May 15: COVID-19 meeting with administrators at the CDHY
May 15: Meeting with CDHY administrator and Department of Health re residential programming and health concerns
May 18: Strategic Plan planning meeting
May 18: Budget reduction meeting with Director of Business and Finance
May 18: Conference call with Board of Trustees chair re June meeting agenda
May 19: Labor/Management communication meeting (WSSB and Washington Public Education Association)
May 19: Statewide COVID updates and collaboration (OSPI and Washington state superintendents)
May 21: Meeting with Director of On-Campus programs re graduation ceremony
May 26: Statewide COVID updates and collaboration (OSPI and Washington state superintendents)
May 27: Microsoft Virtual Ability Summit
May 27: WSSB COVID-19 Response Committee meeting
May 28: Microsoft Virtual Ability Summit
May 29: Strategic Plan planning session
Not represented above is the increased regularity in which superintendents from this region and statewide came together to support each other in our response to COVID 19. Every week I have been meeting with superintendents on the local, regional, state, and national level to inform our efforts and future direction. Throughout this time, I mostly worked from home with daily or weekly trips to campus to sign papers, deliver mail, check facilities, and make sure our campus remained safe and secure. Honestly, this has been one of the most challenging situations of my life and I am thankful for the excellent and ongoing support of so many staff. As always, I am especially grateful for the amazing support that I receive every day from Janet Kurz.
While certainly not a highlight, late May was also when we were directed to outline the impacts of a proposed 15% cut to our general fund. As you are aware, this exercise was extremely frustrating and anxiety provoking for everyone involved. To make matters even more challenging, I misinterpreted the direction we received. My communication to all staff regarding this matter was shared with you at the same time it was shared with staff. We continue to explore alternative options related to the negative impact that the pandemic has had on Washington’s economy. While I do expect that we will be directed to make cuts to our agency budget, it remains unclear how deep those cuts may be. We have submitted our required 15% reduction plan to the Office of Financial Management (OFM), which, along with the cut plans of all other state agencies, are available to the public on the OFM website.
June 2: Strategic Plan planning session
June 2: Statewide COVID updates and collaboration (OSPI and Washington state superintendents)
June 3: WSDS budget update meeting
June 8-12: APH Educational Products Advisory Committee (EPAC) meeting
June 15: Strategic Plan planning session
June 16: Statewide COVID updates and collaboration (OSPI and Washington state superintendents)
June 17: Eighth Grade promotion ceremony
June 18: Awards ceremony-students
June 19: Commencement ceremony
June 19: Board of Trustees-conference call
As I write this update, graduation looms ahead. That, I am sure, will be the highlight of the month. However, a highlight as of this writing is that our proposed construction of the new LIFTT transition center remains on schedule. Over the last several years we have received support from the Governor’s office and legislature to keep this project moving forward. You may recall that we have completed a feasibility study and pre-design process for this new building. We are moving into the design phase which will involve the demolition of the old Ahlsten building to make way for, what I like to call, Independence Hall. We had 58 participants from architectural firms at our pre-bid meeting for the project. Independence Hall is the proposed new home for the LIFTT program as well as our friends from the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) who currently rent space on the second floor of Old Main. If this project comes to fruition, the previous space utilized by LIFTT will become temporary housing for parents of students in the 6-12 programs and/or itinerant staff visiting WSSB for a meeting or training. The space currently utilized by DSB is being considered for the new home of the Donaldson Museum currently housed in the basement of Old Main.
In accordance with our Investment Policy for Betterment funds, I must report the status of our investment(s) compared to the targets set in the policy. Like last year, we are a few percentages out of our minimum and maximum asset targets. Given the current market volatility we have not rebalanced from fixed income assets to equity assets.
Finally, our goal for next year is to do whatever we can to bring students back to campus. We have a long road ahead of us with many unknowns. We continue to plan for the safe return for staff and students in the fall. One of our biggest challenges, as of this writing, is how we will safely provide transportation for students from all regions of the state with all of the necessary precautions in place to reduce the risk and maintain safety for students and staff. We have our work cut out for us, but I am optimistic for a return to campus in the fall.
I will conclude this very lengthy report with a sincere Thank You to Nancy McDaniel for serving as the board chair for the last two years. Nancy, your calm and collected demeanor, sense of humor, and caring ways are greatly appreciated. Thank you for your wonderful support and guidance. Because of people like you, WSSB continues to be a very special agency that positively impacts the lives of everyone who engages with our agency. Thank you.
Meetings with department managers and administration team
PFBC board meetings
Executive Cabinet meetings
Goal Council meetings
Clark County and Regional Superintendent meetings
NWABA Board meetings
UEB committee meetings
Oregon Commission for the Blind Board meetings
Washington Sensory Disability Services meetings
Washington DeafBlind Advisory Council meetings