We Are Kelso: Kelso’s SLC Mentors changing everything for nine Wallace students

For one hour, one day a week, true magic happens in the structured learning classroom (SLC) at Wallace. The nine students in that class are there because their behavioral needs or mental health benefits from a more supported and structured environment. On Thursdays, they get a very special visit that just may be changing everything for them.

One or two students from the Kelso High School SLC visit the Wallace SLC to do an activity with them. What looks like play, is really a powerful form of mentoring.

“It’s a beautiful thing when they see a teenager who was right where they are,” said Nancy Baldwin, Instructional Aide at Kelso High. “Each one of these littles has related to one of the teenagers we bring in some way.”

The high school students do puzzles or play with putty with the elementary students. It’s during this play time that magic happens. They talk about how they, too, have struggled to control their anger; or how they know how hard it can be to adjust to new medications.

“When I was little, I had no one to talk to like this,” said Nathaniel Reed, KHS SLC student and most frequent of the seven different mentors.

Having older peers acknowledge the younger ones’ struggles, and let them know they’re not alone, makes them feel better about themselves. And that helps them pause and make different choices.

“The kids see me as a buddy that can help them with what’s going on with them,” said Jordan Barrett, another KHS SLC mentor. “It’s a really big deal.”

Big deal, indeed. When asked what it would have been like to have a mentor like them when they were in elementary school, Jordan said it would have helped them through a lot. And for Nathaniel, “It would have changed everything.”

Kelsey Rodman, KHS SLC Teacher, started this program last year and couldn’t be happier with it. Not only is it helping the elementary students, but she also sees behavioral improvement in the high school mentors after they’ve had some time with the kids at Wallace. “The best part is when you hear them saying ‘I’m making good choices because I want to.’”

We Are Kelso: SEL Team builds strong system of supports

Every school day at 3:00 pm you can find the five-person Social Emotional Learning (SEL) team sitting around a table debriefing about the day. This small, but mighty, group is responsible for implementing processes that are changing how teaching and learning happens in our schools.

Starting their work just last summer, they’ve delivered trainings and presentations, vetted curricula, and done a lot of foundational work.

The team will be the first to say they’re just getting started. “There’s so much more to do,” adds Jake Alabiso, District SEL Coordinator. An instrumental architect in this process from the beginning, he affirms this isn’t about quick fixes. “This is about building a really strong system of supports.”

As part of those supports, the team has put dedicated spaces called Social Emotional Centers in each elementary school. There, students can get structured support or just have a place to quietly regulate. Also at every elementary school are teams for implementing positive behavior intervention supports in three tiers.

Although the programs and intentional focus on SEL is new, the effort is paying off.

“Teachers and principals are all telling us it’s working, and the early data backs that up,” said Don Iverson, Director of Student Services. “We’re seeing a 25% reduction in suspensions from this time last year across the district, and in-school suspensions are down by 7%.”

The team will roll out this great work to secondary schools next school year.


Kelso’s SEL Team:

  • Don Iverson, Director of Student Services
  • Jake Alabiso, District SEL Coordinator
  • Bob Johanson, District SEL Coach
  • Shawnda Macie, SEL Technician
  • Colleen Brand, SEL Technician

One-year bond update

construction timeline

At this time last year, Kelso citizens overwhelmingly voted to approve a construction bond and educational levy to improve the learning experience for our students.  We are so thankful for the support and generosity of our community, and continue to work diligently to be good stewards of the funds allocated for public education ($98.6 million bond plus $59.4 million in state match funds for a total of $158 million).

After considerable input from the community, we ran the bond based on six priorities that rose to the top: safety and security, elementary school replacements, school modernization, adding and updating classrooms, traffic and parking, and updating athletic facilities. Since passing the bond and levy on February 13, 2018, we haven’t stopped working to make these priorities a reality for our students, staff and families. One year later, here are a few facts and figures about some of the 100 construction-related projects planned. Visit WeAreKelso.org for frequent updates.

Safety & Security

  • 6 – systems slated to be updated/added to improve safety and security across the district (door access control, video surveillance, exterior lighting, fencing, building design modifications, and communication systems)

School Replacements

  • 16 – stakeholder meetings determining educational specifications and major design elements for new elementary schools
  • 1,038 – hours district staff put in outside of the work day on planning and design in 2018/19
  • 7 – number of public events inviting community feedback
  • 2 – new elementary schools being built

School Modernizations

  • $45 million – total cost for school modernization projects, which include upgrades to plumbing, heating, ventilation, cooling, roofs, windows, and siding.
  • 4 – schools getting modernized (Butler Acres, Carrolls, Huntington and Rose Valley)

Updating Classrooms/Facilities

  • 5 Career Technical Education classrooms being updated this summer
  • 8 welding stations being added at KHS
  • 6 culinary kitchens at KHS to be upgraded
  • 1 – new KHS gym floor, bleachers and handrails

Traffic & Parking

  • 11 – properties purchased to improve traffic flow around Wallace and Butler Acres elementary schools

Athletic Facilities

  • 550,000 – pounds of sand and rubber infill between the fibers of the new synthetic turf at Schroeder Field
  • 8-25-18 – date of first game played on new turf at Schroeder Field
  • 40 – year-old elevator will be replaced
  • 3 – practice fields (at Kelso High, Coweeman, & Huntington) scheduled for improvements
  • 1 – additional gym at Huntington


For a printable pdf of this information, click here.

We Are Kelso: The Executive Construction Steering Team takes on our biggest projects

With school replacements making up the lion’s share of the budget for our bond projects ($92.9 million of the $158 million total), it’s no surprise that the majority of the work done so far has been focused on building new elementary schools. Projects of this scale require a robust team with varying strengths and areas of expertise.

Enter our school construction team, made up of 12 professionals from four organizations: Kelso School District, Construction Services Group (CSG) from ESD 112, Integrus Architecture, and FORMA Construction Company. Experts from each organization have been working diligently on improving our facilities, some for over two years now.

“We really began working with CSG to determine the state of our facilities and see where the greatest needs were in January 2017,” said Scott Westlund, Chief Financial Officer for the district. CSG members have been instrumental in managing the many moving parts of our bond projects, including helping to find architects and contractors.

Integrus was interviewed and selected through a competitive process as the architectural firm to design the new schools. They facilitated stakeholder committee meetings for months to determine the educational specifications needed for our schools and get input on design elements.

Then, through a highly competitive process, FORMA was selected as our General Contractor/Construction Manager (GCCM) to build the schools. Bringing them in for industry expertise just before final design schematics were drawn helps to minimize change orders down the road and get sub-contractors secured early, both of which assist in keeping construction costs down.

Even then, unanticipated conditions caused a cost overrun of roughly $14 million for the school replacement projects. The schematic design estimating process revealed the unprecedented rise of labor and materials costs, and geotechnical engineering results at both the Wallace and Lexington sites indicated soil and ground conditions that require deep, robust soil improvements to ensure the foundation systems meet today’s building standards for public spaces.

The team came together and vetted multiple options to bring the total cost back within budget. After several open houses and a public hearing to gather community input, the school board approved a solution – combining two of the three new elementary schools into one larger school at the Lexington site in order to meet all the priorities of our bond measure.

“Even with a few cost challenges, it’s been an exciting adventure. We will continue to make the learning environment for Kelso students engaging, state-of-the-art, and safe,” said Superintendent Mary Beth Tack. “With our talented and dedicated team, we’re looking forward to great things for the Kelso students, staff, and community.”


Executive Construction Steering Team Members

Kelso School District Members
Mary Beth Tack, Superintendent
Scott Westlund, Chief Financial Officer
Gary Schimmel, Facilities Director
Leah Moore, Kelso School Board

CSG Members
Philip Iverson, Project Manager
Richard Skreen, Project Manager

Integrus Members
Amy Vanderhorst, Senior Project Manager
Matt Taylor, Project Manager

FORMA Members
Mike Rogers, Senior Project Manager
Kody Helms, Project Manager

We Are Kelso – Angela Dyer’s 2nd grade class rocks at reading

Dyer's 2nd grade class

Great teaching materials are truly important, and it’s also true that great learning requires more than textbooks and worksheets. A dedicated, supportive (and supported) teacher, along with curious students and the space to be open to inquiry, are just as vital. In Angela Dyer’s second grade class at Barnes Elementary, all of these ingredients are present and adding to the success of the new English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum, ReadyGEN.

The class works with these instructional materials for 90 minutes a day, four days a week, and 45 minutes one day of the week. Dyer says she’s loving the new adoption, “The stories have been entertaining and engaging and I have an abundance of materials to help my high achieving students to my students who need more reading support.”

Student Remi seems to be enjoying the stories, too, “Reading is really fun! I like how we compare one story to another story and how they’re alike and different.”

Dyer can see the difference ReadyGEN is making for her students. “I feel like my students are much further along in their writing abilities then they have been in the past. I also feel like my students have more grit and stamina concerning reading and writing this year.”

It seems the students agree. Levi says, “I like that we write about what we’ve read.” And Ellie shares, “Yesterday, we wrote conversations with quotation marks.”

Conversations she hears her students having about the lessons are some of Dyer’s favorite things about this new curriculum adoption. In addition to the quotes above, she hears, “Mrs. Dyer, this book is full of dialogue” and “Look at all of these transition words” and “How is the reader going to know what the writer is writing about if they don’t include an introductory sentence?”

With such an inspiring start in their reading, comprehension, and writing experience, we can’t wait to see how these bright, young minds continue to blossom.

We Are Kelso: ELA curriculum adoption team helps improve student learning

ELA team

While adopting and implementing new curricula truly is a team effort, there are a few people whose focused work guides the process. For English Language Arts (ELA), that team is Holly Budge, Marilyn Melville-Irvine, and Jan Rauth. This group of dedicated professionals has put countless hours into researching options and supporting the selected curricula for our district.

Although this district office team coordinates training, provides information and resources through monthly newsletters, and makes school visits every week; they’re quick to point out that the credit for successful implementation is shared with the teachers and administrative staff at each school.

“Every single stakeholder group has been supportive in the implementation,” said Jan Rauth, Title 1/LAP/ELA Support Specialist. Holly Budge, Associate Director of Teaching and Learning, adds, “Our principals have been critical in the work, asking questions and providing support for teachers.”

This new ELA curricula (ReadyGEN and myPerspectives) are already making a difference. Our students are thinking at much higher levels than they have in the past. ELA Support Specialist Marilyn Melville-Irvine credits increased rigor and text complexity, along with how closely writing is tied to what they’re reading.

“The text selections are really good. Teachers are teaching students how to read them, and the students feel smarter,” Melville-Irvine affirmed. “They can analyze characters and themes in 2nd grade now.”

Budge agrees, and says teachers are reporting student engagement levels they haven’t seen in years.

The excitement around this new ELA adoption is clearly evident with the students, the teachers, and this team—all three of whom are passionate about their work.

“It’s all about what can we do to support student learning,” said Rauth. “I find that so satisfying.”

We Are Kelso: At Coweeman, AVID feels like family

The first AVID cohort at Coweeman Middle School started this year with 23 8th grade students. To be considered for the elective class, students had to fill out an application, write an essay, and participate in an interview.

Although the class has been in session just under four months, counselor and AVID site coordinator Emily Allred has already seen a change in students. “They confidently introduce themselves, shake hands, and welcome new students,” Allred said. “Our AVID students present themselves with poise, and have made exceptional growth by showing perseverance, asking higher level questions, enrolling in rigorous courses, and are eagerly engaged.”

AVID Student Mina Rios Rios knows the class has affected her, “I have learned to use my resources more. My grades reflect on how much time I spend on homework and studying. This class has made a big impact on my life.”

Another difference Allred has seen is that AVID students start feeling like family. “This is a very close knit group. They look out for each other, share special moments and first experiences together—like visiting a university campus for the first time—laugh and cry together, and they hold one another accountable,” she added.

Students are also noticing the soft skills they’re gaining, in addition to academic gains.

“Differences that I see from last year to this year are grades, organization, time management, learning to use my resources, better relationships with teachers and AVID students,” said AVID student, Sarah Teodoro-Hernandez.



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We Are Kelso: HMS AVID team sees far-reaching benefits

The AVID team at Huntington Middle School meets a couple times a month to discuss ongoing goals, strategies they’ve used in the class, and get some additional professional development. The work they do both in and out of class for their AVID students has far-reaching benefits.

“AVID has made a tremendous difference in how our teachers at Huntington create lessons in their classrooms,” said Mike Birch, AVID Team Leader and Social Studies Department Head at Huntington. HMS teachers have been trained in AVID strategies like Focused Notes, Costas Levels of Thinking and Questioning, Philosophical Chairs, Socratic Seminars, One Pagers, Dialectical Journals, Interactive Notebooks, and many others. In addition to applying these strategies in the AVID elective class, teachers are using them in other classes, as well.

Because of this, all students at the school are benefiting from AVID, even if they’re not in the class. The strategies that are being implemented create more student-centered lessons, and give students more control over their own learning.

While it’s clear AVID is doing good things for all the students, it’s also making a difference for the educators. “It has reenergized me as a teacher,” said Birch. “I am a much better teacher the last four years than I was the first 15 years of my career due to the impact AVID trainings have had on me.”



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We Are Kelso: Yearbook Class Turns Moments Into Memories

Yearbook class

The KHS yearbook class is already hard at work capturing all the moments that make up a year of being a Hilander. The smaller-than-usual crew of 19 is out and about documenting everything from athletic games, spirit days, dances and assemblies to classroom work and more.

With students from all four grades on the team, they’ve made this year’s theme “Scottie Nation. Our Pack. Our Home.”  With so many changes coming in the district—new technology, building upgrades, and the new football turf—they’ve incorporated a secondary theme of “Moving Forward.”

Advisor Megan Thomas has high hopes for the Bagpipe, “We hope the yearbook we create will provide lasting memories for students. We hope it will allow students to see that they didn’t go unnoticed. We hope they will show it to their children one day with pride and excitement.”

In addition to all that the Bagpipe does for who receive it, the process of creating it is quite a gift for the students who work on it.

“As a class, we are learning how to interact with each other on a whole different level, from meeting deadlines to bonding activities,” said Vance McDonald, an 11th grader in the yearbook class. “Before I joined the class I would have been one of those students that would hide from a camera, but now I am the kid jumping into the picture. Yearbook has made me a more outgoing and understanding person and improved my people skills overall. I highly encourage giving this class a chance.”



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We Are Kelso: Career Center Staff At Work

Career Center staff

With just five people, our Career Center staff have a big job to do. In both middle and high school, they facilitate career exploration, give skills and personality assessments, assist with course selection, and help with post-secondary planning.

On any given day, you’ll find them helping a student (or an entire class) fill out information on their Xello or Wois accounts (those are online programs for career/future readiness), assisting with High School and Beyond plans, or bringing in a university admissions person to give students tips on writing college entrance essays.

To better help students transitioning from 8th to 9th grade, the middle and high school career specialists work together to make sure those students have a streamlined and focused approach to high school course selection based on their post-secondary goals. And to keep course offerings relevant, the team looks to local employers several times a year for input.

“Our goal is to align with industry as best we can,” said Melissa Boudreau, CTE Director. “By meeting with businesses, they can tell us what their needs are and what types of equipment we should be training on.”



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