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Welcome to the Superintendent’s BlogDr. Sara Johnson

As part of my efforts to continue the focus on communications, community engagement, and transparency, I’m thrilled to launch this blog for Sumner School District stakeholders. In this area of the website, I will discuss a variety of timely issues and provide information that I hope will be helpful to Sumner staff, parents, students, and community members. To suggest topics, please email me at I look forward to hearing from you and connecting with the community.

From My Heart to Yours,

Dr. Sara Johnson, Ed.D.

May 6, 2015
Our district has a story to tell. In fact, we have lots of stories. But this particular one concerns sustaining quality learning environments for kids that support our growing district, both now and in the future.

Our Facilities Planning Committee has done important work over these last few months, examining current facility use and discussing future district facility needs. This committee provides recommendations about future facility needs that will assist the Superintendent and School Board in capital and facilities planning.

A list of projects have been identified to potentially go on a future bond that would address capital needs of our district over the next 15 to 20 years. Projects were prioritized to focus on two things.

(1) Capacity. District-wide, our enrollment has grown by over 600 students since our last bond in 2007. Our current demographers report shows that enrollment will rise to approximately 10,700 students over the next 10 years, an increase of approximately 1900 students from today. Currently, almost half of our elementary schools are over capacity due to growth.

(2) Quality of Student Learning Environment. We have facilities that are in desperate need of renovation. In addition, we have the opportunity to grow and expand on some of our core learning curriculums that are currently limited by our current facilities.

In addition to new facilities, state matching funds are available for Emerald Hills, Mountain View and Sumner High. All of this adds up to the need to present an important bond to our voters in the near future.

Our community support is real. Our M&O and Tech Levy passed last year by almost 65% approval. The last time we went out for a bond was in May of 2007 and it passed at 60.66%. As most of you know, a Levy needs 50% voter approval while a Bond needs a 60% super majority to pass. Community support is essential to our districts growth plans.

Strong communities equal strong schools and knowing our story is an essential component of that. Thanks for listening.

April 1, 2015
Spring is upon us - a time of growth! In our schools, students are growing. New skills are being developed and existing skills are being nurtured. Students are making connections, formulating ideas - imaginations are overflowing.

Traditionally, spring is also a time for the district to assess the work being done in the schools and take a deep look into how students are performing. However - the fact of the matter is that we assess our growth continually. Assessments provide an overview as to how our students are learning and what they are retaining.

To ensure that all Sumner School District students are college and career ready, three systems of quality need to be in place. Learning standards provide a shared set of expectations for what students should know and be able to do. Assessments are tools used to support, inform, and measure teaching and learning throughout the school year. Finally, curriculum guides the teacher as they deliver quality instruction.

The district has partnered with Curriculum Management Systems, inc. (CMSi) to conduct a comprehensive audit of our educational programs. The Curriculum Audit provides an intense and independent scrutiny of policies, planning, organizational relationships, administrative functioning, curriculum design and delivery, equity, feedback use, budgeting, facilities, and many other factors that contribute to the optimization of our district.

The goal of this audit is to identify how well the system delivers teaching and learning, pointing to where we are strong and where we need attention or improvement. The audit report frequently becomes an "agenda for action" and is based on an external, unbiased perspective focusing on essential components of quality improvement.

This is important work, allowing us to look deeply at the work we are doing to ensure that we are targeted and focused on providing excellent instruction, every day for every student. This growth mindset ensures that all Sumner School District students are career and college ready - and have the skills to compete for quality jobs that our state has to offer.

March 4, 2015
As your Superintendent, I am committed to creating a learning environment where academic success is the standard for each child. My role is to make sure all students, teachers, and administrators have the tools they need to guide each child to peak performance. The research is clear: the best school districts ensure a clear and viable curriculum is designed to prepare students for college and careers. In plain language, that means that we are committed to ensuring there is a pathway of success through the years of education for all students. We admit, this is a big commitment and challenge.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the third annual District STEM Fair and Art Show. What a fabulous exhibition of innovative student projects and creativity! Students were engaged in their presentations and motivated to share their learning surrounding science, technology, engineering and math. There were hands-on, digital exploration stations and connections to local STEM industry partners at this event as well as multiple teachers, administrations, and volunteers from every area. It was truly an environment that a Superintendent wants occurring on a daily basis in every classroom.

In a STEM learning environment, powerful critical thinking and exploration practices are utilized to engage students in interesting learning in high-performing classrooms. In STEM classrooms, students ask relevant, important real-world questions, collaborate with peers, arrive at meaningful conclusions and explore STEM career components.

Businesses are reporting a significant number of vacancies in STEM related career fields, and a growing need for more scientists, engineers and qualified technicians. Sumner School District is developing a clear and cohesive vision for STEM education. Currently, we have a position posted for an Elementary STEM Administrator to help us achieve this goal throughout the district. We are committed to delivering a rigorous curriculum that continues to prepare students - at ever level of their education - for college and careers.

There is one important quality that unites us all - our students and their potential to reach peak academic success. A culture of STEM teaching and earning in our school is a strong component of that.

February 4, 2015
We continue to welcome new kindergartners and families to the Sumner School District as Kindergarten registration has begun.  What an important and exciting time!  I get a thrill watching the children that come to these informational meetings with their parents.  Hands gently intertwined and connected to their first teacher – the parent – preparing to meet their next teacher – the kindergarten teacher. 

I watched a TEDx talk this week on Youtube, in which Andrew Sokatch, told a story about teaching his boy to ride a bike.  Mr. SoKatch took his child to the school playground to teach the bike riding lesson.  Once there, he realized that he had neglected to check the air in the tires of the bike and both tires were flat.  Obviously, one cannot ride a bike unless the tires are pumped up.  The speaker made a connection between air in bike tires and character in children.  Both are driving factors behind a productive, successful, meaningful journey.  Just as air in bike tires make for a successful ride, children’s character impacts their school experience. 

In the Sumner School District we believe in emphasizing character skills for life along with rigorous curriculum.  We believe children need to be taught character skills such as courage, optimism, persistence, and grit just like they need to be taught math, reading, writing, and science.  The research is clear: positive character traits are extremely critical for success, not just in school, but in life.  We strive to provide school communities where caring and relationships are emphasized right along with calculating and reading.  We believe positive character is just as important as good test scores.  We see the love and nurturing you have invested in your children and we promise to not only do our best to teach reading writing, math, and science but to properly and wholly educate your children by working to instill character skills such as curiosity, gratitude, optimism, grit, and self-control. 

We are registering and welcoming the class of 2028.  We are honored to join you in ensuring their bike has air in the tires so they can hop on and peddle successfully towards a glorious future!

January 7, 2015
This time of year sets itself apart from any other month in many different ways.  A New Year brings new possibilities, renewed hope and fresh starts.  A New Year is like a gift.  A gift of 356 opportunities!

One of the key gifts you can give your child to promote school success - and future career success - is practicing the habit of regular on-time attendance.  The research is clear; all children, regardless of socio-economic background or race, do better academically if they have good school attendance.  Missing 10 or more days of school, or having 10 or more late arrivals or early departures, is a proven warning sign of academic risk and school dropout.  If children are in school, they have the opportunity to learn; if children aren't in school, they can't learn. Curriculum content is rigorous and every minute counts.  There's no doubt that an improvement in school attendance leads to an improvement in school performance!  

At Sumner School District, we have made it tradition to inspire every student to think, to learn, to achieve, and to care. We have established the tradition of providing excellent educational experiences and services. Most importantly, we are building the tradition of preparing our students for post-secondary educational opportunities.  The best part of these traditions is that we renew them every day, every season, of every year.

Of course, I believe the faces of our children best express the true meaning of the New Year. They radiate a sense of unbridled enthusiasm, untainted hope and unabashed joy for life and the opportunities that await them. As you enjoy tradition and welcome in 2015, I want to extend my thanks to all of you for everything that you do for the school district. It is my fervent wish that each of you receives and returns the seasonal bounty of blessings and good tidings that makes a New Year truly special.

December 3, 2014
Why do you do, what you do? What is your purpose ... your cause ... your belief? Think about it. The “why” of what we do is the heart of our inspiration. It keeps us focused, motivated. The “why” gives us purpose. How do you explain achievement or success when odds are stacked against you? Drive. Passion.  Belief. The “why” inspires. 

Simon Sinek in his TEDx Talk, The Golden Circle, explains the power of focusing on the “why.” If you know why you do what you do, you can keep a positive approach no matter how tough the task. He goes on to describe the culture of inspired organizations. Inspired organizations think, act, and communicate from the inside out – driving their success.  The “why” de­fines them. Sinek explains, “People don’t buy what you do – they buy why you do it.”

My heart beats for excellent instruction, every day, in every classroom, for every student. I believe strongly in our public education systems and it is my life goal to leave a legacy of improved public schools. The employees in our district hold the same vision in their hearts and minds and work daily to improve and grow. Our district has a passion for student learning and success. Our purpose - our belief - is that every student in our district is learning and is prepared for life outside our classroom walls by the time they graduate. This is the “why” of the Sumner School District.

A great deal of potential is tapped by clearly de­fining the “why” throughout life. We all need inspiration to do the hard things - knowing your own “why” will keep your light shining.

November 5, 2014
One of my favorite Anne Murray songs is an old hit titled, “A Little Good News.” I encourage you to take a few minutes, go on YouTube, and listen to it. With all of the negativity and sadness in the media surrounding education and schools, it’s possible to lose sight of the wonderful things that happen daily in classrooms, on fields, in gyms, cafeterias, and through the hallways as students experience victories and small miracles on their journey through the school year. It’s easy to forget that virtually all educators are courageous and hopeful people, working as servant leaders to enrich the lives of students. Servant Leadership is a focus across our district. We strive to live and teach honesty, kindness, forgiveness, humility, commitment, selflessness, patience, and respect. Your Sumner

School District educators come to school day after day, making hope a reality and believing in helping students create the future they are hoping for.  That’s the joy of serving as an educator. Through our work, we believe we can “make hope happen” (Shane Lopez, 2013).

We are leaving October behind, and moving on to November, the beginning of the holiday season where we celebrate Thanksgiving. As Sumner School District leaders, our hearts are grateful for our students and community. We are hoping for a month focused on the many things for which we have to be thankful. I encourage you to send “A Little Good News” each day throughout November and keep a list. E-mail your thankful notes and good news to and we will post your comments on the Sumner School District Web site. Our district truly is a great place to learn – for every student, every day, in every classroom. That’s good news! I’m thankful for each educator and student in our district.  We are continuing to build a rock-solid foundation from our core values.

October 1, 2014
In the last district newsletter, I informed teachers of my goal to make 500 classroom visits this school year (I’m up to 102 as of today). Classrooms are the best places in the district. In the classroom, I am frequently queried, “What does a superintendent do?” One little guy questioned his teacher, “She’s a supernintendo?”  The teacher tries to explain my role, “The superintendent is kind of like the president.” I cringe, and I’m humbled and baffled by this description.  I’m not sure what the president does exactly, but I don’t think his work is much like mine. And frankly, the most important work in the district is done by the teachers and principals. But the question remains, what does the superintendent do? I guess I’m more like an airplane pilot and football coach than a president.

Research is clear, effective district leadership impacts student achievement. Therefore, I lead with all my might – which, I believe, is really about serving. The best research identifies the essential work of the superintendent:

1. Develop a vision for the district and lead others to believe in and carry out the vision.
2. Establish non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction – the work is about everyone learning.
3. Create board alignment and encourage support of the district vision and goals.
4. Monitor achievement and instructional goals.
5. Allocate resources to support the goals for achievement and instruction.

I have the privilege of looking at the district from a big picture vantage point. I work with the other leaders of the district to ensure we are all playing for the same big win and a perfect landing– student success and college and career ready graduates.

September 3, 2014
The 2014-15 school budget is designed to support educational initiatives, district goals, and reflects our commitment to prepare all students for a successful life and multiple opportunities after high school.  As educators of children in our area, we are grateful for the many ways in which we receive support from the community.  Sumner School District is deeply committed to wise financial management while providing the highest level of service to students and families. 

Excellent instruction in every classroom every day is the core of our work.  Sumner School District is committed to use formative and summative data to guide in the development of programs and services, ensuring every student is receiving an excellent program of study.  Even with the many changes we encounter from the State and Federal departments of education, we remain focused on our students and their strengths and needs.  We are “Growing our Future” and will follow a pathway of sound planning and implementation of successful, proven practices.

Preparing and planning for 2014-15 has required thoughtful study and preparation.  As our district grows, and we are waiting for the next legislative biennium decisions, we carefully prioritize where to most efficiently spend money to best serve students.  The beginning of the funding of the McCleary decision, combined with careful budgeting, has allowed Sumner School District to provide free full-day kindergarten.  Also, we have established a “Schools of Hope,” program to serve students who need extra support to get on track to graduate.  Through teamwork and collaboration, we settled five collective bargaining agreements with our employees in 2013-14.   There is much to be proud of in Sumner School District – and a great deal of work to be accomplished to stay at the forefront of providing a first-rate education to our students. 

As superintendent, I consider it one of my most important roles to develop a budget that supports quality experiences for all students and ensures excellent instruction for every child, every day, in every classroom, from grades K – 12.  Our student achievement remains strong, and continues to improve.  Sumner School District has some of the best teachers and schools in Washington State.  We believe in accountability and welcome community members, legislators, and families into our schools.  When Washington State lost the No Child Left Behind waiver from the US Department of Education, it did not change the caliber nor quality of work we are doing in Sumner School District; it only changed the labels placed upon schools by politicians far removed from the classroom.  Rest assured, we remaina premier district with outstanding teachers, administrators, and support staff and we continue to improve every year.  Our ranking as a district is climbing, and we believe it will continue to follow that trend as we work hard every day to provide outstanding service and education.








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