Issaquah Valley Elementary principal feted for school’s academic improvement
December 6, 2011
By Tom Corrigan
Diane Holt named a distinguished principal of the year
“If somebody does something spectacular for your children, you’re never going to be more grateful,” said Trisha Neill, a PTSA officer and parent of a young student at Issaquah Valley Elementary School.
Neill is one of apparently a lot of parents ready and willing to sing the praises of Issaquah Valley Principal Diane Holt.
The Association of Washington School Principals recently named Holt the East County Elementary Distinguished Principal of the Year.
Holt is one of 17 principals named by the association, each winner representing a different region from across the state. The next step is to pick a state winner, who will then be eligible for a national award.
“I’m told that of our nominations, none were more enthusiastically presented than the one for Diane,” said Linda Farmer, director of communications for the association of principals. “Apparently, the parents from Issaquah Valley Elementary have amazing things to say about Diane.”
Those parents even threw Holt a surprise party at the school to honor her Dec. 2.
For her part, Holt wanted to give credit to her teachers and her parent volunteers, such as Neill. Rather than talk about her own award, she seemed much more anxious to brag about Issaquah Valley receiving a School of Distinction label from the Center for Educational Effectiveness.
The Issaquah district’s Cascade Ridge Elementary School also made the list earlier this year.
“There’s just a nice feeling in the school,” Holt said of Issaquah Valley, adding teachers who had been in her building for 20 years have proven willing to try different approaches.
One result is that Issaquah Valley’s scores on standardized tests have jumped considerably since Holt arrived in 2009.
“We’ve moved kids from meeting standards to exceeding standards,” Holt said, noting that at the same time the Issaquah Valley student body’s poverty level has increased.
Conventional educational wisdom predicts financially challenged students will not do as well as others academically.
Despite the academic improvement, despite the fact the school hit every target set for it under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Issaquah Valley has been officially slapped with a label of “improving school,” a negative rating under the federal statute. In fact, Issaquah Valley was the first district school subject to federal sanctions.
Because of the rating, the district had to offer Issaquah Valley parents the chance to send their children to other schools. But at the beginning of this school year, administration officials said no one took them up on that offer.
In order to lose the improving label, Issaquah Valley must meet AYP two years in a row. Clearly, the whole issue of AYP rankles Holt. She said in the first year the school faced sanctions, Issaquah Valley barely missed making AYP in only one of 17 categories and had shown improvement otherwise. Neill said Holt could have taken the ranking as very demoralizing, but chose instead to simply move forward.
While she may have taken things in stride, Holt is outspoken enough on the subject of AYP that she was asked by the district to testify before Sen. Patty Murray on the topic of NCLB. Holt describes Issaquah Valley as a sort of poster child for what she believes is the unfairness of the AYP system.
What Issaquah Valley needed was someone to lead the orchestra, Neill contends, and she clearly believes Holt has taken up the baton. Holt again gave credit to her staff and her parents. She repeatedly pointed to a $20,000 book room stocked by parent donations. Holt also talked about weekly “coffee houses” she holds with any parents interested.
“I just want us all to work together,” Holt said.