Walla Walla Public Schools
Week in Review - Sept. 23, 2022

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District Stories

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District Stories
Wa-Hi Ribbon Cutting Celebration draws huge crowd

History was made on the campus of Walla Walla High School on September 21 as hundreds of district supporters and alumni flocked to the school to celebrate during the official ribbon cutting ceremony marking the final steps of the campus-wide bond-funded renovation. Guests also toured the campus to see the updated classrooms and renovated facilities made possible thanks to the successful November 2018 bond measure overwhelmingly approved by voters with a 73 percent yes vote.

School Board President Ruth Ladderud, a graduate of Walla Walla High School, welcomed everyone to the ceremony and thanked the community for its support. Superintendent Dr. Wade Smith served as Master of Ceremonies during the event. He shared the dynamic history surrounding the relocation of the original 1916 Walla Walla High School on Park St. to its current location in the early 1960s.

Superintendent Smith summarized the improvements made on campus, thanked everyone involved in getting the project approved and completed, and acknowledged the nearly 50 local contractors and vendors who worked on the project. Superintendent Smith also announced the naming of the new student plaza outside of the Commons as the Dick Neher Student Plaza after the legendary principal who served from 1970 to 1990. Mr. Neher passed away in 2018, just three weeks following the successful bond. He narrated an informational video, recorded in July of 2018, which was viewed by thousands, serving as an anchor to the measure’s communications platform. A special bronze plaque affixed to a sizable rock in the plaza notes Mr. Neher’s impact on the campus and community.

A new Dick Neher Legacy Scholarship was also announced which will provide funding for future graduates to pursue higher education. The scholarship will get its seed money from one-of-a-kind Challenge Coins with Mr. Neher’s photo and logo of Walla Walla High School. Only 100 are being made and are available through the Blue Mountain Community Foundation for $1000. Donors will also get their names included on a special plaque to be mounted in the newly renovated entry of the school.

Mr. Neher’s son Mike shared a few words about his father on behalf of the family. He noted his father’s belief that all students can learn was his greatest trait as principal. Mike Neher said the naming of the student plaza would have been his father’s greatest honor.

The formal program ended with the ribbon cutting marking the official opening of the newly renovated and expanded facility. Thanks to everyone for your support in making this amazing project come true.

Superintendent Smith's Wa-Hi Ribbon Cutting Speech

Below is the speech made by Superintendent Dr. Wade Smith during the historic Walla Walla High School Ribbon Cutting Celebration Sept. 21, 2022.

Before we take the opportunity to marvel at the improvements that have been made to this glorious campus, let us first take time to appreciate the people, accomplishments, successes and even some obstacles overcome, that have led us to this day of celebration.

It began not 6 years ago when we started planning for these improvements, but over six decades ago when this beautiful campus came to be. It was not without controversy however. A drawn out and highly contentious decision that went all the way to the Washington Supreme Court unfolded over whether bond funds should be used to expand the old high school on what was an undersized Park Street location, or build a new larger school on a different site. Following was the court’s approval, and a board election in 1960 that flipped the board vote in favor of a different high school site, which helped pave the way for this beloved campus.

Many of you may not know, but 5 different sites were under consideration for the new high school, and on May 5, 1961, for the sum total of $73,750, the district purchased the 35 acre parcel we stand on today. They had everything they needed to begin, the property and an approved bond measure. Unfortunately, when they opened the bids to construct the new campus, they were 35% over budget to complete the project. A second bond was actually needed to see the high school construction through. While the first attempt didn’t pass, our community came through on the second try, providing just enough funds to finish construction of the “new Wa-Hi.”

Set to be complete when students returned from winter break in January of 1964, unfortunately they ran into a few snags; the commons building was not quite complete so students were forced to eat sack lunches in locker lobbies for a couple of months, no lawns were yet planted and walkways and parking lots were still gravel. But these setbacks didn’t dim the shine of the community’s accomplishment. During the ribbon cutting ceremony Dr. Odegaard, president of the University of Washington, gave the featured address praising Walla Walla for their dedication. He said, and I quote, "To see the buildings is to see the thought, imagination and inspiration that went into them. This is a gratifying episode in local history."

Sixty years later, standing on the very same campus, these same words ring as true today as they did back then. To see these buildings before you, nearly 60 years later, is to see the thought, imagination and inspiration that went into them. Just as it was back in 1964, today marks another gratifying episode in our local history.

As Mark Twain noted, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Just like in the early 60’s, the journey to see this current project through was wrought with some challenges. Back in 2006 a bond measure was presented to our community that recommended the demolition of most of the current campus facilities; to be replaced with a single, two story building. That proposal did not resonate with voters. In 2013 a second attempt at a hybrid approach was made which also failed to garner sufficient support. And a little over one year later a third, scaled back attempt at a stand-alone science building was considered. It yielded even fewer votes.

Fast forward to 2016. The Walla Walla School Board knew how important it was to see this campus improved for its students and faculty. They had to get this one right and they decided to take a tempered approach, allowing their newly hired superintendent to spend an entire year engaging and listening to staff, parents, students and community members. This time was critical in helping better understand our community sentiment.

As I engaged with hundreds of stakeholders, three themes became evident that were critical to address. First, was trust. It was clear that we lost some of it during the 2007 Edison Bond. We needed to regain it. Second was transparency. We had to improve community oversight and accountability. And finally, embracing our pride in our history. It didn’t take me long to understand that our school and greater community is steeped in tradition. We are one of the state’s oldest school districts, dating back to 1857. What we had accomplished with renovations, like those at Green Park and Sharpstein, are still a source of great pride decades later as we preserved both beloved campuses. To highlight this powerful sentiment is best understood by simply conversing with anyone who has been in Walla Walla for some time. Much of our community still refers to this as the “new WaHi,” even though it was built at a time when some of our current students’ grandparents had yet to be born. It became crystal clear that preserving this beloved asset was essential.

Our journey to success began with the establishment of a Community Facilities Task Force. Led by Graduate of Distinction Paul Schneidmiller and 19 others, this group spent the better part of a year in their efforts. They commissioned 13 different studies; from an outside safety and security audit to a comprehensive building conditions analysis. They engaged in multiple community surveys, in site evaluations, and with construction experts. And in April of 2018, after heeding input from the community, they wisely recommended a no-tax increase bond measure, rather than one that would have increased rates. And unlike their predecessors, their approach focused on preservation and renovation over demolition. Their proposal also addressed other critical needs across the district, and garnered a near dollar for dollar match from Olympia, netting over $120M in needed improvements, all the while keeping tax rates one of the lowest in the region.

One month later our School Board unanimously accepted the committee’s recommendation to place the measure on the November 2018 ballot. This decision then kicked off the district’s educational efforts that included countless presentations and information sessions led by Board Members, Communication’s Director Higgins, and staff. We also had the honor of being represented by lifelong Walla Walla resident and former WaHi principal Dick Neher who, on a blistering hot summer day in 2018, narrated an all-important bond video that would be viewed by thousands across our community.
The Citizen’s For Schools community-led campaign included scores of parents, stakeholders and students who were deeply engaged in advocacy efforts. Led by co-chairs Susan Prudente and Jim Hayner, other supporters like Derek Sarley, Jolene Riggs, Ruth Ladderud, Karri Bruce, Kurt and Barbara Hoffman, Steve Owens, Emma Case, and countless more, joined the effort. From a sea of Vote Yes signs, shirts, letters and door knocking, their efforts helped lead us to one of the highest “yes” votes in the history of WWPS at 73%.

When the bond passed, a group of ten dedicated community members, led by Chair Scott Morasch, convened dozens of times to serve as the district’s Community Bond Oversight Committee. From onsite inspections, to supervising the selection of contractors, to ensuring every dollar was spent only on citizen approved projects, they helped steward the construction forward despite unprecedented challenges never anticipated.

Who would have thought when the bond passed in 2018 that such obstacles loomed? From a global pandemic, to skyrocketing inflation costs for goods and services, to unprecedented worldwide supply chain shortages, it is a miracle that we are able to stand here today and say, “we did it.” We delivered on every single promise made in the 2018 campaign. This could not have been done without our incredible team we have assembled here. Rylan Oakland and crew from Jackson Contractor Group. Kevin Cole and his consultants from Architects West. Heath Gardner and team from Weneha Group. Facilities Director Mike Kay and former principal Ron Higgins. And finally, to the 50 local contractors and vendors who played an integral role in seeing this project through. From Allen Gillespie and his roofing crew, to Mark Houk and his incredible masonry work, to family-owned Cutting Edge Plumbing, to John Sasser at Integrity Design, all of our local contractors and suppliers have been extraordinary.

Over the coming weeks our team will put the final touches on the “new-new WaHi” campus as we finish up parking lots, landscaping, locker rooms, the renovated greenhouse and other small items. Despite a few odds and ends to wrap up, you will be amazed at our collective accomplishments. We have been able to do what so many had hoped for many years – to honor this glorious campus, with its flowing creek, brick façade and iconic architecture, all while bringing it up to 21st century learning, safety and efficiency standards.

What our entire community has accomplished together is helping to guarantee that this campus will continue to develop Washington’s Most Sought After Graduates for the next 60 years.

Latest ThoughtExchange closes today -- Share input on what is going well and what can be improved 

This month Walla Walla Public Schools began Phase 2 of a six phase Strategic Planning process by gathering input from stakeholders in a variety of ways. The district is engaging parents, staff, students and community members through face-to-face meetings, focus groups and other engagements.

Phase 2 also includes a public ThoughtExchange engagement to survey stakeholders on what is going well and what can be improved. The ThoughtExchange survey is now open through September 23 at 4 p.m. Students, parents, staff and community members are encouraged to participate and the survey is available in multiple language formats.

Phase 1 of the planning processes kicked off with an introduction and preliminary ThoughtExchange in May. When asked what are the most important skills and attributes our graduates must gain in order to prepare them for success after graduation, consistent themes across stakeholder groups emerged. The twelve thoughts receiving the highest scores included many soft skills and traits such as respect, problem solving, perseverance, critical thinking skills and work ethic.

Question: What do you value most about Walla Walla Public Schools and what can we do better to prepare our students for the challenges and opportunities of the future?

Please click HERE to join the exchange and share your input.

Learn more about ThoughtExchange  

“District leaders will begin to synthesize this feedback in late fall and then work on developing and refining a draft plan by winter,” said Superintendent Dr. Wade Smith. “The district’s work will conclude in spring 2023 after the school board and district leadership team have operationalized and finalized the plan in preparation for a 2023-24 school year implementation.”

Visit the district’s Strategic Planning website to learn more.   

Ribbon Cutting Celebrations & School Tours (remaining)

The district continues to deliver on its bond promises with ribbon cutting ceremonies and campus tours of two remaining major renovation projects. Please mark these dates on your calendar and celebrate with the school district on these historic accomplishments.

Pioneer Middle School
• Wednesday, Sept. 28 / 4 to 6 p.m.
• Ribbon Cutting & Tour

Lincoln High School
• Wednesday, Oct. 5 / 4 to 6 p.m.
• Ribbon Cutting & Tour

New Mental Health Services Available to Families with Hazel Health 

Walla Walla School District is partnering with Hazel Health to launch a new mental health services program for students, in consultation with parents/guardians. Families can sign their child up with Hazel Health, where students have access to a licensed therapist from school or at home. Walla Walla School District is making these services available so that all families have access to mental health services, without a long wait time to see a therapist.

Available for: All students, at no cost to families (PARENT/GUARDIAN PERMISSION REQUIRED)

Hazel services include:
• Short-term therapy visits: Therapy sessions can help students cope with everyday issues such as anxiety, bullying, withdrawal, grief, peer and family relationships, depression, not enjoying things they used to enjoy, or simply not feeling like themselves.
• Care coordination: Family Resource Managers from Hazel work closely with families to coordinate their child’s care. If the child needs additional services outside of what Hazel can offer, Hazel will help families connect with local providers.
• Therapists who care: Hazel therapists know how to connect with children and teens. Their multilingual team practices culturally competent care for all students.


Personnel Report (from September 20, 2022 School Board Meeting)


Richard Cole, Bus Driver, SE Washington Transportation Co-Op
Dean Davis, Bus Driver, SE Washington Transportation Co-Op
Dallin Dye, Bus Assistant, SE Washington Transportation Co-Op
Marissa Hughett, Head Start Instructional Coach, WWCCF
Martha Kehrein, Bus Assistant, SE Washington Transportation Co-Op
Sandra Reavis, Bus Assistant, SE Washington Transportation Co-Op
Lisa Ruchert, Bus Assistant, SE Washington Transportation Co-Op
Itzel Salazar, 21st Century Site Coordinator, Green Park Elementary School
Carolina Saldana, Bilingual Para-Educator, Pioneer Middle School
Rubi Villegas, Para-Educator, Green Park Elementary School


Amie Barnett, Bus Assistant, SE Washington Transportation Co-Op, 13 years
Richard Bartlow, Para-Educator, Prospect Point Elementary School, 29 years
Rhoda Ehrman, Head Start Family Advocate, WWCCF, 30 years
Michael Garcia, Custodian, Pioneer Middle School, 7 years
Tiffany Teal, Intervention Specialist, Berney Elementary School, 5 years

Hispanic Heritage Month

Walla Walla Public Schools honors Hispanic Heritage Month - September 15 to October 15. Hispanic Heritage Month was established to recognize the achievements and contributions of Hispanic American champions who have inspired others to achieve success. The observation began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988.

"We are so fortunate to be able to honor and celebrate the richness of Hispanic heritage of many in our schools and communities, beyond a monthly recognition,” said Director of Equity and Dual Programs Dr. Julie Perron. “Our students, staff, and families are part of the fabric of this incredibly diverse culture and we recognize not only contributions of the past, but also of the present, with hope for the future as well."

Learn more at:
National Archives 
National Today 
United States Census Bureau 

School Stories
Walla Walla High School senior receives prestigious state leadership award

Congratulations to Walla Walla High School senior Miki Joshua for receiving the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) Student Leadership Award. This award recognizes students who have created or played a significant leadership role in initiatives or programs that promote inclusivity, access and belonging in their school and community. Joshua serves on the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council to bring student voice addressing specific needs of high school students.

“Miki has taken a leadership role by advocating for students, supporting belonging, cultural competency and awareness, and playing a pivotal role in a student-directed video used to elevate student voice and experience to support staff development,” said Superintendent Dr. Wade Smith. “Miki was the cofounder of the students for social justice club at Wa-Hi, the founder and President of the black student union, a member of the Green club, GSA, girls league officer, participated in the district’s diversify our narrative initiative, and received the district’s building belonging award.”

Consideration for the WASA recognition is based on criteria that includes demonstrating leadership and serving as a role model by participating in, and organizing events that promote respect for diversity, equity and individual differences. Joshua was selected to serve on Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ Youth Advisory Committee and the Association of Washington Student Leaders the past two years.

“Very few students statewide receive such recognition from the Washington Association of School Administrators,” said Superintendent Dr. Wade Smith. “Miki is a shining example of one of Walla Walla’s finest who has a bright future ahead of her.”

Attendance Awareness Campaign - Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow

September is Attendance Awareness Month. Regular attendance is vital for student success. When students attend regularly they have an opportunity to achieve academically and thrive. Research shows when students are chronically absent -- missing 10% or more of the school year or 18 days over an entire year -- they are less likely to read proficiently by third grade, achieve in middle school and graduate from high school. Missing school means missing opportunities to learn and connect.

Regular attendance is an important building block for student learning. Attending school regularly helps students feel better about school and themselves. Help Walla Walla Public Schools spread the word. Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow!

Wa-Hi students named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists

Congratulations to Walla Walla High School seniors Lily Franklin and Erin Iverson. They join 16,000 students across the nation to be named semifinalists in the 68th annual National Merit Scholarship Program. These academically talented high school seniors have an opportunity to continue in the competition for some 7,250 National Merit Scholarships worth nearly $28 million that will be offered next spring. To be considered for a Merit Scholarship® award, semifinalists must fulfill several requirements to advance to the Finalist level of the competition. About 95 percent of the semifinalists are expected to attain Finalist standing, and approximately half of the Finalists will win a National Merit Scholarship, earning the Merit Scholar® title. Congratulations to students Jackson Adams, Marcus Christopher, Danielle Schmode and Kai Sinnott for being named National Merit Commended Scholars. 

Community Stories
Walla Walla County Fire District #4 Open House

The Volunteers and Auxiliary of Fire District #4 welcome the community to attend their upcoming open house:
• Saturday, October 8
• 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
• 2251 South Howard Street
• Free Hot Dogs & Pop
• Blood Pressure Checks
• Fire Prevention Information
• Equipment and Vehicle Displays
• Pictures of the Kids
• Life Flight If Available

Panama: Environmental Science Adventure-Spring Break 2024

Longtime district and community advocate Kathryn Southwick Hess is teaming with Science teacher Clayton Hudiburg to plan an EF Tour trip to Panama for Spring Break 2024. This experience is focused on environmental science. Surfing, ziplining, and whitewater rafting all in one trip. Traversing hanging bridges atop jungle canopies. Mud hut building with your own two hands. Prepare to get your hands dirty—and your sneakers, and your T-shirt—as you explore Panama, a country of natural beauty (emphasis on natural), rich culture, and of course, thrilling adventure. This is not a Walla Walla Public Schools sponsored activity and the district is not responsible.

Kathryn is planning an informational meeting:
• Tuesday, 4 October
• 7 p.m.
• Walla Walla High School Science Building (Clayton Hudiburg’s classroom)
• There is a $200 Early Bird Discount for travelers who enroll after this meeting
• Meeting RSVP: required - https://bit.ly/3DaCDOn

Walla Walla Valley Disability Network 2022 Ability Walk & Roll

• Join individuals with special needs and/or disabilities and those who love them, to walk and roll the inside loop of Fort WW Park (1/2-mile loop). A T-Shirt, goodie bag, medal, and activities are included as part of the registration.
• Sunday, October 2
• 1 to 2:30 p.m.
• Fort Walla Walla Park, Walla Walla (755 NE Myra Road, parking near Museum/limited, please carpool)
• $15 per person (children under age 3 – FREE!)
• Register online soon, prices go to $20/person on September 20
• Find more information and registration forms (in English & Spanish) at: https://www.wwvdn.org/

Parks and Recreation Update

• All Comers Track Meet September 25 – 1-12 years - $3 ($5 On Site Registration)
• Fencing – 8 years and over - $20-$75
• Fall Cemetery Tour – October 1st - FREE
• Movie in the Park – Hocus Pocus – October 1st – FREE
• Spooktacular Decorating Contest - Decorate your porch, yard, car, pickup, tractor, or other vehicle.

Do you have the 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

For more information or to register, please visit our website at www.wwpr.us. If you have questions, feel free to contact the Parks & Recreation Office at 509-527-4527 or recreation@wallawallawa.gov 

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