Congratulations to Meagan Rhoades, who received the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD) Classified Employee of the Year award!
Meagan Rhoades: Learning Technology Assistant
PSESD Classified Employee of 2012-2013
White River School District Welcomes Innovative Superintendent
While its neighboring district begins its search for a superintendent, the White River School District is moving forward with a familiar face in Janel Keating.
In December, the White River School Board didn’t hesitate as it handed Keating a three-year contract. Board President Denise Vogel said they didn’t want another district snatching the innovative, hard-working, popular leader away.
Keating, who has been instrumental in turning the district into an educational powerhouse the past seven years as deputy superintendent, assumed leadership July 1 and it’s education as usual for the Buckley-based district.
“The message hasn’t changed since I arrived 15 years ago as principal,” said Keating, who started her career with the district as principal at Mountain Meadow Elementary School. “I’m here to ensure learning for the kids and the staff.”
Keating uses her daughter, a student at White River High School, who has been with the district since kindergarten as her barometer. Keating’s mission has been to create a district of educational equality – each school; each classroom is designed to be good enough, not just for her child, but every child.
There was no hesitation from the school board or staff as to whom they wanted to fill the seat when Tom Lockyer retired.
“It’s going to be a huge blessing for our community as a whole,” said Karen Fugate, an English teacher at White River High School. “Janel is on the cutting-edge of student learning.”
For Keating it’s about the kids, the staff, the community and learning.
She has been building a collaborative culture between all staff – teaching, support, administrative and classified – and students to ensure each has a successful future.
Through Professional Learning Communities, district leadership has made student learning its focus by outlining exactly what each student must learn. They then monitor each students learning and provide systemic intervention. For those who master learning standards there are enrichment opportunities.
The process is research-based and data driven with visible results. In the past seven years, White River has seen its test scores rise to among the highest in Pierce County, and in many instances, the state. Leadership has adopted new curriculum with checks and balances to guarantee every student’s success.
As an example, at the elementary level, in 2010, White River had the highest state standardized math scores of the 15 districts and 126 elementary schools in Pierce County with math achievement in all of White River’s elementary schools ranking near the state’s top 10 percent.
Foothills Elementary, one of the lowest performing White River schools five years ago, is now one of the highest-performing elementary schools in Puget Sound and was named a 2010 Washington State School of Distinction.
The district’s work is nationally recognized and Keating speaks to educators across the country sharing the secrets of White River’s success. Thousands of administrators and educators from across the country have also visited the White River School District to see the work in action.
Those who work with Keating say there’s no secret to the district’s success. It’s commitment, a common sense approach and Keating’s example of drive and dedication.
“As a parent I have a lot of confidence in this district,” said Hugh Flint, the district’s Director of Student Support Services, who said Keating made him feel welcome from Day 1.
“One of the reasons we picked the house in the neighborhood we did was I wanted my kids in her school,” Flint said. “When I see the growth over the past 10 years and her work with the principals; I would be fine with our kids in any one of these buildings.”
Currently, Flint’s son is at White River High, which has become the district’s shining star.
“My son will be a sophomore and he loves White River High School,” Flint said. “He wants to go to MIT and I think he can get there from White River High School.”
White River High’s 2012 graduating class earned more than $1 million in scholarships, has the highest percentage of students moving on to post-secondary education in the district’s history and one of the highest on-time graduation rates in the state at 92 percent.
The home of the Hornets boasts nine Advance Placement classes, which involve nearly 400 students. Advanced Placement classes are college-level course and exams offered at the high school level. These courses give students a jump on college. WRHS offers AP classes in biology, chemistry, U.S. History, environmental science, government, statistics, calculus, psychology and English.
Last year, 177 White River students took 235 AP exams with a number of those earning high honors.
As a teacher there, Fugate said the attitude and atmosphere at the high school centers on academics.
“The kids, their job is to get a strong education and develop as people,” she said. “The academic focus has really changed. It’s not just a handful of kids taking it serious, they all do.”
Fugate believes the change in attitude is directly tied to Keating and Principal Mike Hagadone’s leadership.
“I’m excited,” Fugate said. “I respect her. I admire her work ethic and find her inspiring. She’s very supportive. She’s very accessible. She’s very hands on."
In her new role, Keating plans to remain directly involved.
“My work with the principals and staff, that’s just going to continue,” Keating said.
Keating is not the only one with a new title and role at White River. The district has opted not to fill Keating’s position as deputy superintendent, but WRHS Principal Mike Hagadone will become Keating’s right-hand man as Director of Secondary Education and Principal on Special Assignment.
In his role, he will help assist WRHS Principal Lainey Mathews, a former assistant principal there as she moves into the head role. Hagadone will also handle the transition of the district’s alternative cooperative, White River Alternative Programs, which Sumner, Enumclaw and White River school district leaders decided to close this spring.
Both Hagadone and Keating plan to spend more time in the community letting residents know the great things going on in the White River School District.
The pair has already met with community leaders and civic groups and is welcome to more invitations.