Walla Walla Public Schools
Week in Review - Feb. 18, 2022

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Governor Inslee announces end of school mask mandate starting March 21

Thursday afternoon Governor Jay Inslee announced that the indoor mask requirement for schools in Washington State is scheduled to end on March 21, 2022. Masks will be optional in Walla Walla Public Schools buildings for students, faculty and guests. Due to federal guidelines, masks will still be required on school buses after March 21.

“I want to thank all of you in advance for your diligence over the last year as it relates to the ongoing masking and safety requirements,” said Superintendent Dr. Wade Smith in a correspondence to staff Thursday afternoon. “I know it hasn't been easy, but our collective efforts have shown to be highly effective, resulting in very little onsite COVID spread as well as our ability to keep our classrooms and schools open even during Omicron's peak.”

Governor Inslee shared the March 21 date was informed by projections from scientists at the University of Washington, noting in about one month's time hospitalization rates are expected to recede sufficiently enough to permit relaxing of the current face masking requirements.

During the state-wide address, both the Governor and State Superintendent Reykdal reinforced that until March 21, masks will continue to be required for all students, staff and visitors as they currently are. This decision continues to be one that is not subject to local discretion.

Below is a list of FAQ's sent from State Superintendent Reykdal.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why was this change made?

Data show rates of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are declining rapidly in our state, and public health models show that, by mid-March, cases and hospitalizations are predicted to drop to levels we haven’t seen since last summer. Masks impact the learning environment, and with widespread access to vaccinations, our expansive school COVID-19 testing program, and rapidly declining cases and hospitalizations, it was time to rebalance the benefits and challenges of universal masking in schools.

Will schools continue testing students and staff who show symptoms of COVID-19?

Yes. This announcement has no impact on the COVID-19 testing program in our schools.

Does it make a difference if someone is vaccinated or not?

No. The statewide indoor mask requirements will be lifted for all students and staff on March 21, regardless of vaccination status. Masks may still be required for those who recently tested positive for COVID-19, were identified as a close contact for someone with COVID-19, or for other reasons identified by the Department of Health or a local health officer.

Will the vaccination requirement for school employees change?

The Governor has not announced any intention of changing the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for school employees.

What about unvaccinated employees who received a medical or religious accommodation, and their accommodation requires a mask?

Barring updated guidance from the Department of Labor & Industries or the Department of Health, employees with accommodations should work with their Human Resources department on next steps.

Can a school district require masks for their students and staff, even if the state isn’t?

Yes, school districts may require masking for teachers and students. However, OSPI strongly recommends that districts considering this requirement work in partnership with their local health jurisdiction to determine whether it is necessary. School district officials are not health experts.

What responsibilities does a school district have if there are confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a school?

School districts are required by state law to report cases and outbreaks to their local health officer (this requirement was in law long before COVID-19).

What if I want my student to continue wearing a mask?

Barring a local requirement for masks, students and staff will continue to have the option to wear masks at school, with the expectation that those decisions will be respected. Those decisions should not be used to make assumptions about their personal beliefs or their health status and should not be commented on. Districts should not tolerate bullying of any kind of students who continue wearing masks.

What is being done to protect students and staff who are at greater risk of COVID-19?

Public health experts continue to recommend full vaccination and masking for those who are at greater risk for serious COVID-related health issues. The most important mitigation strategy is to continue increasing the number of students and school employees who are fully vaccinated.

Why will masks still be required on school buses?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently requires all individuals on public transportation, including school buses, wear masks. Neither the state nor local school districts are able to change this requirement.

What would cause a local health officer to start requiring masks in schools again?

Local health officers have always had the authority in state law to require health and safety mitigation measures in schools when the situation warrants it, and that will not change. Health officers will continue to monitor community case counts and hospitalizations, and they may add new mitigation measures for schools if they deem it necessary.

No School Monday, Feb. 21 – President’s Day

• NO SCHOOL – Monday, Feb. 21: President's Day.
• Classes resume Tuesday, Feb. 22.
• Have a safe and happy three-day weekend!

Finalists named for Walla Walla High School Principal position

Walla Walla Public Schools announces Robert Ahrens and John Schumacher have been named finalists for the Walla Walla High School Principal position. Parents, staff, community members and students are encouraged to meet the candidates Tuesday, Feb. 22 from 4 to 5 p.m. during public meet and greet sessions at the Walla Walla High School Commons. Attendees are asked to complete candidate feedback cards and be present for both candidate sessions (translation services will be available).

John Schumacher is in his sixth year as Assistant Principal at Glacier Middle School in the White River School District, a one-thousand student campus in Buckley, WA. He also has over 10 years of experience as a high school advanced math and AP statistics teacher. He began teaching at South Medford High School and has also taught at Sherwood High School, Washington High School and White River. Schumacher has coached high school football for 17 years and is currently the Assistant Varsity football coach for White River High School. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics from Eastern Oregon University, a Master of Science and Math Education from Oregon State University and an Administrative Certificate from Concordia University.

Robert “Rob” Ahrens currently serves as the Assistant Principal at Pioneer Middle School. Prior to that he spent 19 years as a Science teacher at Walla Walla High School. Ahrens also served four years as Science and Math teacher at Sunnyside High School. He holds a National Board Certification in science, received the WWPS Staff Achievement award in 2009 and earned the WSU Educator of Excellence honor in 2006. Ahrens received his Bachelor of Arts in Education from Eastern Washington University, a Master of Education in Professional Development from Heritage University and a Principal Certification from WSU Tri-Cities.

Meet and Greet Sessions (Tuesday, Feb. 22 - Location: Walla Walla High School Commons):
• 4 to 4:30 p.m. Candidate John Schumacher
• 4:30 to 5 p.m. Candidate Robert Ahrens

Current Principal Ron Higgins is retiring following a 37 year career with the school district. The new principal will report July 1, 2022.

Walla Walla Public Schools’ tax rates drop - spells relief for Walla Walla taxpayers

Local taxpayers will see relief in their tax rates this spring as Walla Walla Public Schools’ rates are set to drop by approximately 42 cents per thousand. For a home with an assessed value of $250,000, this results in a little over $100 savings. The district’s bond rate went down by about 13 cents per thousand to a rate of $1.03 and both state school tax rates have also receded. Increases in the overall assessed value across the region, coupled with the School Board's conservative fiscal approach, has led to the reduction in rates.

“We pledged to voters during the November 2018 bond election the tax rate would be no greater than $1.23 per thousand,” said Superintendent Dr. Wade Smith. “We continue to deliver on our bond promise with rates far less than voters expected.”

The total combined education rate, which includes both local and state school taxes, are $1.22 less per thousand than voters were paying in 2018.

Golden Onion Grant Award recipients named

Golden Onion Grant Award recipients named
During the Feb. 15, 2022 school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Wade Smith and Assistant Superintendent Chris Gardea recognized six outstanding teachers for being named Golden Onion award recipients. Each of these educators will receive $1000 to use for classroom and instructional improvements.

Longtime Walla Walla resident and one-time teacher Sue Gillespie and her husband Mike established the “Golden Onion Award” to provide school supplies, equipment and professional development funds to Walla Walla educators.

The “Golden Onion Award” is presented annually to district teachers at all grade levels. The Gillespie Teacher Development Fund is a component fund of the Blue Mountain Community Foundation. The Gillespie’s say they are thrilled to support these dedicated Walla Walla teachers.

2022 Golden Onion Recipients:
• Rebecah Boeckman, Green Park Elementary
• Sue Schulz, Garrison Middle School
• Shannon Jones, Pioneer Middle School
• Kris Bland, Lincoln High School
• Shannon Ahrens, Garrison Middle School
• Jose Beleche, Garrison Middle School

The Golden Onion Fund is available for anyone to donate to who wants to support Walla Walla teachers. Visit the BMCF website to make a donation: www.bluemountainfoundation.org

Walla Walla Police to conduct training course at Walla Walla High School Feb 21-25

The Walla Walla Police Department will be hosting Gracie Survival Tactics Jiu-Jitsu training Feb. 21-25 in the Walla Walla High School wrestling gym.

Residents please be aware there will be numerous squad cars from different jurisdictions parked at Walla Walla High School during the training as police officers from all over the country, and even internationally, will be in attendance. The Gracie Survival Tactics course is a Jiu-Jitsu based defensive tactics program for police, military and emergency medical services personnel.

“Thank you to the school district for its continued support of law enforcement,” said Walla Walla Police Department Administrative Sergeant Gunner Fulmer. “We strive to bring the best training to our officers so that our community always has the best of the best on the street. We can’t make these things happen without community partners like the Walla Walla School District.”

Personnel Report (from February 15, 2022 School Board meeting)

Laurie Bohnet, English Language Arts Teacher, Pioneer Middle School, 28 years
Joe Gribnau, 4th Grade Teacher, Berney Elementary School, 30 years
Erin Moreno, K-3 Intervention Teacher, Edison Elementary School, 18 years

Sarah Thompson, Para-Educator, Walla Walla High School, 4.5 years

School Stories
Garrison Middle School teacher named Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year

Congratulations to Garrison Middle School teacher Conor Fish for receiving the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce Hometown Hero Educator of the Year Award. Conor teaches English Language Arts and Social Studies. He models excellence in the teaching profession and is exceptional at delivering quality instruction to Walla Walla youth.

Conor Fish is a teacher whose method of teaching is tailored to meet the individual needs of students. He believes he needs to meet his students where they are at academically and socially and differentiate his instruction for the different skill levels of students in his classroom. He developed a program called Garrison University. Garrison University was born out of elements of AVID - Advancement Via Individual Determination, which is a national program helping youth become first generation college students. Conor was AVID trained and implemented these teaching strategies for more than 10 years. Conor was determined to utilize Garrison University as a way to support and teach students of disadvantaged backgrounds so they have a clear path to college. Conor instills a strong work ethic within his students by teaching them time management and organizational skills in a highly rigorous academic setting. He has high expectations for all students regardless of their home life, demographics and socio-economic status. Students succeed in Conor's classes largely because of his relentless support.

Conor exemplifies creativity, enthusiasm, commitment and development of a positive learning environment. He is in constant motion helping students, adapting lessons and support on the fly, and engaging on a personal level to build positive relationships. Students often refer to Conor as their favorite teacher because he truly cares and puts in the work to make each of them successful.

Conor has made significant contributions in education and work with future leaders. He plays a vital role in Garrison’s Professional Learning Team with his fellow staff members by demonstrating creativity and leadership in professional development. He is always willing to help his colleagues with a lesson or difficult class management situation. He is part of the school’s guiding coalition team which entails extra hours of meetings after the rest of the staff has departed for the day. Conor is also a technology expert and is often helping staff and students navigate the ever-changing world of technology. This has been especially helpful during the pandemic as technology has played a larger role in daily instruction.

Conor constantly goes above and beyond for his students and school. He embodies the characteristics every school needs on their staff: high integrity; a willingness to work outside of the contract day because it is in the best interest of his students; and a personal commitment to being the best teacher he can. He does not settle for good enough. You will find him in his classroom on the weekends preparing for the weeks ahead because, in order for him to feel good about his lesson plans, he needs that extra time to prepare.

The Hometown Hero Educator of the Year award is meant for professionals in education who resemble excellence in teaching. Conor Fish emulates this each day! He symbolizes hard work and what it means to be a Hometown Hero. Congratulations again to Conor Fish for receiving this prestigious award by exemplifying high standards of excellence in everything he does.

Wa-Hi basketball player Diego Jaques hits 1000 point mark

Congratulations to Walla Walla High School senior varsity boys basketball player Diego Jaques for topping the 1000 points milestone in his career at Walla Walla High School. His point tally currently sits at 1009 points overall and 504 for the season. Jaques is in select company with this accomplishment, joining outstanding graduates Michael Cornia, Gary Winston, Michael Weisner and Kyle Bankhead in recent memory.

"We are very proud of Diego and this accomplishment,” said Coach Adam Berg. “He has worked extremely hard and deserves recognition for this achievement. Scoring 1000 points in a career is a rare feat and doing it with one season shortened due to COVID is even more impressive. Diego has shown what hard work and dedication can do for a player and his impact on our program will last for years moving forward."

Wa-Hi’s Scott Leads the Blue Devils to State Title in Junior Olympic Rifle 

The Blue Devil Precision Rifle Team captured the Washington State Junior Olympic 3 Position Air Rifle Championship in Spokane last weekend, with Cadet Lieutenant Tristan Scott taking home the individual state championship title.

Nearly 40 of the state’s top precision class marksmen comprising 6 teams met in 2 locations, Spokane and Tacoma to compete for the title of Junior Olympic 3 Position state champions. Athletes competed in a course of 60 record shots, 20 prone, 20 standing and 20 kneeling for a total possible score of 600 points. Teams competed for state honors and invitations to the Junior Olympic National Championship to be held in Ohio this summer.

Wa-Hi’s marksmen led the match from the beginning with Team Captain Cadet Major Cassidy Hanson, Cadet First Sergeant Raquelle Justice and Scott all turning a 198 out of 200 from the prone position. Scott finished his relay with a career high score of 584, putting him in the number 1 position for the state. Hanson finished the day on a 580, putting her in 4th statewide just behind Alexis Kunz. The Blue Devils tallied up a total of 2290 to take the state championship.
As the Junior Olympic Rifle Matches take place from state to state, the Civilian Marksmanship Program, which is the sanctioning body out of Camp Perry, Ohio will keep track of the highest scores nationwide. The top scoring teams and individuals nationally will receive invitations to the Junior Olympic National Championship in Camp Perry this July. The Blue Devils next set their sights on the JROTC Cascade Mountain League’s next contest to be held in Kennewick on February 26.

Community Stories

AAUW annual book sale this weekend

The 57th Annual AAUW (American Association of University Women) Book Sale will be held February 18 - 20 at the Marcus Whitman Hotel.  Sale hours will be Friday and Saturday, 9 am – 7 pm; and Sunday, 9 am – 4 pm.  Approximately 40,000 high-quality books, CDs and DVDs, sorted into 40 categories. Paperbacks $2.50.  Hardbacks $4.  Each child receives a free book from the picture or chapter book sections.  Rare and collectible section priced individually.  Proceeds fund scholarships for local women returning to college, and educational projects and events.

Parks & Rec Update

• Father-Daughter Ball March 5. Open to all ages. Cost is $20 per father.
• Pee Wee Multisport Series. Open to boys and girls ages 3-5. Cost is $50.
• Spring Soccer League. Open to boys and girls grades K-8. Cost is $50.
• Walla Walla Soccer Alliance Skills Clinic. Open to boys and girls ages 5-10. Cost is $65.
• Fencing for Youth and Adults. Cost is $20-$75. Ages 8 and up.
• 2022 Season Pool Passes are on sale.
• The Pottery Painting Studio hours are Thursday and Friday 4pm-7pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am-3pm.
• Parks and Recreation App! Easy access to game schedules, program registration and more! Download it from your App Store/Google Play Store - Walla Walla Parks and Rec

Please visit our website at www.wwpr.us for updated information regarding recreation programs as it becomes available. If you have questions, feel free to contact the Parks & Recreation Office at 509-527-4527 or parks@wallawallawa.gov

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