The Oakville School District made a number of substantial changes before the start of the 2019 school year intended to create more opportunities for students and increase total enrollment.
Some of the projects that have been completed include: an alternative school, music programs being reintroduced after four years, 20 new security cameras, a new parking lot, a new elementary office, Chromebooks for students, TVs in the classrooms and specialized learning tracks added to the curriculum.
Rich Staley, Oakville School District superintendent, and Tanya Bunting, the director of finance, said the district has been working hard to secure levy money and bonds to fund these major improvements.
Staley started working at the superintendent of the Oakville School District three years ago after working for Educational Service District 113 in Tumwater.
“My challenge to the staff since I’ve been here is to say, ‘Hey what are we really good at? What does Oakville High School stand for?’ And when I got here, to be honest, it wasn’t much,” Staley said.
The Oakville School District has 260 students in kindergarten through 12th grade this year. Staley said enrollment is up from last year by about 50 students — a substantial number for such a small district.
Four years ago Oakville cut its music program because of lack of funding. Starting this school year, students can participate in middle school band class, high school band class, a combined choir and a guitar class.
“I was a band kid all the way through college so it was important to me that kids have music. … We figured out the funding sources to get (the music program) back,” Staley said. Between 15 and 20 students are in the school band.
Learning tracks also were added to the high school schedule. In the past, each grade level would be in the same classes together all day. They traveled as a pack from class to class without options to take different classes.
“So there was only really one track … as we build the middle school and high school schedule this year we made it a point of emphasis to try and create pathways for kids through our systems, something that didn’t really occur prior to this year’s schedule,” Staley explained.
The learning tracks that were added include agriculture, environmental science and early learning. They give students opportunities for choice and a more personalized education. Staley spoke about the importance for creating hope for the future for students through the classes they take.
The principal of Oakville School, Scott Hyder proposed the idea of an alternative school for students who struggle in the traditional school setting. The alternative school is a hybrid of an online and in-classroom approach where most of the school week’s work is completed at home. There are currently 11 students enrolled in the alternative school.
Staley explained the situation of a sixth-grader who had struggled to behave in a classroom setting. Now he is in the alternative school working on computer science programs and teaching himself code.
“It’s been a really positive situation,” Staley said.
Before the parking lot was resurfaced and repainted, the student drop-off situation was a safety concern. Since the parking lot was small, buses and parents in their vehicles could not fit so parents would park across the street.
“It was really unsafe because school would let out and kids would be running across the street. … Now we have a bus loop and the parents have a smaller loop.”
Staley said that they can now get all the kids out of the building after school in about seven minutes in a safe manner. The parking lot was funded by a grant.
“I think we’ve had an opportunity to envision and reimagine what Oakville could be,” Staley said. “It’s not about geography. It’s about opportunity. Let’s figure out what are the opportunities that kids deserve and let’s figure out how to help them get there.”
Staley said the Oakville School District has many more plans for future improvements. The district is applying for the state Small District Modernization Grant for up to $3.3 million and hoping to pass a bond in February.
“If we can pass the bond through the community then we qualify for about $8.2 million in matching funds from the state so that we could take care of a wide variety of projects,” Staley said.
Some of the upcoming projects include: replacing the old elementary school building, building a preschool playground, upgrading the gymnasium and replacing old roofs.
“We really care. We care about kids having success and having that hope for the future,” he said.