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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Selah High School Football Team Named 2A Academic State Champions For Fourth Consecutive Year

Throughout this fall, the Selah High School Varsity Viking Football Team has been featured in the highlight reels a lot.  After all, they currently hold a 6-2 record and sit in third place in the Central Washington Athletic Conference.  However, the “bigger” news for the Viking Football Team, which has built its program over the years to remain competitive in a very tough athletic conference, has been the dynasty it has developed—that which has been assembled by academic accomplishment.   
For the fourth consecutive year, the Selah High School Varsity Football Team, under the leadership of head coach Scott Ditter, has been named the Washington Academic State Champions for having the highest grade point average (GPA) among teams at the 2A level.  The award is presented by the Washington State Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA).  In earning the recognition during this 2015 campaign the football team had an average GPA of 3.401, and will be honored during the state championships in December. 
“I am very proud of the athletes and coaches involved with the Viking Football Program,” said Mike Lewis, Selah High School Athletic Director.  “To receive this award for four consecutive years exemplifies the commitment to excellence and accomplishment that has been established for the program.  These athletes work very hard on the field and in the classroom and represent the District’s core purpose of ensuring high levels of learning for students.”
 Each athletic season the WIAA State Academic Championship is presented to the sport specific team with the highest grade point average in each high school division.  The back-to-back-to-back-to-back academic crowns for the Viking Football Team highlights the success of Selah’s student-athletes and athletic programs which have been honored for academic success by the WIAA.  In addition to the Viking Football Team in recent years the following Selah High School Varsity athletic teams have also earned academic state championships at the 2A level:  Dance/Drill—2010; Volleyball—2011; Girls’ Track and Field—2012; Boys’ Golf—2012; Softball—2012; Dance/Drill—2014; Dance/Drill 2015; and Boys’ Golf—2015. 

Congratulations to the Selah High School Football Team for its fourth consecutive academic state championship!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Great Start! 

Well, the 2015-2016 school year is off to a great start!  I want to thank staff, students and parents for their patience as we’ve worked through some logistical issues associated with our newly aligned schools.  Change can be difficult when people are used to certain routines, but we want everyone to know that we are committed to continuing to find ways to work through any lingering issues during this time of transition. 

One of the exciting changes that we are implementing this year is our 1-to-1 Device Initiative.  Under this initiative we will be getting devices, such as Chromebooks, into the hands of every student for daily use to enhance their learning over the next three years.  In case you are wondering, a Chromebook is a small laptop running a Google based operating system. The devices are designed to be used primarily while connected to the Internet, with most applications and data living "in the cloud”.  In our first year of implementation we have targeted our middle school students to receive these devices.  During this past week these devices were rolled out to students and soon they will have the opportunity to take them home as well.

Over the course of this year we will be learning, along with the students, how to utilize these devices to their fullest.  As the year moves on, stay tuned for updates and more information about this exciting initiative.  Take care!  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Welcome to the 2015-2016 School Year!

As Superintendent of the Selah School District, I’d like to welcome you to a new year filled with promise, anticipation and exciting changes in the Selah School District.  My name is Shane Backlund and I am honored to be starting my 15th year in this wonderful district, the fourth as Superintendent.  This year when the doors open on the first day of school we will be ushering in a new era in Selah as the long-awaited realignment finally becomes reality.  This large-scale change, along with some outstanding new staff and a continued emphasis on building a culture of learning, are the foundation for what promises to be a sensational new year.
Realignment - In 2010, a group from throughout the district and community created a long-term facilities plan that laid out a full grade level realignment to the Selah School District contingent on the passage of a bond.  Selah voters did their part in February of 2012 with a resounding “yes” vote for a $31 million bond, and those funds were added to nearly $20 million in state matching monies to set the plan in motion.  Construction has been ongoing over the past two-plus years, and the first phases of grade level realignment began in the fall of 2014.  Now, with the completion of the brand new Selah Middle School this summer, the realignment is finalized.
Beginning with our youngest Vikings, the preschool program will begin the year in its new home at the Robert Lince Early Learning Center.  This building, located on the northeast corner of the old Robert Lince campus, will house our three and four year old programs.  A few blocks away, John Campbell Elementary takes on a new grade configuration and name.  Now called John Campbell Primary, this campus will see our kindergarten through second graders filling the classrooms.  Up the hill on Fremont is Selah Intermediate School.  This school will be home to our third through fifth grade students.  After much anticipation, Selah Middle School will be completed this fall and the district’s sixth through eighth graders will have a brand new building to call their own.  Finally, Selah Academy has relocated to classrooms on the old Robert Lince campus joining Selah Homelink to round out that location.  These changes, coupled with the move last fall of ninth graders to the renovated Selah High School campus, complete the district realignment plan that was developed in 2010. 
New Staff – Administrators were busy with hiring this past spring and summer as several new staff joined our team.  At the time of this article, there were over 50 teachers, support staff and administrators hired in the district.  We saw a large number of retirees this past spring and an influx of new money from the state aimed at reducing class sizes for our youngest students.  These two factors, along with normal attrition, made for a very busy hiring season!  We’re excited to get these new staff acclimated and part of our family here in Selah!
Culture of Learning – Over the past year and a half the district has placed an emphasis on strengthening our culture of learning.  The key strategy in this process was to create a set of guiding beliefs that could ground our work and bring the entire district community together.  These beliefs are as follows:
·         Strong character is at the heart of preparing our students for lifelong success.
·         Every student is worthy and capable of making meaningful contributions to his or her communities (classroom, team, home, etc.).
·         In a culture of excellence, every student graduates on time prepared for college and career opportunities.

This year the plan is to further bring these beliefs to life by identifying the accompanying behaviors for each belief and then reinforce, celebrate and hold each other accountable to these behaviors.  The behaviors that go along with our beliefs are what we call, “The Viking Way.”  We’re excited to continue to build upon this mantra of “The Viking Way” by involving more students, parents and community this year.  As an example of this, you’ll see some new blue and gold flags proudly displaying district logos lining the streets of Selah in the weeks ahead.  This is just one small step towards bringing an entire community together, focused on having a world-class school system for our kids.

In closing, I want to reiterate my excitement and optimism for the year ahead.  We are poised to do great things this year living life “The Viking Way.” 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Summer Message

It was a year of changes in the Selah School District as 2014-15 marked the beginning of a new era as Selah Middle School opened its doors to students in January of this year.  The new 115,000 square foot building was just one piece to the realignment puzzle which will be complete when school begins in the fall of 2015. 
As if the complete reorganization of the district wasn’t enough, the work of ensuring high levels of learning for all students was still the center of our focus during the year amidst many physical changes.  The foundation for this work was, and continues to be, an emphasis on creating a strong culture of learning in Selah.  To create this culture we began with creating belief statements to be our guides.  These statements, created by a district-wide culture team in the spring of 2014, include the following beliefs:

  • Strong character is at the heart of preparing our students for lifelong success.
  • Every student is worthy and capable of making meaningful contributions to his or her communities (classroom, team, home, etc.).
  • In a culture of excellence, every student graduates on time prepared for college and career opportunities.
 With these beliefs established, the work turned to bringing these beliefs to life so that they actually have an impact on learning for students.  To do this we began to identify the behaviors associated with our beliefs.  We call these behaviors aligned to our beliefs “The Viking Way” and have only scratched the surface with making this mantra more than just words on paper. 
As we look towards the new school year, we are excited about opportunity to give our district a revival with the newly aligned schools and The Viking Way as our foundation.  We will work at bringing our beliefs to life through the collaborative efforts of staff, students, parents and community.  We have a vision of making The Viking Way a community-wide movement that unites all of Selah because we know that strong schools and strong communities go hand in hand.
 In addition to our foundational work of strengthening our culture of learning, we have other initiatives under way that are outlined in our 3-Year Priority Plan created in 2013.  These initiatives include strengthening early learning in the district, expanding 21st Century learning experiences for all students, continuing to build upon a culture of collaboration through our focus on the CSL process, improving student learning through implementation of the new professional growth and evaluation system, and fulfilling the District’s facility plan of new construction and grade level realignment.  During the upcoming year we will be evaluating our success of these initiatives and revising our 3-Year Priority Plan as our current one gets set to expire.  Stay tuned for more information about how to be involved in this process in the months to come.

In closing, I want to share how proud I am to be a part of this district and community.  It’s the people in Selah that make this a special place and I’m very thankful to be a part of it.  I am looking forward to a new year with new opportunities for our students, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.  

Friday, April 3, 2015

Spring 2015 Culture Update

On Track
When we began this year our vision for creating a culture of achievement seemed simple enough.  It started by knowing that if we wanted to strengthen our culture we had to be intentional about it.  We viewed this as an ideal time for this work to help solidify who we are as a district.  We felt the timing was right for two reasons.  First, we have been undergoing some significant changes in education over the past few years, and with change comes uncertainty.  By rooting ourselves in our foundational beliefs as a district (created by the District culture team in June of 2014) we will have an anchor to help guide us through the change.  Second, the full realignment of the district and creation of new staffs provides an opportunity for us to use our beliefs as a foundation of creating “new schools” through the realignment process. 
As of this March, we have much to celebrate in striving for our culture of achievement and with a bit of refocusing we continue to be on track with this work. The refocusing consists of aligning our behaviors and actions with our beliefs.

There have been a lot of victories and successes to celebrate this year.  One of the most notable is that we’ve been able to bring together staff from throughout the District to engage in the work of creating a culture of achievement.  Susie Bennett, our District Culture Coordinator, has worked with every district group this year to help reinforce that every adult in this organization has an impact on our culture and ultimately the success of our students.  Staff from transportation, nutrition services, maintenance, custodial, district office, secretary group and technology have met three times so far this year to collaborate about improving culture.  It’s fun and inspiring to see these groups in action as they all work to make this a great place for student learning.
Another success is that each group and school now has a compact for excellence in place.  This is an important part of the process as it provides an agreement for how adults will work together within each building or department to do their best work and be their best selves to fuel our culture of achievement.    
One final success to share is our district Twitter account called @The_VikingWay.  It is a place to capture some of the actions and behaviors associated with our beliefs.  Check it out on the left side of our home page or at

Making Our Way
There is no blue print for creating a culture of achievement.  This is new and different work that not a lot of other districts are doing.  We know that large corporations like Boeing or Starbucks have people in their organizations dedicated to building culture within their companies, but for school districts it is unchartered territory.  Because of the newness, we’ve learned a few lessons.  What we do know is that as a district we value taking on challenges, exerting efforts towards improvement and overcoming obstacles.  It’s a growth mindset like this that helps us flourish.
One important lesson we’ve learned is that we must create clarity why we are doing this work, what it would look like at the end and the steps it would take to get there.  The thought is that we should always be looking to improve because we believe in a growth mindset; why wouldn’t we adopt this same philosophy with culture?  We intend to continue to provide clarity and rationale as we work though this exciting process. 

So, Just What is “The Viking Way?”
We’ve been using the term “The Viking Way” for a large portion of this year.  It has remained somewhat undefined by design, but it’s time to bring clarity to what this means.  Simply put, “The Viking Way” is the behaviors and actions that are aligned to our beliefs.  For clarification, our beliefs are as follows:
  • Strong character is at the heart of preparing our students for lifelong success.
  • Every student is worthy and capable of making meaningful contributions to his or her communities (classroom, team, home, etc.).
  • In a culture of excellence, every student graduates on time prepared for college and career opportunities.
Our beliefs can be remembered easily through three terms: character, contribute and college/career ready.  If anyone associated with our District behaves or acts in a way that exemplifies our beliefs, then we’d call that “The Viking Way.”  It’s that simple.

Clarifying the Vision
Our district leadership started the year with a simple vision for the culture work.  The vision was to unify our entire District and community around a common set of beliefs and then begin to identify behaviors and actions associated with our beliefs.  By the end of this school year every department and school will have an opportunity to internalize our beliefs.  Discussions about actions and behaviors aligned to our beliefs will be a point of emphasis as we learn what it means to make these words come to life. We want this idea to grow into our student body and our community.  If everyone has a solid understanding of the beliefs then our new schools, existing departments, and all involved with the Selah School District will have a similar foundation from which to grow.  As we head down the home stretch of the school year, our focus and vision is stronger than ever. 

The work that each and every one in this district is doing is important and appreciated.  These are challenging and invigorating times we face; however, if we face them together with a solid foundation we can and will improve learning for all.  

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Grading in Selah Secondary Schools by Shane Backlund

If you have a student in one of the secondary schools in Selah then chances are you’ve been exposed to some shifts in grading that the District has been involved with over the past couple of years.  This has been a challenging transition for all involved.  Grading is a very complicated topic that people are passionate and opinionated about.  The fact is that the traditional grading system – the one that most of us are used to – is outdated and needs a major overhaul if it is going to be used for its intended purpose.  What is that intended purpose?  It’s to clearly communicate to students their level of learning of the standards identified in every subject and class.  It sounds simple enough, but it’s actually very complex when you begin to peel back all of the layers.

Before I try to explain how we make this shift, I need to point out the first major hurdle that we have to overcome in trying to make a change to grading.  That hurdle is tradition.  Just about everyone educated in a public school system was graded with traditional methods.  It’s what we’re used to.  A traditional grading system was generally based upon points assigned by the teacher to assignments, projects, quizzes, tests, reading logs, attendance, effort, etc.  These points were then given a percentage which was converted to a letter grade (i.e. 86% is a B).  Sound familiar?   
There are many problems with a traditional grading system.  The most glaring is that the 100 point percentage scale, while familiar, is lopsided towards failure.  Anything percentage wise below a 59% is traditionally an “F”.  That’s a lot of the scale tipped towards defeat.  In addition, with a traditional system these percentages are often averaged across the term to get a final grade.  With the 100 point percentage scale, a “0” creates a hole that is hard to dig out of.  For example, if a student receives 100% on one assignment and then a “0” on the next, the average of that would be 50%...or an F.  Research is clear that this is not motivating for students and ultimately leads to a lack of desire to learn.  This isn't what we want to be communicating to our students. 

Wouldn't it make more sense to communicate to students in terms of specific skills and standards? Wouldn't they want to know with more accuracy what were their specific strengths and areas for growth?  That really is the essence of what we are trying to accomplish with our shifts in grading.  We want a system of grading that truly communicates to students what they know in terms of standards and skills.  What they actually know doesn't take into account factors such as effort, behavior or attitude; while those things are important, they have nothing to do with their knowledge of a standard or skill.  To accomplish this shift we need to communicate with students both what they have learned (the product) with how they are learning it (the process).  And, the product needs to be a large majority of what makes up their final grade.  This helps ensure that the grade truly reflects their knowledge and isn't padded with process pieces that don’t represent learning. 
By separating process and product, and then placing a heavy emphasis on the product, one might believe that we don’t value the accountability part of grading.  This simply isn't true.  Character skills such as responsibility and accountability are extremely important.  In fact, we know through our communication with the parents and community that these character traits do matter greatly.  Character building must continue to be part of our system by being taught, reinforced and celebrated.  We can do all that and still communicate to students clearly what they know.  We can and should be doing both. 

Where we should be focusing our accountability efforts is towards the learning.  By holding students accountable to the learning we work towards setting up a system that doesn't tolerate failure.  After all, if students fail then we fail.  It’s as simple as that.  So, how do we make students accountable to the learning?  We do it by not letting them opt out.  We do it by providing them with multiple opportunities to show what they know.  We do it by understanding that not all kids are going to learn at the same time and in the same way.  We do it by making the consequence for not doing the learning…actually doing the learning! 

Changing the mindset about what we’re ultimately accountable to – student learning – is another important piece of the puzzle in making a successful shift in grading.  I realize that this is a different way of thinking of things.  It’s another one of those traditional components of grading that we need to overcome.  In the traditional system, if you didn't do the learning you got a “0” or an “F”.  What we’re trying to accomplish is a system where we provide additional opportunities and insist that the learning happens.  This doesn't mean just handing a kid another test if they fail or allowing them to not take responsibility for doing work; it means that we provide additional opportunities and support, with accountability, for students to show their learning.  That’s what we hold them accountable to because that is why we exist as a school district…their learning!

One question that has arisen is, why now?  What was it that lead to the District making these grading shifts for our students?  As everyone knows who has a student in Selah, we have a Monday morning late arrival each week dedicated to collaboration for student learning, or CSL time as we call it.  Now in its fourth year, CSL time is a structured opportunity for teachers to work on 4 essential questions about student learning.  These include:
1)      What is it we expect students to learn?
2)      How will we know if students have learned?
3)      How will we respond when students do not learn?
4)      How will we respond when students already know it?

The foundational question in this process is question #1.  In this step the grade levels and/or departments work together to clearly identify what it is students should know and be able to do.  They accomplish this by clearly identifying the standards that will be learned for each grade, subject and class.  This process helps ensure that students are learning the same essential content no matter what grade level or subject they are in.  This creates consistency for students and allows teachers to use student results of these standards to help make decisions about future learning by working together.  Questions 2 through 4 address that part of the process.

When teachers spend time talking about specific standards and skills that students are learning, it is a natural next step to want to report to students and parents in a way that communicates this learning clearly.  This is difficult in a traditional system since all skills are typically lumped together to give a numeric grade.  For example, in a traditional system a student may be given a test that has 20 questions about their learning.  If a student receives 17 correct out of 20 then that would likely be translated into a percentage (85%) and grade (B).  That’s what we’re used to.  In the system we are working to create the student receives test results that provides feedback by standard or skill so that they know clearly what they mastered and what they didn't.  Again, teachers will then be able to use this accurate information to collaborate with colleagues on ideas for helping students who didn't learn specific standards or provide enrichment opportunities for students who clearly master standards. 

This specific reporting by standard, coupled with students having multiple opportunities to show their learning, are the heart of what we are trying to accomplish with our shifts in grading.  Again, several factors make this a difficult task.  It’s tough to overcome years of tradition and change peoples’ thinking about the grading process.  However, research is clear that if we do so then we will see large gains in learning for both students who struggle and for those who excel.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this column, I know that making these shifts has been a challenging transition for some students, parents and even staff.  As leaders we’ve learned lessons along the way and gained insight on how we can improve.  This is where we will focus our efforts.  Despite the bumps in the road, we know this is the right thing to do for students.  We will persevere and work harder than ever to get this right.   

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Construction and Realignment Update

Hello, everyone!  It’s been an outstanding start to the school year!  We have so many good things happening and a lot of changes to track!  The purpose of this communication is to update you on the construction projects and the realignment staffing process.  Here we go…
Construction Update
As of October 2014, Selah Middle School is over 80% complete!  Flooring and cabinets are being installed on the interior, while the exterior is in its final stages.  Furniture and fixtures will begin being delivered in November, with completion of the building on track for late December. 
Over the Winter Break crews from the District will be moving items from the old Junior High into the new building, and contractor crews will be putting together and installing furniture.  Current staff at Selah Middle School will welcome 8th graders onto the new campus following winter break on January 5th!  There will be some sort of Open House in February, with an official dedication of the new building set to take place in the fall of 2015.
Once the old Junior High is vacated in January of 2015, prep work will begin on that building to ready it for demolition.  In March of 2015 the old structure will come down and the bulk of the site work will begin.  Site work will include enhancements to the parking lot, drop-off and pick-up areas and athletic fields.  The new campus in its entirety will be ready for 6th through 8th graders in the fall of 2015.
Other Facility News
Sunset Building – Work will begin this winter on the space that previously housed District Administrative offices in the Sunset Building on John Campbell’s campus.  This space will be converted to five additional classrooms ready for use in the 2015-2016 school year. 
Robert Lince Site – Robert Lince Elementary will close its doors for good in June of 2015.  Once staff and programs have been relocated, the work will begin on that site to convert it to its new purpose.  The first phase will be done over the summer of 2015 when the District’s current preschool program will move to the “E” building at Robert Lince Campus.  This building will be the new “Early Learning Center” and house support for our youngest students.  The second phase will begin late summer 2015 and involve both the demolition of select buildings on the Lince Campus and the remodel of the current “H” building for housing District Administration.  This phase will be complete in time for the 2016-2017 school year.
Realignment Preparation

Realignment teams from each newly established grade band (P, K-2, 3-5 & 6-8) continue to meet to prepare for new configurations next fall.  Each team has been working on both logistical and cultural aspects of these new schools.  In January of 2015, more newly created staffs from each “Viking” building will begin to meet on a more regular basis in preparation for next year.  This is one of the major reasons we are focusing on “culture” in the Selah School District; we want each new staff to have the same solid foundation as they create their own “Viking Way” of doing business.