Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Association of School Administrators
June 25, 2002

Thank you, Le (Fulfs, AWSP president), for that kind introduction. I appreciate the opportunity to visit with this distinguished group. Thank you so much for your hard work.

The 2001-2002 school year was a tough one. On September 11, our nation was attacked. This event hit our children very hard, and you were challenged to quickly learn how to help them cope with their emotions about this tragedy. Thanks for the great job!

A recession followed. We saw the economy weakening in late summer, but the recession was brought on full bore by the terrorist attack. 40 states are facing large deficits. As a result, we had the most fiscally painful legislative session I’ve experienced. We were forced to make cutbacks in all areas. Education funding was protected as much as possible, but I know that most of you are confronting smaller budgets for the upcoming school year. I’m deeply disappointed about that.

And yet, despite all of those challenges, I know that when we learn the results of this spring’s WASL testing, we will see that most of our schools continue to be on an upward trajectory. When we see those results, we will know who is responsible: you, the leaders of the individual schools and districts, and your staffs, who have risen with great determination to meet the goal of all Washington students achieving at high levels.

With so many school principals here today, I’d like to acknowledge the incredibly challenging role our principals have. We expect you simultaneously to be instructional leaders, CPA-caliber budget managers, staff motivators and evaluators, disciplinarians, child welfare experts, building managers, and public outreach specialists. And on top of all that and more, we count on you to be the chief cheerleader of your school, establishing positive school spirit and teamwork among and between staff and students. Although it seems to be an impossible assignment, you all juggle these demands with superb dexterity.

Starting in January, I visited one elementary school each month with Superintendent Terry Bergeson to honor a Washington State Reading School of the Month. The schools we visited were all exemplary: Ferndale, Union Gap, Terminal Park, Oroville, and Peter G. Schmidt elementary schools all demonstrated impressive gains in student achievement against great odds. In each school, Superintendent Bergeson and I sat down with a small group of teachers, para-educators, parents and students to learn the secrets of their success. Although they each used different reading programs and operated under differing education philosophies, they had two things in common: they had all embraced standards-based reform, and they all benefited from having an extraordinary principal at the helm.

All of you know well what I mean when I say that these schools had extraordinary principals: leaders who empowered their staff to seek creative approaches to teaching and learning, leaders who accepted no excuses for the poor performance of any child, and leaders who made every member of the community proud of what was being accomplished.

But what do I mean when I say the schools had embraced standards-based reform? The administration, teachers and staff of these schools welcomed the learning objectives articulated in our state’s EALRs. They treated the WASL not as an enemy to be evaded or defeated, but as a measurement of individual students’ progress toward goals. They marshaled all available resources toward the objective of getting all kids, regardless of family background, to achieve at high levels. And in every single one of these schools, the outcome of all of this hard work has been that teachers feel empowered. Twenty and 30-year veteran teachers told Terry and me about their renewed sense of worth as teachers, the newfound focus they bring to their professional practice each day, and the strong linkages they now build with their colleagues as they work together toward common goals.

A decade of education reform
So, with these successes, I am convinced that we embarked on the right path when we all agreed back in 1992, a decade ago, to pursue standards-based education reform. Yet this upcoming year is going to seriously test our collective commitment to this effort. Not the least of our challenges is another budget cycle with declining state revenues, caused by the recession and voter-approved spending and revenue limits. I fully recognize that we will stretch thin your courage and commitment if we ask you again to continue to make progress with fewer resources.

We are also seeing warning signs that upcoming contract negotiations will be difficult. Nevertheless, for the sake of students, I hope that teachers and district administrators will work together and constructively hammer out their differences. Tight budgets will certainly not help this situation. Some of the teachers’ frustration is being directed at the WASL, and there is limited but vocal opposition to our testing system by some parents as well. Clearly there are some adjustments and improvements we need to make in our testing system to respond to legitimate concerns raised by teachers and parents. But our main task -- and we will need help from administrators and principals alike -- is to remind everyone that our education reform is about every child reaching high academic standards. Testing is simply our yardstick to tell us if they have attained this goal.

Next year will also inaugurate our nation’s new "No Child Left Behind" law. This federal reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act greatly expands the federal role in education, and this change in policy by Congress is accompanied by significantly greater federal funding. Overall, the educational philosophy is consistent with Washington’s own reform approach. But the federal definition of adequate yearly progress will be impossible to meet for a large portion of the nation’s schools and may punish us for our early success in raising student achievement. I will work with Superintendent Bergeson to convince Congress and the U.S. Department of Education to amend this part of the law. In the meantime, the Superintendent and I will work with you to prevent the No Child Left Behind law from further eroding confidence in Washington’s education system.

Critical Juncture
With these circumstances, there is no doubt that we are at a critical juncture for education in our state. Will we remain steadfast in our commitment to our children? Will we deliver on our promise of excellent education for all Washington students? Or will we retreat? Retreating is not an option in my mind. While I recognize that this is a difficult moment for us all, I believe that our best defense is a potent offense. Education leaders, including you, the school and district administrators, and I, as governor, must remind everyone what we are trying to accomplish, and explain what it will take to fulfill our dreams for our children.

I believe that three major activities must occupy us during the upcoming year. First, we need to celebrate the progress that we have made in our education system since 1992. Using both data and testimony from education professionals, we can help Washingtonians be proud of the progress we’ve made as a result of education reform. Steadily rising WASL and ITBS scores tell the story of our success. And I know many of you can describe the positive influence on students from our common focus on outcomes.

Second, as I mentioned before, we need make refinements in our testing system in response to feedback we have received. Specifically, Superintendent Bergeson has pledged to work with you to:
  • Review the EALRs and WASL cut scores, now that we have worked with them for several years

  • Reconsider the reporting rules for the WASL

  • Make sure we are confident about our rules regarding transient and limited English proficient students and the WASL

  • Assess our plans for administration of the certificate of mastery.

This last item is perhaps the most controversial. But it is my hope that we can refine our conception of the certificate of mastery so that we gain a perception of fairness, without losing the idea that all students should attain a high level of academic competence before receiving a diploma in Washington State.

The third action we must take together is to define our next steps in education reform. No one should have the illusion that we are done improving our schools and the system that supports them -- there is always more work to be done. These next steps must be determined in consultation with all education stakeholders, but our foremost consideration must be excellence for all students, regardless of family resources, skin color, or hometown. We also need to find better ways to attract and retain excellent teachers, principals and administrators, because many our best and brightest are going to retire soon. Finally, we must examine the transition between K-12 and higher education in our state. We simply must make our two systems work together more effectively and seamlessly.

Leadership from Olympia
I will do everything in my power to support you through the work of celebrating, refining and defining the next steps in education reform. In addition, I pledge the following to you:

  • I will protect education funding as much as possible through the upcoming budget process.

  • I will again request legislation so that a simple majority of voters is adequate to approve school funding measures

  • I will continue to support you with creative partnerships to promote family and community involvement in education -- and to bring outstanding educational resources to all students through the use of technology.

If we are to realize our dream of every child meeting high standards, we simply must do a better job of tapping the potential of the family and the community in supporting student achievement. Teachers and principals cannot do it alone. I am constantly looking for ways to help you reach out to engage families and communities in support of student achievement.

The Washington Reading Corps is our latest effort in this arena. The program now deploys more than 8,000 tutors each school year to help students struggling with reading to catch up. And it works!

I hope you have also heard about our new Governor’s Summer Reading Challenge. I challenged all young people in the state to read at least 15 hours this summer. Students who achieve this goal and report in to me by August 15 will receive a certificate of achievementand will qualify for prizes with a total value of $60,000 donated by Washington businesses. We hope that this program will help prevent the backsliding of reading skills that occurs for so many students each summer, and it will engage families in supporting their kids’ reading.

The Virtual Education Task Force will be completing its deliberations shortly. It is recommending ways to distribute excellent learning resources and online coursework over the K-20 Network. If we realize the task force’s vision, we will be able to provide substantial new learning support and courses for students all across the state.

As governor, education has been and will remain my highest priority. We must continue to work together on behalf of Washington’s one million school children (including my daughter Emily, who will be starting Kindergarten at a public elementary school this fall) to make sure that all of Washington’s schools provide a superb education. We must pass the transportation measure, R-51, which will provide money for school safety and crosswalks.

I appreciate very much the efforts of all of you here today. I hope you have an enjoyable and productive summer, and that you are refreshed and reinvigorated by the time school begins again this fall. I look forward to celebrating even greater achievements by our state’s schools in the months and years to come.

Thank you.
Related Links:
- Washington Association of School Administrators
- Washington State Reading School of the Month
- Governor's Summer Reading Challenge
- K-20 Network
- Association of Washington School Principals
- Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction
- Washington Reading Corps
- U.S. Department of Education

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