Association of Washington School Principals
Volume 3 – 2020-21
Be. Bold.
How Toppenish Rethought and Rescheduled
Kathryn A. Page
Continuous Improvement Coordinator, Toppenish SD
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture, Planning with Data, Improving Instruction, Managing Resources, Closing the Gap
When one finds themself in a pandemic, there are as many blueprints for building a plane while flying it as there are school districts. This article is not about the perfect blueprint. Instead, it is about shining a light on a mindset that surfaced in Toppenish School District during the pandemic of 2020 – a mindset that fueled our innovation and creativity to create our own unique blueprint to meet the needs of our students and staff.
You know them well, the common words and phrases we have all added to our repertoire: out of an abundance of caution, unprecedented, everchanging, challenging times, hybrid, remote, contact tracing, connectivity, etc. However, there are other words and phrases that have finally found their way into our everyday language and are what fueled our drive to, once and for all, upset the proverbial applecart. The phrases – farthest from educational justice, opportunity gaps, racial inequality, and transformative systems – coupled with a timely document, paved the way for a bold move.
Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction opened the door for Toppenish School District by providing districts with another option for a path. Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction, challenged all of us in his opening letter for the Reopening Washington School 2020 District Planning Guide to do the following:
Please take this opportunity over the next three months, to not just reopen schools, but to make changes you have wanted to make for years or to make permanent a practice you thought was a temporary response to the COVID-19 shutdown, but now you realize it’s simply a better practice.
For Toppenish School District, this meant intervening on behalf of our students, families, and staff with an urgency that rivaled the impact of a pandemic. This meant not waiting until the “coast was clear” or the pandemic had passed. Our students and staff needed a response, we needed to regain control over circumstances that felt uncontrollable. The realization quickly hit us that the typical summer school model couldn’t possibly be the fix or solution for what we were experiencing, and that we couldn’t, in good conscience, put off what we could find a way to do now. It also revealed to us the stark reality that summer school was really never the solution, pandemic or not. We had now established our “why” for “what” we needed to do, but still needed to grapple with the “how.”
Our bold move was born in August 2019 with reimagining a school calendar. We asked ourselves how to build a system that didn’t just allow for remediation, but provided a roadmap for acceleration. We needed to provide our secondary students with a clear path to recapture their credits in the here and now, address learning standards, and connect with their instructors. We needed to get a head start on providing recovery services to our students with disabilities, we needed to intervene for our students farthest from educational justice. Our “how” manifested itself in a calendar that changed the school day to 8.75 hours per day for four days each week. We gained precious instructional time above the requirement and were able to put into action our next bold move.
Seventeen days. It may not seem like a lot, but we are finding it has impacted us in countless ways we could not have predicted. Once OSPI cleared the way for a new approach to a school calendar, we went to work. Approximately 100 staff members, teachers and paraeducators, signed on to be part of our very own action research project that would take place from January 2021 to June 2021. It amounted to four months, 45.5 student hours, and four days of training for staff. It was and is what we affectionately call “Wildcat Academy.” Currently, Toppenish School District has 532 students in grades P-12 attending school on what is considered a day off and engaging in a Tier III intervention. Secondary students are completing courses and seeing their incompletes vanish.
Wildcat Academy: A preschool-12th grade Tier III intervention for students in need of the most powerful interventions. Skilled educators address the intensity and severity of student needs using data to inform instruction. Evidence-based resources and strategies are utilized in a thoughtful manner to accelerate student growth.
For our “why” to truly be addressed, we needed to find our students farthest from educational justice. Personal phone calls took place from every school campus to invite students to take part. Training was front-loaded for our staff on the resources and on deep, focused, data analysis. We took a bad situation and turned it into one filled with hope that served two purposes. It met the needs of our students and built capacity with our staff. Inviting staff to take part on their day off was not a hard sell. You see, our staff were just as much in need of purpose and hope as our students. Students and staff flourished under an unconventional response to an unconventional situation. What were the specifics for our blueprint?
“Wildcat Academy was a great opportunity. Now I am back on track and can take chemistry next year. I can spend time with family and friends and be able to work at my summer job since I took it during the school year.” — 17-year-old student, THS
  1. Determined our “why” and didn’t rule anything out when discussing the “what” and “how.”
  2. Required ourselves to ask “why not?”
  3. Invited staff to take part in something unique and special that would make a difference.
  4. Provided the training, materials, and support, while building in strategically placed training days every 4-5 weeks for staff to collaborate, reflect, analyze data, plan, adjust….and celebrate.
  5. Continually gathered feedback from those who were building the plane.
  6. Brought student voice to the table on day one.
  7. Brought back the notion of fun and friendly competition between schools where we currently have one school that reached 92.21 % attendance on a “day off”, barely beating another school coming in at 91.11% for attendance.
  8. Made it visible. Toppenish School District’s central office has a bulletin board that displays our weekly attendance, academic growth, and the continual uptick of numbers being crossed out and rewritten indicating the number of courses completed by our secondary students.
  9. Provided student and staff incentives to every building, postcards, “we missed you” door hangers, whatever it would take to encourage our students to join us on a journey.
  10. Tracked real-time data for daily attendance, academic growth, course completion, and number of incentives given by class, school, and district. We harnessed the power of perceptual data to inform our next moves.
Toppenish School District’s response to a pandemic took the expertise of every department, superintendent, director, principal, and staff member coming together to make it a reality. The unexpected benefits of our approach were numerous and will spill over into next school year. We currently have staff asking how this can exist next year, saying they feel like they are part of something special.
“Without this option I would be home struggling.” — 17 year-old student, THS
Hopefully, our story will provide some inspiration for you in your current reality as you reclaim the narrative for your school or district and design your response to whatever confronts you. Our recommendation? Be bold in the face of what challenges you to the core, keeps you awake at night, and forces you to reflect on your “why.” You see, the real trick to finding your bold move is in the questions you ask and the mindset with which you enter. Pose the question, “Why not?” and then take the steps necessary to make a difference.

Be. Bold.
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Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 3 – 2020-21