Dr. Redinger's Open Letters
Updates, messages and thoughts from Dr. Shelley Redinger To THE RSD COMMUNITY on the important work going on in RSD schools.
Dec. 13, 2022
When I and other district leaders welcomed all school and district staff at the beginning of the school year, I held a drawing for a special prize: the opportunity for me to be their substitute for a day so they could focus on other professional opportunities they wanted to focus on.
I drew two names, one for our Communities In Schools coordinator at Badger Mountain Elementary and a first-grade teacher at William Wiley Elementary. I recently fulfilled my promise, spending a full school day at each while the staff members took in some training they had long wanted to complete or worked on other tasks to benefit students.
While I regularly visit schools to engage with administrators, staff, volunteers and parents, it is a whole other experience to manage and engage students for an entire day. The two staff members appreciated the opportunity to step away from their roles to focus on other professional needs, but this was secretly a treat for me, too.
I loved every minute of it! At Badger Mountain I helped run the school store where students could come select prizes using tokens they received for positive behavior. I also got to chat with them over lunch as well.
At Wiley, my day in the first-grade classrooms reminded me of why I first became a teacher years ago. Seeing students excitedly answer questions and work on projects never fails to fill my bucket.
I found myself thinking that while I am committed to serving RSD as superintendent, my heart truly misses teaching. But I also quickly remembered how much hard work it takes, as I was glad to get home and just rest for a moment at the end of each of those days.
I look forward to offering more opportunities like this to our staff in the next year. I’m also looking forward to holding my next Redinger Roundtable community meeting on Jan. 19 at Desert Sky Elementary, our ribbon cutting celebration of the new Badger Mountain Elementary on Jan. 26 and so much more. Having such great students, staff and community to partner with is a gift I’m never tired of receiving every year.
Happy holidays, enjoy Winter Break and talk to you all soon!
After months of drafting and seeking community feedback, RSD’s strategic plan is nearly complete. District staff are scheduled to present a final draft to the Richland School Board later this month and that wouldn’t be possible if not for all the parents and community members as well as staff and students who provided input and recommendations. Thank you to all who helped us develop this map to our district’s future.
Among all the comments there were a number that I noticed with a similar theme. They were supportive of the plan, supportive of its focuses and initiatives. But they were unsure of one thing: our district’s and community’s ability to meet the vision and goals the plan itself. As one respondent said, “Everything looks amazing, it is just down to follow through with this plan.”
It’s true that our strategic plans goals are ambitious and challenging. Collaboration, critical thinking and communication will be crucial. We need to aim for success while being prepared for setbacks. However, I am confident that together we can move the community forward. Because we already are.
- We are bringing new services, staff and resources into schools to address student mental health.
- We are bolstering our instructional practices and enhancing educational offerings so we can serve each student’s unique learning needs.
- We are working closely with our partners in emergency responses agencies and experts in security and student support to ensure our schools are emotionally and physically safe.
And it is in that spirit that I am starting a new series of opportunities for community members to engage with me and share perspectives, suggestions and feedback. “Redinger Roundtables” will be held throughout the district this school year, providing easy access for those residing in each area of our district. These will be informal events, with some brief opening remarks from me before just opening it up for conversation.
The first Roundtable will be on Oct. 17 at Hanford High School for our north Richland families and neighbors. Anyone wanting to attend is asked to register ahead of time so we can plan for refreshments and seating. I will be prioritizing discussions with our north Richland families at this first event, but I look forward to engaging with as many folks as I can throughout the district at future roundtables in central and south Richland and West Richland.
Just as we needed the community to join us in drafting our strategic plan, we also need the community’s help in fulfilling it. We can’t move forward without our families. So I hope to see you at one of my roundtables so that we can keep the lines of communication open, lift up our students and make our schools the best they can be.
Even after all my years working in schools, I still get excited for the first day of class each fall.
I get to see school buses back on the road and our student and paraeducator crossing guards shepherding folks through crosswalks. The playgrounds and parking lots of our schools are full of students looking for their friends and teachers. I get to smell the breakfasts and lunches being prepared by staff in our school kitchens. Custodians, maintenance workers and grounds crews have spent a summer making sure our facilities and grounds are at their very best. School offices are busy and yet secretaries, administrators and everyone who supports our schools are just so happy to see kids back.
Each start of school has its special highlights. This year it will be Badger Mountain Elementary students and staff entering their new building for the first time while our newest school, Desert Sky Elementary, will begin building its community. All our new students, whether kindergartners or those who have moved to our community, will begin building relationships and memories. Our new teachers, secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, administrators and many others will start their new roles supporting, engaging and inspiring students.
Each start of school means new opportunities for parents and community members to get involved in our schools and district. Please become a volunteer. Join your school’s parent-teacher organization or booster club. Help us fine tune our “Richland Ready” Strategic Plan when we seek your input on the latest draft in September.
And, of course, each start of school means once again getting to see students take the field, court or stage to showcase their talents. Whether at the recently refurbished Fran Rish Stadium or Richland High Auditorium or at the new Hanford High Athletics Complex, I know our community is excited to see our students compete and perform.
It's a magical time and a fresh start for everyone. Thank you for letting us serve you and your children and we look forward to seeing you on the first day of school!
Monday, March 14 is a milestone for our community.
Folks in our community have mixed feelings about this moment. Many are elated they will be able to see the smiles of their friends, teachers and co-workers. Many others are concerned about the potential risk COVID-19 poses for themselves and their loved ones.
I want to assure everyone the district will respect each individual’s choice whether to wear a mask. Our schools will continue to follow the guidance and requirements set by state and local public health officials. Currently, the Washington Board of Health’s Technical Advisory Group recently recommended against making the vaccine a requirement for students. School and district staff will still be required to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or request an exemption for medical or religious reasons.
While we will remain vigilant in making our schools safe places for learning, I am eager to see our district continue efforts around continuous improvement and ensuring student achievement. We are starting our effort to develop a strategic plan that will inform how we serve students and identify successes and challenges. Staff continue to look at ways to engage and support students, from providing courses that challenge and prepare them for their futures to bringing new resources into schools to address mental health needs.
Beloved student activities such as the recent high school art show by Educational Service District 123 (ESD 123) and the upcoming regional Salmon Summit at Columbia Park in Kennewick and our own RSD Field Day celebrating our students with disabilities are back in-person this spring, providing even more excitement and normalcy for kids, families and staff.
Because of our supportive community, we are positioned to move past the pandemic to focus on our paramount mission – student learning. Thank you to everyone who has stepped up to support our schools and brought us to this moment. Please stay involved and, as always, please reach out and share your thoughts.
Dear RSD parents, staff and community members,
I apologize for the delay in providing some clarity into the current status of our school district. It was my hope that, when I finally did release a statement, it would be one conveying much better news. I am hopeful that the following information will at least help to clear some things up.
As a parent of a student that has been sorely impacted by the pandemic, a career-long educator, and someone that loves the Richland community, it tears me apart that we are in our current situation. My staff and I have fought very hard throughout the pandemic to get our children back into schools in the safest and best learning environments possible. It is heartbreaking to experience the current disruption when many feel we are so close to seeing a return to near-normal conditions.
With all that said, let me be clear: as the RSD superintendent, I am the one that has enacted the current emergency closures. It is my job to take direction from the RSD Board of Directors and to try and implement changes, within the legal and operational frameworks that guide our schools, in an attempt to comply with the Board’s direction. The Board recently decided that the district go to a masks-optional status. While I, personally, would love nothing better than to see our kids’ smiling faces in schools, the unfortunate reality is that I am unable to make that happen.
Face coverings are currently required in most indoor settings in Washington state, including public schools, by the Secretary of Health. The Secretary of Health’s mask mandate has the force of law and cannot be disregarded by any school district in the state.
As a result, bringing children and staff back to schools, while knowingly violating the current mask mandate, would be unlawful, jeopardize district funding and insurance coverage and would be asking all RSD staff members to potentially risk their jobs.
So, the big question is, why shut down the schools? Believe me, it was the last thing that I wanted to do and hasn’t been done lightly. It pains me that kids are not in schools and parents are having to scramble around the closures. However, the abrupt change in direction required that RSD administrative staff explore the legal and operational ramifications of going masks-optional. While it might seem like a quick and easy change, there are a lot of moving parts to consider. Also, we need time to properly inform all stakeholders of significant changes in operational direction so that everyone is on the same page. Having some staff and/or students showing up without being properly notified of the changes would most likely result in chaos and confusion in our schools. In the end, shutting down schools was a difficult choice from several bad options. While these decisions take into account input from many stakeholders, they are ultimately decisions that I make as the RSD superintendent. Please keep that in mind when interacting with RSD staff.
As the district noted in its notice about the emergency closure for Feb. 17, Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to announce today at 2 p.m. on TVW the date by which the state mask mandate will be lifted. This announcement will hopefully provide more clarity and I look forward to updating our community on next steps.
Dec. 9, 2021
I was so excited when I learned in November that our educational service district, ESD 123, was restarting the Middle School Art Show. I was glad I was able to attend the opening reception recently to look at creations from some of our own middle school students and celebrate them. Anyone in our community may go see the show while it’s up through Dec. 17 at ESD 123’s offices in Pasco or you can see the photos of some of our student’s work online.
After a school year where so many of the opportunities for students to perform and compete in front of their families, friends and the community were limited, it’s great to see these types of events resume safely. Our student-athletes are again taking the field or court with people in the stands. Musical and theatrical performances are scheduled in our auditoriums. Each game, show and recital is the culmination of hours of practice, rehearsal and commitment on the part of our students and staff.
They are also a manifestation of how deeply our community cares about our schools.
State funding for schools does not pay for art classes in elementary schools or coaches. Our middle and high schools could not have athletic programs if not for the community’s support of our Educational Programs & Operations, or EP&O, levy. Our arts programs, which begin in our elementary schools and help students build on their creativity and talent as they go through middle and high school, are paid for by local levy dollars. When you cheer and applaud our students, you also are cheering and applauding your dedication and your neighbors’ dedication to quality schools.
But that’s not all our community’s decades-long support of local levies does for students. The EP&O levy ensures we can meet the needs of every student, whether that be Advanced Placement (AP) courses or special education services. Levies pay for school supplies each fall for our students in kindergarten through Grade 8 and the bulk of our district’s school nurses, social workers and school psychologists. The Technology levy, first approved by voters in 2018, has put a digital device in the hands of every student in Grades 2-12 to enhance their learning in the classroom and at home.
Every time you hear about an innovative student program in our schools, whether that’s our growing Work-Based Learning program or the award-winning students studying documentary filmmaking and podcasting at Hanford High, that is your levy dollars at work.
The importance of the EP&O and Technology levies to all RSD students is why the Richland School Board recently voted unanimously to ask the community to renew them in the Feb. 8 special election. We’ll be sending you more information about the levies and how they affect our schools in the coming weeks. You can also find online the official ballot resolutions, how tax rates would not change and answers to frequently-asked questions. I humbly ask that you consider all of this when you are reviewing your ballot and casting your vote. And, if you can, I highly recommend taking in one of our student performances or competitions. They truly are a fulfilling experience.
Happy holidays and talk to you all soon!
Being a parent myself, I know how frustrating it can be to learn too late about a school event, a new academic policy or not knowing where to get information about my child’s school. Communication is crucial, and that includes knowing where to learn about things and being heard on issues and challenges.
As I shared in my last letter, the district is focused on reviewing and improving its communications at the district and school level. We sent a survey link to all district parents/guardians as well as all our staff so you could let us know how well our current efforts are working and what could be better. More than 1,300 people responded and I want to thank you for taking the time because the input you provided is crucial and shining a light on how we need to move forward.
Our Director of Communications, Ty Beaver, shared a report and the full results of the survey with the Richland School Board recently and you can view that document. Here are some of the key takeaways and how the district is already working to make changes.
- Email is how most parents and staff prefer to receive communication by a large margin. At the same time, there are requests that those email communications improve, such as having the message in the body of the email instead of as an attachment and better formatting. District staff are looking at how to support schools with simple and intuitive email templates and support. The district also recently launched Peachjar, which will send community flyers and newsletters from schools directly to parent emails to reduce the possibility of missed communication.
- Social media, while used by many, needs to be reassessed. While 60 percent of survey respondents said they follow the district’s Facebook Page, nearly 40 percent said they don’t follow ANY district social media. As a result, the district is realigning its social media strategy to promote community building rather than be used for news dissemination. This will help showcase the work going on in schools while ensuring that families do not miss urgent and/or important communications.
- You all really want text alerts. There were a lot of written comments calling for text alerts or push notifications. District staff are developing a protocol for using text messages to communicate urgent news such as weather delays. It will also be used for events such as lockdowns and building evacuations, as it was recently used to ensure families with students at William Wiley Elementary were informed when their children were evacuated during a fire alarm. I do recommend families check that they’re contact information with their child’s school is up-to-date so you can receive these notifications.
There’s much more in the works, including an ongoing audit of district and school websites, development and scheduling of opportunities for families and staff to engage with district leaders and reviewing other suggestions and how they could be implemented.
That’s not the only way community feedback has helped the district respond to concerns. The district is in the midst of determining potential new attendance boundaries as we prepare to give Elementary 11 its own school community in the fall of 2022. Assistant Superintendent Brian Moore shared current and proposed boundary maps during online information webinars. A few who attended the webinars noted in their written feedback that a few of the maps looked inaccurate. That led to a review of the maps and the discovery of a mapping error, which has been corrected. View those corrected maps and learn more about the boundary realignment process.
There are plenty of other things we want to get your feedback on, from a proper name for Elementary 11 to how we should adapt our schools as our community continues to grow. We can’t do it without you so I hope we continue to hear from you!
I want to start this blog by saying thank you.
Thank you to our students for their resilience, drive and compassion. When I was at schools as students returned at the end of August, I could hear their excitement as they caught up with friends or chatted with staff as they walked in. In the first month of this school year that excitement has translated into everything from River’s Edge High students participating in an engineering competition at the University of Idaho, Lewis & Clark Elementary students being inspired by Olympic and Paralympic athletes and our preschoolers at the Early Learning Center diving right into starting their learning adventure. And seeing the impressive turnout at the #TakeStridesTC suicide prevent event, an event organized by our high school student leaders, was a reminder of how our students are lifting up their friends through these challenging times.
Thank you to our staff for their dedication, professionalism and problem-solving. Teachers and paraeducators have worked hard to stay connected to their students, engage and inspire them, in the early days of the pandemic and now. Our custodians, nutrition services staff, bus drivers, maintenance and operations crews and front office staff have moved quickly to adapt to new precautions and safety procedures so schools could open safely this school year. Our health room staff are on the frontlines in responding when students become ill and making sure our schools don’t contribute to the spread of COVID-19. Each day has brought a new challenge and they have tackled each one, whether it’s making sure middle school athletes still have competitions with other schools outside RSD despite scheduling setbacks or determining how to ensure elementary students can enjoy specials such as library, music, art and physical education, the activities that make a day at school, well, special.
Thank you to our families for their understanding, advocacy and care. While many of our students are back to in-person learning, there are still a lot of new routines and requirements to keep in mind and help our students through. I appreciate the need for families to have options in how their children prepare for their futures, whether they enroll their child in one of our elementary, middle or comprehensive high schools; team up with our staff in a partnership role such as at Three Rivers HomeLink, pursue project-based learning at River’s Edge High School, a fully online learning experience through Pacific Crest Online Academy or enroll in unique regional programs such as Delta High School or Tri-Tech Skills Center. It’s this same interest into their child’s educational well-being that leads many to join parent-teacher organizations or just volunteer in the classroom, demonstrating how they truly care for kids.
And thank you to our community for its support of our schools. Our students benefit from mentorships with local businesses and professionals and neighbors participating in fundraisers. Ongoing support of our levy-funded arts and athletics programs ensure our students can take the stage, the field and the court. We have newer and more modern schools than many districts across the state that make for safe and secure places to learn because of voter approval of past bonds.
Thank you. Thank you for reminding me why I was so eager to come back to Richland and be a part of this community.
My goal is for this monthly blog to be another tool in RSD’s toolbox in bringing everyone in our community into the conversation and share updates on exciting initiatives. Stay tuned for details on some new events I am organizing to meet with community members and share information and updates on district projects and planning efforts. We are also preparing to roll out a new tool in the coming weeks that will give you the opportunity to give feedback on important questions while also seeing what your neighbors also have to say and find common ground.
Lastly, be on the lookout for a survey where you can give us some initial feedback on our district and school communication efforts. I want to be sure that everyone knows how we are serving our community and preparing its next generation for the future.
Talk to you all soon!