School News

AHAS in the News

AHAS in the News

Vancouver Voice: Volume 3, Issue 12, May 7, 2009; page 9.


Cheers: To Washington State University Vancouver professor Susan Finley and her advanced-degree students who run the At Home At School program. The Columbian: July 21, 2007;  Page C6, Article ID: MERLIN_1805054.


Summer School and so much more. The Columbian: July 16, 2007; Page A1, Article ID: MERLIN_1793497.


Popsicle stick bridges make for sweet project. The Columbian: August 1, 2006; Page A1, Article ID: 2006213005.


Slow Foods nourishes At Home At School kids


CAMEO foundation donates $26,000 to WSU program


Grants aimed at three obesity-fighting efforts


School News

Clark County school districts, businesses take Inslee’s mask announcement in stride

Students and staff in K-12 schools statewide will continue to be legally required to wear masks as protection from COVID-19 under a mandate announced Wednesday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The directive, which was paired with a request that all vaccinated Washington residents consider wearing masks in indoor areas, came following federal guidance for mask-wearing in areas with elevated levels of COVID-19 activity. A previous state health order requiring all those who are unvaccinated to wear masks indoors remains in effect.

With reports of 302 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 on July 22 — double the 151 new cases reported July 15 — Clark County has been flagged as having “substantial” disease transmission by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New data from the past week is scheduled to be released today by Clark County Public Health.

While the guidance is advisory only for vaccinated individuals outside of schools, mask wearing is mandatory in the educational system. Inslee added that he will re-evaluate the requirements as students prepare to return to class. Many Clark County school districts begin classes Aug. 31.

Continuing to mandate masks in schools didn’t come as a surprise for local district leaders Wednesday. That’s because back in May, part of the state Department of Health’s summer 2021 and 2021-22 school year guidance required that masks be worn by all staff and students inside school buildings.

It also emphasized that schools plan for full-time in-person instruction for all students, along with mandatory ventilation, cleaning and disinfecting, and plans to respond to COVID-19 cases.

Mike Merlino, superintendent of Evergreen Public Schools, said he felt reassured the Washington Department of Health continued to emphasize that schools should have five days a week in-person instruction this fall. Evergreen was Clark County’s only district to remain at twice-a-week hybrid instruction this spring when neighboring districts advanced to four or five days per week.

Merlino also stressed how often news surrounding guidance in schools remains fluid, which was the case last school year.

“My guess is we’re in this for a while,” Merlino said. “Hopefully, the case numbers start to decline and I think everybody wants staff and kids in schools without masks. But you know what? We do what we’re directed to do.”

Larry Delaney, president of the Washington Education Association, applauded Inslee’s announcement.

“WEA believes every student has the right to a safe, equitable education, including students with health conditions or disabilities,” Delaney said in a statement. “Keeping students, staff, and our community safe from COVID takes following public health guidance for social distancing, vaccination, and masking. We must all work together to ensure that our schools are safe.”

Business reaction

The updated guidance appeared to get a mixed reaction from Clark County businesses, with most expressing support for public health and safety measures but stopping short of reinstating customer mask requirements without a direct government mandate.

Vancouver Mall General Manager Tracey Peters said the mall would encourage shoppers to follow the CDC and county guidelines but would not change its current mask-wearing policies, which do not require customers to wear masks in the common areas of the mall. Individual retailers and restaurants can set their own policies, she said.

Rick Takach, CEO of Vancouver-based hotel management company Vesta Hospitality, said he has generally relied on the standards set by the brands in the company’s portfolio when it comes to mask rules, as well as guidance from the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

The new public health guidelines will likely lead to reinstated masking rules for hotel team members, he said, but probably not for customers unless a jurisdiction issues a direct mandate, such as the one Los Angeles County instituted earlier this month. It’s difficult to predict the impact that the new guidance could have on the hospitality industry, he said, which is already in a precarious place.

“I don’t think our business can handle another shutdown,” he said. “I really don’t.”

Travel traffic is rebounding, but it’s being driven more by leisure trips than business groups, he said, which is already prompting concerns about whether business will remain strong in the winter months. The new mask guidance — and the fact that the delta variant is picking up steam in the middle of the summer, when coronaviruses typically spread more slowly — creates a great deal of uncertainty.

James Bean, co-owner of the two Craft Cannabis shops in Clark County, said his stores would operate to be “mirroring” the recommendations of public health officials. The staff are also fully vaccinated, he added.

Elie Kassab, owner of Battle Ground Cinema parent company Prestige Theatres, said the multiplex would tighten its mask rules after previously relaxing them so that only employees were required to wear masks.

“We believe it’s safer for everybody to wear a mask,” he said. “We are going to respectfully ask all of our customers to wear their masks.”

The impact on construction job sites is likely to be minimal, because most workers don’t operate in crowded indoor spaces, according to Andrea Smith, communications and education program manager at the Building Industry Association of Clark County.

There may be some exceptions when it comes to carpooling to job sites or working on sites where there are many subcontractors on the job simultaneously, she said.

“The only feedback I’ve heard so far is that members are ‘rolling with the punches’ at this point and are frustrated that rules keep changing — though I think that’s how everyone’s feeling at this point,” she wrote in an email.

Mychal Dynes, co-owner of Little Conejo in Vancouver, said the restaurant’s crew began masking up again in response to the new guidelines, but hasn’t extended that rule to customers.

“I’m just happy that we haven’t lost any (seating) capacity,” he said. “I think that’s really what we’re all truly afraid of.”

Vancouver-based marketing intelligence company ZoomInfo is following local guidelines at each of its national offices, according to communications manager Rob Morse. In Vancouver, that means employees have been notified that masks are required in the office, he said. The office has been operating on a hybrid work model, he said, and only vaccinated staff have returned from remote work.

Public facilities

In Vancouver, leaders haven’t yet decided what the governor’s announcement will mean at City Hall. For other city facilities, including recreation centers and pools, Vancouver will continue to ask (but not require) that unvaccinated patrons wear face masks. All visitors, regardless of vaccination status, are asked to maintain social distancing protocols.

“As the pandemic and the science that drives decisions on guidelines is ever-changing, the city is reviewing the latest health information and masking recommendations,” said Vancouver Communications Director Cara Rene.

Beginning today, the Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries will ask all patrons — but not require — visiting their branches to wear masks, said Tak Kendrick, spokesperson for FVRL. He also added that all FVRL staff are required to wear masks while working starting today.

Clark County issued a statement Wednesday saying that employees and visitors entering county buildings are subject to state guidance regarding face coverings: People not fully vaccinated must wear masks in county buildings. Anyone who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is strongly encouraged to wear a face covering but not required to do so

Additionally, the Clark County Council has decided to not return to in-person meetings on Aug. 1 as originally planned. The council will continue with virtual meetings through August and re-evaluate at that point.

West Columbia Gorge Humane Society in Washougal is only open the public by appointment but continued to ask patrons and volunteers to wear masks after the mask mandate was lifted for vaccinated individuals at the end of June, according to Delaney Edison, director of operations at the shelter. The shelter isn’t making any changes to its policy in light of recent recommendations.

The Humane Society for Southwest Washington in east Vancouver reopened to the public for limited hours daily in early July, according to Columbian archives. At the time face masks were optional for vaccinated visitors. No updates were available as of press time.

School News

MoBus delivers joy of reading in Camas School District

The Camas School District’s Book MoBus was first launched in 2019 by teacher Jennifer Scott as a way to encourage summer reading. What started as a Book MoVan in 2019 has transformed into a traveling library on a school bus that visits elementary schools weekly across Camas for families to check out books, participate in literacy activities, and learn tips for supporting summer literacy. The Book MoBus has two more dates on its 2021 summer tour: Aug. 4 at Woodburn (9-11 a.m.) and Dorothy Fox (noon-2 p.m.) elementaries and Aug. 11 at Helen Baller Elementary from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

School News

Two Vancouver Public Schools board positions up for election

Advancing equity work and addressing pandemic recovery is, in part, what has the Vancouver Public Schools board’s longest-serving director believing the district’s brightest days are ahead.

Wendy Smith, first elected to the board in 2017, seeks reelection in Position 3 — one of two board positions up for election in Clark County’s second-largest district ahead of the Aug. 3 primary.

Smith is being challenged by Jorge Bailey and Megan Gabriel. Bailey and Gabriel did not respond to The Columbian’s inquiries for this story.

The district’s equity work, long-term pandemic recovery and the reopening of schools for 2021-22 are some of the more pressing issues Smith addressed to The Columbian. She noted August will be its most pressing task; school starts Aug. 31. The state Department of Health hasn’t made major revisions to its fall guidance for schools since the CDC announced earlier this month vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings.

DOH guidance first released May 13 reads masks must be worn indoors in the fall; however, it has since added “a more comprehensive update in consideration of CDC recommendations will be completed later this summer.”

While Smith said she admits there were frustrating times surrounding COVID-19 and reopening last school year, she said she believes VPS responded to pandemic-related challenges “in a reasonable and properly cautious way” while maintaining a student-centered focus in decision-making.

Recently, VPS published its equity audit, showing results and recommendations for the district. Work is ongoing, and Smith added one “overarching lesson” she’s learned from the pandemic is “how absolutely essential our schools are in connecting families to the services they need.” Those include the Family Community Resources Centers, which are located at select campuses districtwide and are not funded through state dollars.

“I have long been a believer in community schools, and that position has only strengthened over the past year and a half,” Smith said. “Schools are expected to provide so much more to our students beyond academics. Educators have long understood the importance that safety and security play in students’ readiness to learn.”

Smith is a social studies teacher at Heritage High School in Evergreen Public Schools, and is the board’s longest-serving director on a newer board that’s endured turnover. Since 2019, the VPS school board has featured six new directors, including two directors in Position 2 since last summer. The board appointed a new superintendent; Jeff Snell began superintendent duties July 1.

The top two candidates from the primary advance to the Nov. 2 general election.

School News

Rumble at the River 7-on-7 tournament showcases a different kind of football

Challenges. Competition. Camaraderie.

But most of all — a fun way to get better.

That was the message players shared participating at Union High School’s inaugural Rumble at the River — a high school football 7-on-7 tournament Saturday. It featured local and out-of-area teams in one of the final organized events for many ahead of the first day of the first official high school practices in mid-August.

This 7-on-7 event isn’t traditional football; it’s an all-passing, non-contact way to play with seven players — minus linemen — on each side. Games are 20 minutes, starting at each team’s 40-yard line.

So, where are the linemen?

While their skill-position teammates had games Saturday, linemen had challenges.

Coaches say lineman challenges have increased in popularity within 7-on-7 tournaments to offer an outlet for non-skill-position players to foster competition and unity.

At Union, linemen went through a series of strength-related exercises to earn points, including tire flipping, fireman carry, sled push, a bench-press competition and tug-of-war.

The concept? Working together.

When asked how he and his teammates got better Saturday, Ridgefield senior Matt Kinswa said it came down to teamwork. He said the linemen’s bench-press competition is where camaraderie shined.

“It just brought up the whole team,” he said.

Adam Youkon, an incoming junior at Heritage, praised his teammates’ work ethic. He’s part of an all-junior starting offensive line for the Timberwolves. His favorite challenge was the 50-yard sled relay pushing a five-man blocking sled because it pushed them to the limit as a unit.

“Everyone gets accounted for in that situation,” Youkon said. “We all have to do it together.

“It’s a great way to get better.”

Teams in the 7-on-7 competition played a round-robin schedule in the morning, followed by a championship format in the afternoon. Winners received a coveted boxing championship belt as a souvenir.

But more importantly, the takeaway from Saturday is more than just a prize.

The pandemic’s impact on high school sports in 2020-21 meant condensed seasons, extra safety protocols and even playing in empty stadiums. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association pushed the start of football to February and March, making for a quicker-than-normal turnaround to prepare for the 2021 fall season. Fall practices begin Aug. 18.

Kelso was a late entry to Saturday’s showcase, but head coach Steve Amrine was grateful for the Hilanders to get another opportunity to compete to close out July. The Hilanders brought 13 players to the event that featured teams as far away as Moses Lake and Hermiston (Ore.).

Kelso got to face five different offenses Saturday — and getting repetitions while facing other teams is a win-win, Amrine said.

“And the beauty for us is you get to see really good athletes,” the coach said. “Every team out here has guys, and the speed of the game is really good for us.”

School News

YouTube pulls coverage of Vancouver Public Schools board

Video of last week’s Vancouver Public Schools board meeting was pulled by YouTube for violating its community standards by spreading misinformation about COVID-19.

The recording, originally posted to the VPS Board of Directors’ YouTube page, was removed by YouTube on July 17 — four days after the July 13 school board meeting was dominated by more than an hour of public comment featuring 18 speakers.

Seventeen of the 18 spoke in-person, and many comments were about masks in schools, COVID-19 and critical race theory. Among the misinformation shared were claims that masks were ineffective. Profanity by audience members also was used at the meeting.

In its message to VPS, YouTube stated: “YouTube does not allow content that spread medical misinformation that contradicts the World Health Organization (WHO) or local health authorities’ medical information about COVID-19, including methods to prevent, treat or diagnose COVID-19 and means of transmission of COVID-19.”

According to the district, this is its first violation of YouTube guidelines and policies. A subsequent violation within 90 days results in a ban on uploading content for 14 days.

An edited recording was uploaded by the district Monday to the VPS Board of Directors’ YouTube page. That video cut out all public comments and has not been removed by YouTube.

The school board learned of YouTube’s actions Monday, said board chair Kyle Sproul. She called the move unfortunate, but added, “It is still a priority of the board to publish video record of our board business.”

The district began posting all recordings of board meetings to YouTube last summer when meetings were conducted virtually. Last week’s board meeting was held in-person with limited attendance at the Bates Center for Educational Leadership and simultaneously recorded live via Zoom.

District spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo said an audio recording of the July 13 board meeting — with public comments included — will soon be made available.

School News

Clark College urges, won’t require vaccine for students, staff

Clark College will strongly encourage, but not require students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as it prepares to expand on-site operations and offer more than 500 classes in person this fall.

Additionally, everyone on campus must wear face coverings and observe social distancing requirements, the college announced Tuesday. The college said it plans to gradually restore on-campus activities and operations as the fall term progresses. Some employees, services and events will return during fall term, which begins Sept. 20.

The college’s decisions follow guidance from Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation covering higher education, which was issued June 30 and revised July 12. The school also incorporated feedback from the college’s staff and faculty unions, student government and interdepartmental planning groups before making its decisions.

“Our students and our employees need to know the college’s way forward in order to plan for the future,” President Karin Edwards said in a news release. “At the same time, we need to remain ready to adapt to the ever-evolving realities of this pandemic and its effects. We will continue to carefully monitor the situation and provide information about fall term as we further develop our plans – always with a focus on equity, access, and the safety of our whole community.”

Last spring, Clark announced that roughly one-third of fall classes will have an on-campus component. Clark went to remote-only instruction in March 2020 and only a select few courses and subjects have had in-person components.

Washington State University is requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all students, faculty and staff for the 2021-22 academic year at all of its campuses, including Vancouver.


School News

Washougal School District budgets for rebound after losing students

CAMAS — The Washougal School District lost about 250 students — roughly 7 percent of its student body — during the course of the 2020-21 school year, when COVID-19 regulations forced a blend of remote and limited in-person learning, but school officials are optimistic the district will be able to attract a portion of those students back this fall.

The district is budgeting for 2,992 students for the 2021-22 school year, a figure that “bounces back to about what it was prior to the pandemic starting,” according to Kris Grindy, the district’s financial manager.

The district concluded the 2020-21 school year with 2,778 students, a decrease of about 250 from the 2019-20 school year.

“We hear about the great work that our leadership is doing at the building level and the great programs to reattract students back to our schools, so hopefully we’ll see this picture change for the 2021-22 school year,” Grindy said during a June 22 Washougal School Board meeting. “Hopefully, our enrollment supersedes our expectations next year and we’ll have more flexibility within our budget.”

The district’s allotment of state funds will decrease by almost 9 percent due to the enrollment decline, according to Grindy.

“Enrollment is the main driver for the district’s resources,” Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton said. “That’s where the money comes from. We are working hard to make sure that we’re recruiting and retaining our students with all of the exciting programs that we’ve had in the past.”

Music and art are “great examples” of programs that can attract students to the district, according to Templeton.

The district received $5 million from the federal government’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to address the impact caused by the decline in enrollment due to the pandemic.

The district will use the $5 million to purchase personal protective equipment and internet hot spots, and to invest in staffing, nutrition and child care services, professional development, learning acceleration programs, and the district’s new dual-language and transitional kindergarten programs.

“The assistance we get this year, we will not necessarily get in future years,” Grindy said during the meeting. “We’ll continue to monitor our enrollment and make adjustments monthly.”

District officials anticipate having a 2021-22 general fund budget with a beginning fund balance of $4,521,129, $52,085,170 in revenues, $52,135,274 in expenditures and an ending fund balance of $4,421,025.

The budget includes significant investments in the district’s fine arts programs, extracurricular activities, dual-language program, accelerated summer learning opportunities, culinary services, Spanish speaking family night events, transitional kindergarten program, Advancement Via Individual Determination program, professional development and the Washougal Learning Academy.

“The overall budget for next year is shaping up to look a lot like a normal school year,” Grindy said. “The extra funds provided by the state and federal government have resolved most of the financial challenges we were experiencing and allowed us to launch some of our new programs to help students accelerate their learning.”

School News

Battle Ground schools to run programs, operations levy

Battle Ground Public Schools hopes the second time will be the charm for its replacement levy after the school board unanimously voted at Thursday’s special board meeting to place a levy back in voters’ hands in November.

The district’s current educational programs and operations levy expires at the end of 2021. If approved by voters in the Nov. 2 special election, held in conjunction with the state’s general election, the district will collect $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed property value annually through 2025. It’ll raise $115.7 million over the next four years to maintain a host of educational programs, extracurricular activities and staffing for day-to-day operations, according to the district.

The projected tax rate and total request from the district is lower than what Battle Ground voters rejected in February, when the district asked taxpayers for $1.95 per $1,000, rising to $2.20 the remaining three years of the four-year levy. The district also would collect nearly $500,000 less over four years than what the $116.1 million it requested in February.

If the levy fails a second go-around, Battle Ground faces budget cuts of up to $30 million over the next two years in programs and staffing not supported by state funding. Levy funds help make up for the shortage of state support for public schools.

With 47.53 percent ‘yes’ votes, the district’s replacement levy failed to reach the simple majority — 50 percent, plus one — threshold for passing during the Feb. 9 special election. Out of 46 districts statewide that ran a February levy, Battle Ground was one of four that had its levy fail.

The district’s last replacement levy in 2017 passed on the first attempt, but Battle Ground has a history of failed bonds and levies.

Since 1992, the district has suffered 11 levy failures, including a double failure in 2006, and a triple failure in 1997-98.

School News

Evergreen schools superintendent’s new salary: $305,884

The Evergreen Public Schools board on Tuesday approved a raise for Superintendent Mike Merlino that brings his annual salary to $305,884 during the 2021-22 school year.

Merlino’s salary will fall to $269,038 once he’s completed a transition away from performing duties as both the district’s superintendent and chief financial officer, under a three-year contract through 2024.

Since being appointed EPS’s superintendent in April 2019, Merlino has maintained both superintendent and CFO duties, which included separate salaries.

A review published May 28, however, by the Washington Association of School Administrators recommended a host of changes to improve the climate and culture within the district’s central district office. One of those recommendations includes Merlino solely concentrating on superintendent duties.

He made a base salary of $259,940 as superintendent and $35,600 as CFO in 2020-21, for a total of $295,540.

The district said last week that Merlino has appointed Jennifer Jacobson, the district’s director of fiscal services, as its new chief financial officer starting Sept. 1. Merlino will maintain an extra compensation of $36,846 — a 3.5 percent increase from his CFO pay last school year — through June 30, 2022, to work alongside Jacobson during the yearlong CFO transition process.

Once the transition is complete, Merlino’s base salary drops to his now-increased superintendent’s pay of $269,038. That figure doesn’t include his additional 2 percent of annual compensation awarded for “longevity and retention” in the district.

Merlino may also choose to have the amount equal to 13 percent of his base salary distributed into an annuity or taken as a salary, as awarded in previous contracts. If added to his base contract as salary, it would raise his annual compensation to $304,012.

The new contract also requires Merlino to enroll in a superintendent’s certification program by Sept. 1. The district confirmed to The Columbian last week that he’s enrolled through a program at Washington State University. Additionally, Merlino may submit proof of program expenses for reimbursement by the district following each completed semester.

Merlino’s contract also says the superintendent must attend professional development provided by the authors of “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” — a piece of reading recommended for senior leadership by the Washington Association of School Administrators review.

School News

Clark College Foundation adds Ebbing as new director

The Clark College Foundation has added Dr. Devon Ebbing to its board of directors.

Ebbing is a pediatrician with The Vancouver Clinic and a supervising physician for the Washington School for the Deaf.

Ebbing earned a medical degree with honors in 2002 from Rush Medical College in Chicago and completed her residency in pediatrics at the University of Virginia Pediatric Residency in Charlottesville, Va. She is also a graduate of DePauw University.