The Peninsula School District Board of Directors heard from a group of people Thursday night who represented a diverse spectrum of interests.
The environmental scan at district headquarters lasted more than three hours and was meant to create a fresh take on the district — internally and externally — as part of its revision of its strategic plan, which was last updated five years ago.
Part of that process involves looking to the public for guidance when it comes to the district’s mission, goals and beliefs.
“Strategic planning is an extremely important concept and activity for the Peninsula School District,” said Ned Hammond of Hammond Associates, an outside consultant for the district. “This is kind of the kickoff to that.”
Those who attended represented parents, faculty and staff members, the state of Washington, businesses and community organizations, and they called things how they saw them.
There were kudos to the district for what it’s doing well, as well as constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement. Several people voiced concerns for the future in terms of the demographic trends and the sluggish economy.
There was broad agreement of positive feedback regarding the performance of the district’s teachers.
PenMet Parks Executive Director Terry Lee had good things to say, as did others.
“Our teachers are really phenomenal,” said Laurel Schultz, program director for Communities in Schools of Peninsula.
Gig Harbor City Council member Jill Guernsey, a former school board member, praised the district’s holistic approach to education, including community partnerships.
“I think our district does a very good job,” she said. “I think people are moving back into town. I think we’re going to see more of that.”
Warren Zimmerman, president and CEO of the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce, contrasted how business owners feel about the Peninsula School District as compared with education in general in Washington state.
While many were highly critical of efforts statewide in terms of preparing students for the future, classroom time and standards, the perception of the Peninsula School District is generally positive, Zimmerman said.
Business owners feel there is high-quality teaching, the schools are generally high-quality, and they do a good job of preparing students to enter the workforce, he added.
Pierce County Council member Stan Flemming gave the district high marks for community involvement.
Student safety emerged as one of the major areas where people would like to see improvement.
KeyPen Parks Executive Director Scott Gallacher referenced the deadly shootings that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December in Newtown, Conn. He expressed concern over emergency response times to schools in more rural areas of the Peninsula School District, should something similar occur there.
Likewise, Lee said his biggest concern is safety, especially when it comes to transportation, noting there have been what he characterized as several “close calls” of students being hit by maintenance vehicles at a bus stop near PenMet Parks headquarters at Sehmel Homestead Park, especially when it’s dark early in the morning.
“It’s a concern of mine that somebody is going to get hurt,” Lee said.
Making sure students are prepared to meet the challenges of graduating into not just a national but global economy also loomed large as an area where the district could do better.
“Education is very important to me,” Flemming said, adding he’s concerned the state’s current model for education is “not up to speed for the 21st century economy” and how that’s impacting students in the district and statewide.
“Are we truly setting kids up for success as they matriculate from high school to college?” he asked.
Zimmerman put that concern into more practical terms, noting that there are often job openings in the state but not enough qualified local applicants. In many cases, qualified foreign students are brought in for those jobs, he said.
The school district’s long-term future in terms of changing demographics and the economy was a concern many shared.
“We’re getting older,” PenLight Company Chief Financial Officer Bob Draggoo told those at the meeting. “We’re not getting a lot of new blood.”
In general, household size is decreasing, he said, and there are fewer young families.
Guernsey added she’s noticed what appears to be more young people moving into the Gig Harbor North area, and with the rising cost of gas and tolls and the booming service industry in Gig Harbor, she thinks there will be less need for residents to use the Tacoma Narrows Bridges.
All of those factors affect calculations when it comes to the cost of running the district and what taxpayers are willing to pay for, Draggoo said. He predicted future levies and bonds will be difficult to pass, unless the district is perceived as a good steward of public funds.
“You’ve got to have partnerships,” he said.
He echoed a common theme throughout the evening when he added: “You’re going to have to do more with less.”
Public sessions on the school district’s process to revise its strategic plan are scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Peninsula High School library; March 18 at the Gig Harbor High School library; and March 25 at the Henderson Bay High School commons.
The board will hold a special meeting March 28 to incorporate community input into the plan.
Reporter Brett Davis can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_brett.