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Back to school in Yakima: No supply lists this year, smaller classes and more counselors

Aug. 25, 2021 Updated Wed., Aug. 25, 2021 at 9:55 p.m.

By Janelle Retka Yakima Herald-Republic

Parents take note: The Yakima School District will provide school supplies this year, eliminating the cost to families.

Supplies will be provided by schools as needed for learning when classes start Wednesday, district officials said.

District Communications Director Kirsten Fitterer said this generally excludes backpacks, since many kids and families prefer to get personalized backpacks with themes. But families can request a backpack from their school if needed.

More teachers

Some class sizes also will be smaller this year.

Jenny Rodriquez, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said the district brought on 100 new teaching staff this school year, helping decrease class sizes in K-2 classrooms.

The state has added funds to bring down class sizes in early years with the goal of 17 students per teacher because of the link between student learning and small class ratios.

“I would anticipate we’ll see actually a little bit smaller class sizes for our youngest learners, so we’re excited about the ability to do that,” she said. “It is helpful from a funding perspective, as well as from a safety perspective, at this time.”

Older grades are likely to see their class sizes remain steady year-on-year, she said, although more families signing up for remote learning could change that. Rodriquez said online programs have seen new enrollments each day in recent weeks as COVID-19 trends have begun to climb again in the community. Still, she said, the vast majority of families are opting for in-person learning. Enrollment numbers are solidified in mid-fall.

In addition to new teachers, the district has a handful of new principals this year, who Rodriquez said will bring new energy and leadership. She encouraged families to attend open houses this week to get to know teachers and school leaders, especially if students are new.

Counselors and attendance

The district also has invested in hiring counselors and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support specialists at campuses districtwide, which will be key to supporting students and families in adjusting back to in-person learning, as well as with social and emotional learning, said Rodriquez.

In addition to students’ well-being, much of the focus in the district this year is on ensuring students are learning at their grade level, she said, including providing support to make up for any lost ground in past months.

By hiring counselors and MTSS experts, Rodriquez said students should experience more one-on-one time with counselors, and families should find it easier to get support by phone or in-person to address their students’ needs.

Another key shift in the district this year is in attendance. The district will be rolling out new systems to monitor and encourage attendance — but will also be moving away from a “perfect” attendance goal to a 95% attendance goal.

“We’re shifting the narrative,” said Rodriquez. “It used to really be this, like, ideal of perfect attendance, and that’s actually not real positive. Because there are days where a student is ill or needs some mental health support… I really love that our goal is 95%, because it allows them to be human.”

The community should see messaging in the form of billboards and signs to encourage this new model and goal, she said.

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