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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Two Spokane-area school districts receive Purple Star Award for support of military families

Medical Lake School District Superintendent Kim Hendrick and Cheney Public Schools Superintendent Ben Ferney hold their Purple Star awards after a recent awards banquet.  (Courtesy of NorthEast Washington Educational Service District (NEWESD) 101)

Two local school districts have received the 2024 Purple Star Award, a recognition honoring their support and commitment to military families.

Cheney Public Schools and Medical Lake School District are among the first group of honorees, along with 10 other districts statewide. The award highlights each district’s efforts in addressing the educational, social and emotional difficulties students of military families may face as they frequently transfer schools and relocate.

“When military families come in and they recognize that we’re a Purple Star (awardee), they know that we’re aware of that movement and we’re doing our best to help them and welcome them into our school district,” Cheney Superintendent Ben Ferney said.

Washington is home to 39,860 children of active-duty military members, and 19,411 children of National Guard members and reservists, according to Military State Policy Source. Both Spokane-area districts are near Fairchild Air Force Base and educate students from military and National Guard families.

Medical Lake School District has around 40% military-connected students, Superintendent Kim Hendrick said, though Michael Anderson Elementary, located on the base, has around 98% of students from military families.

“This is our true commitment to ensuring that (military families) have a supported, safe and welcoming learning environment at Medical Lake, and that we appreciate and recognize the sacrifices that they make in supporting their military members,” Hendrick said.

Cheney, on the other hand, has around 7% military-connected students, though Ferney suspects the actual numbers are higher, since not every family indicates their military status when registering their children for school.

Approved by the Legislature last year, Washington joins the majority of the nation in recognizing military-friendly districts with the Purple Star Award. Winners were announced in early April, and the two Spokane-area districts received certificates during the Northeast Washington Educational Service District 101 awards banquet on April 19.

The award is administered jointly by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington Association of School Administrators. Districts retain the award for two years.

“Anything that we can do to highlight their commitment to really thinking about how to best serve the students who have some unique set of needs, we just think it’s very much appropriate,” WASA Executive Director Joel Aune said.

School districts vying for the award must apply and meet specific criteria, including maintaining an updated web page featuring resources for military families. They must also designate a staff member to serve as a liaison between military families and schools, and either pass a resolution promoting the school’s military support or host a military recognition event.

Since April is the month of the military child, a time to acknowledge and appreciate the challenges faced by military children, Medical Lake School District celebrated “Purple-Up Day” last Monday with an assembly at the elementary school on base. There, students connected with the military shared a video of their experiences with families across the district, Hendrick said.

“It is really about having systems in place to serve and support military families, and more importantly, the children that are in the schools,” Aune said.

Although Cheney and Medical Lakes’ recognition ends in 2026, both superintendents said their districts will reapply when eligible to stay connected with military families.

Applications for the 2025 Purple Star Award will open this summer.

“We’re going to help recognize districts and all the wonderful people, students, community members and school district leaders that are doing great work for kids and for public education,” Aune said.