The first "Innovations in Education" award will be presented this month to the little Yakima Valley school district of Granger where "Every Child, Every Seat, Every Day" became a mantra for students, teachers and parents that allowed the largely Hispanic district to achieve the best attendance in the state last year.
The Innovations in Education Award is being created by the Discovery Institute and will be presented to three women for their key roles in the attendance-success story of the Granger district, where almost a third of the students are from poverty-level homes.
The award will be presented May 19 at a dinner at the Rainier Club as part of the Discovery Institute's 25th anniversary. Presentation of the award will precede a panel discussion with three noted education-change advocates on the topic of "Creating a 21st Century Public Education System."
The women being honored with the award are:
--Alma Sanchez, mother of four, turned student at Heritage University, turned entrepreneur, who wrote and managed the grant for the attendance-incentive awards program at Granger Middle School.
--Janet Wheaton, recently retired Granger School District administrator, who worked with Sanchez and helped her with the application for the $20,000 grant that funded the incentive program, The "Every Child, Every Seat, Every Day" was the title of Sanchez' grant application to the Yakima Valley Community Foundation.
--Joan Wallace, Bellevue business woman who for more than a decade has helped focus attention on the needs of the families of Granger and created the district's relationship with Heritage.
Discovery Institute is presenting the award in partnership with the Seattle law firm of Patterson Buchanan, a leader in school-personnel legal issues, particularly the annual School law Conference. Bellevue developer and retailer Kemper Freeman, one of whose key focuses has been education since his years in the legislature in the 1970s, is the major sponsor.
To ensure wide visibility for the award this year, and to help guide nominations in future years, Sound Publishing and Q13 television will be media sponsors.
It was in a recent column detailing the dramatic turnaround in "chronic" absenteeism for the schools in Granger to 3.6 percent, more than four times better than the statewide average of 16 percent, that I suggested the achievement merited the attention of those seeking to bring change and educational enhancement to schools. In addition, perfect attendance to 21 percent from 3 percent the previous year.
Steve Buri, president of Discovery Institute, seized the opportunity of the May 19 dinner event and its focus on creating a school system for the current century to agree that the Granger accomplishment merited the first Innovations in Education Award and that the dinner was the appropriate venue.
Discovery Institute's American Center for Transforming Education works with state legislators, policymakers and those involved directly in education to promote systemic change to the nation's education system.
The motivation in Granger to create the attendance-incentive program was the nagging awareness for educators and parents there, as in every economically challenged area, that absenteeism is a key factor in kids failing to succeed in school as well as their becoming prime targets for gang recruitment.
Sanchez worked to create a belief among faculty and staff that full attendance was possible and put encouragement, support and incentives in place for students. She did that by putting together a year-end drawing for five iPads for students with perfect attendance and promoted the program with posters around school.
The year-end awards promotion was accompanied by signage proclaiming "every quarter you are in school every day you will receive fabulous prizes."
The motivation to recognize the achievement with the new Innovations in Education award was the realization on the part of Discovery Institute and the rest of the team of companies involved with the award that significant education change will only come if attention is focused on new ideas that are producing noteworthy change.
Wheaton said she was sure that going forward there will be an effort to measure academic results from the attendance improvement, but added last year already paid a dividend in that it"was the first in many years that the entire district met standard in all areas of the state bilingual test - the Washington English Language Proficiency Exam."
It's worth focusing on the fact that while the public education system is under challenge from forces seeking to bring about necessary changes to curriculum and structure, the Granger story is evidence that essential change can come about through new vision within the current system as well as from external forces.
The panel conversation I will be moderating following the award presentation May 19 event will feature:
--Don Nielsen, who served eight years on the Seattle School Board and has written a book called Every School that has gotten national attention:;
--Bob Hughes, a member of the state Board of Education and former Corporate Director of Education Relations for Boeing.
-- Paul T. Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Research Professor at UW-Bothell, whose focus is on re-missioning states and school districts to promote school performance, school choice and innovation, finance and productivity; and improving rural schools.