Students smiling as SK schools start with no hassles

The South Kitsap School District board was happy to have no delays in returning to the classroom for the first day of the 2022-23 school year Sept. 7.

While schools in Port Angeles, Kent and Seattle had their starts delayed for days or weeks due to union strikes, no such interruption affected South Kitsap.

Superintendent Tim Winter said that with learning loss affecting students over the past two years, it was important to get back in the classroom. “We are going to take our students where they are right now, and we’re going to move them forward,” he said.

Winter said students were just as eager to get back into the classroom as staff was, referring to a slide show from the different elementary and middle schools. “The faces of the students that we saw coming through South Colby with huge grins,” he said, “there’s no better visual of belonging than that.”

School board president Jeffrey Wilson said that Orchard Height Elementary held the same level of enthusiasm as seen in the pictures, with tons of parents and their kids ready for the drop-off. Wilson said it was a great start to a “new year, hopefully a more normal year of, hopefully, academic recovery, which is good.”

Board member Brian Pickard recounted one young student who was so happy to be back that he was dancing. Pickard said that “not everyone was quite dancing like he was, but the kids’ faces were precious. It’s just the excitement of being there.”

Faces were on full display as COVID mask rules are more relaxed in classrooms this year. Kids were able to attend school without a mask, but are still encouraged to make healthy decisions.

Volunteers are also being welcomed back to school this year, but they and all staff still fall under the state’s vaccine mandate.

They are required to be vaccinated or apply for an exemption.

Board member John Berg said that the mandate “is not the district policy. We’re bound by higher-ups.”

School safety training is also undergoing a more regular schedule. Board member Kate Espy said in her participation in a recent school shooting scenario, she found the high school to be very secure.

“I just thought the fact that no one could get in (the building) was fabulous,” she said. “No matter what door I tried, I couldn’t get in.”

Winter again emphasized the need for bus drivers that has been echoed by the other districts in Kitsap County. The district is running 72 routes with 72 drivers.

“We’re also dealing with other transportation industries,” Winter said. “CDL’s are a hot market right now. People are paying a lot of money to get people to drive.”

The number of routes and overall ridership could change as Sept. 1 marked the start of Kitsap Transit allowing those 18 and younger to ride free on all of its bus routes.

With school underway, Winter said that student retention is now the focus. “As we’ve said before, it’s one thing to get students back. The next step is to keep those students.”