While students enjoy the last weeks of summer as a chance to sleep in late, enjoy the sunshine and soak up a fleeting summer break, the Renton School District is ramping up for the start of the 2018-19 school year.
District Superintendent Damien Pattenaude and other leadership attended the first big event before the school year, the leadership retreat on Aug. 1 and Aug. 2.
There Pattenaude, in his second year as superintendent, sent a message to principles, district administrators and managers an important question: What difference will we make to students in the next 10 months, and to the communities we serve?
“We want to deliver on the things that we say we’re going to do, and so that’s really a huge focus for us,” Pattenaude said. “Not trying to take on too many things, but make sure that which we do take on we can handle the weight.”
The retreat is one of many events that will take place before the start of the school year. This one gave leaders in the district a chance to reconnect, get to know new faces, prioritize and get to listen to voices of students.
Hazen High School leadership students were able to lead part of the retreat, and Pattenaude said this year students really pressed leaders to be more open with each other and students.
Although students were given some sense of what is going on at the district level, they really allowed them to be creative and decide what they thought leaders in this school system needed to know, Pattenaude said.
“Normally (student-lead sessions), are around team building. They clearly had done some research. It’s one of the first times they really pressed us in that area,” Pattenaude said. “This is just reminding us to think creatively and be vulnerable, you know, we’re not machines. I remember I used to have a teacher and he’d always say, ‘Before I was a teacher, I was a man.’ So how do we take the time to really share who we are.”
A big component of Pattenaude’s remarks for the retreat were around equity, one of the three core values of Renton schools. Service and excellence, the other values, are intrinsically linked to notions of equity, he said.
Equity is defined by the district as removing barriers and supporting students. This year every elementary school will offer before and after school care, and the district will also be selling optional-to-purchase school supplies at a reduced cost to help remove financial barriers for families.
“If we want to really foster a system that creates more equitable outcomes for our kids, what do we have to do differently, knowing that it can be controversial,” he said.
That controversy can sometimes come up in talks of equity when there’s a perception is takes from some students to give to others. But Pattenaude pushes that each kid in Renton schools is important. He said it’s not about taking from, for example, his own kids, students in the district, but trying to open up opportunities for students with greater needs so they can realize what they’re striving for in their lives.
The retreat also focused on the strategic framework for 2018-19 school year, which will target issues like school safety and security, Renton Innovation Zone, social-emotional learning, science instructors and the opening Sartori Elementary School, and professional development for teachers and administrators.
“We use this acronym, GSD, get stuff done. I want to do, not just any stuff, but the right stuff that is gonna make a difference,” Pattenaude said.
For community members taking their kindergartners or preschoolers to Renton School District for that first day in September, Pattenaude said it goes by fast, and to savor the moment. He remembers the anxiousness that comes with dropping your kids off for that first day of school.
“Rest assured that there are staff who will be there that first day of school to greet them,” Pattenaude said. “I was a high school principal and we didn’t often talk about love. But one of the things I really believe is that when I drop my own kids off on that first day, I want my kids to go in, and I know I want them to learn, but I also want them to feel loved. That’s one of the things we talk about in the Renton School District, is treating each kid as if they were our own.
“We have over 2,000 outstanding staff in this district who are really committed to meeting the needs of those students. They will be ready to go and very eager, just as excited and nervous about the first day as some of those parents might be about dropping off their kindergartner.”