Watch the recording of our Town Hall event

Watch the recording of our Town Hall event
Posted on 08/28/2020
Hi, TES Cubs and families,

We had a great time connecting with some of you during our live Town Hall & Welcome event on Aug. 27! 

If you weren't able to make it, we have a recording available here. A transcript is below.  You can also click here to view a list of answers to questions that we were not able to answer that evening.  


Thank you,
TES staff

Jerry Gaston


Transcript of video
Jerry Gaston:
The principal was almost tardy to class this evening. I got a little bit distracted. It was such a fabulous day here at Tahoma Elementary. It was the first day that the entire staff was all back together. And I was doing a last minute check of their classrooms to see what other supports they needed, and like always I got a little sidetracked. So I'm starting a little bit out of breath. Good evening, and thanks for joining us. Several times in the past few years, since Tahoma Elementary became a school, I've had the opportunity to welcome large groups like you together in our beautiful auditorium. This evening, of course, feels a little different, far more lonely. Instead of the auditorium, I'm standing in our office.

Jerry Gaston:
There are no smiles from any of you, but I'm imagining them. And I know they're there, and I know you're with us. That sounds like I'm complaining a little bit, and as I reflect on that, I think of my own children at the Gaston house and all of my students at this fond school. And the advice I give them when I hear them complaining, the advice is, solve the problem, which is, coincidentally, a part of our Cub code that the students here live by every day. Tonight I hope to share with you a few strategies we can use together to solve what maybe is considered to be a problem in our current world.

Jerry Gaston:
Before that though, I welcome you. I welcome you to the best school your children have ever had. Pretty bold statement, don't you think, from a principal? There have been a lot of good years in the past after all, but I'm quite certain that it's going to be a year we will never forget. Where I would usually be meeting you tonight is in our auditorium, a part of this historic campus. And if you haven't heard my short story about the history of this campus, I'll share just a little bit with you now. This community of Maple Valley came together in 1926 and passed a bond to build a beautiful new high school.

Jerry Gaston:
It opened in February of 1927 with 69 students, and four teachers. It also was the first school where they had buses to bring the children. Before that they arrived on foot, by train, or on horse. Just a few things have changed in the hundred years since. But the auditorium that I mentioned in the center of campus, it wasn't part of the original building. But about 15 years in, a group of staff members and community members came together and said, "Hey, we've got an idea to improve this place for our students. Let's build an auditorium." And the folks they asked that they thought were in charge of that decision making quickly turn them down and sent them away. This community does not accept “We can't do it.”

Jerry Gaston:
The community that we are all a part of at Tahoma Elementary is a community that simply doesn't ever accept no for an answer. We are part of a rich history; a rich history committed to serving students well. We think we've got some issues to overcome today. Along the history of this school, there have been world wars. There have been depressions. An international pandemic doesn't scare us. We've got this, of course -- we're Tahoma Elementary. That history motivates me. And I'm hoping it motivates you also to stay centered on who we are and what we believe and on what we're doing together.

Jerry Gaston:
Our shared and deep commitment to the students we serve is how I can guarantee this will be our best year yet. Another note of my guarantee is the staff that we've assembled to serve your kids. This morning when I met with all 93 of them, what I saw clearly was a deep commitment to serving your kids full of selflessness, full of an eagerness to collaborate with you every single step of the way, to go above and beyond no matter what it takes. They have well over 1,000 years of service in schools, and all 1,000 of those years are experiences that will help guide us through the year ahead.

Jerry Gaston:
For those of you that I know from previous years, welcome back to the journey. For those of you that are new to our school this year, welcome, and I can't wait to meet you in person soon. I say in my communications to parents every time I write, I am only a phone call, email, or drop in visit away. And I mean those words. You see my own children have either graduated from the Tahoma system after 12 or 13 years, or are still in the system preparing to be future ready. My wife is a competing principal in the district. I like to say it's the second-best school we've got.

Jerry Gaston:
I am deeply committed to this school, both personally and professionally, and if ever in the days ahead, that commitment doesn't shine through, I ask you to let me know. You see I don't really call myself the principal. I refer to my title as lead learner. I think it signifies to the students that I'm learning with them. And we're never too old to do that. Thank you very much for being part of Tahoma Elementary, part of a really special place, and I appreciate the opportunity to be a partner with you along this journey. I know that we wanted to mostly though offer tonight to answer some questions.

Jerry Gaston:
In this day there may be questions we don't yet have full answers to. I can promise you that my staff and I will for sure follow up on any questions we don't get to, every single one of them. If you have friends or neighbors that were unable to make it this evening, we will send out a recording and transcript of the evening for them so you can help us spread the word. And otherwise I have a fantastic group of the staff scattered around the building safely, socially distanced. We have our office staff, Ms. Tara and Ms. Lisa. We have communications officers from the district office here to help us out, Mrs. Castleman and Mr. Patterson. We have our TES instructional coach, Ian Maver; our Dean of Students, Nicole Blankenship, and our school counselor, Monica Clark. So let's see if I can help answer any questions, certainly comments and, heck, even compliments for my staff are certainly welcomed.

Tara McCabe:
Hi, Jerry. This is Tara. We have a couple of questions from our parent community. The first is, “Will we ever go back to school in person this year?”

Jerry Gaston:
Yeah. What a fabulous question that we all deeply want to know the answer to. If I were in charge of the world, I'd say, "Bring them tomorrow." It's hard to say. I know that we've been in constant contact at the district level with the Public Health Department and in constant collaboration with OSPI, the organization in Olympia that helps guide our school systems, and every step of the way, if I find answers to that question, I certainly will share them openly with you. All of our fingers are collectively crossed for sure.

Tara McCabe:
Thank you.

Jerry Gaston:
You're welcome.

Tara McCabe:
Another question: “My students still needs a computer and a hotspot. How do I go about requesting one?”

Jerry Gaston:
Yeah. Absolutely. I'm glad they asked that. We have a Tech Department that is going above and beyond to make sure that every student who needs a computer or a hotspot has them accessible to them. Part of this was made easier because last year, our community, in another sign of support passed our Tech Levy, which gives us additional resources to make sure to be able to help people out who need it. So on the district website, there's a link that will lead you to how to request one. If you have any questions at all, though, just simply call us at the office too, and we can help guide you through. Thanks, Tara.

Tara McCabe:
All right. Here's another question: “How will you be taking attendance this year? And what if my student can't be online during that live meeting?”

Jerry Gaston:
Yeah. Two great, related questions. This year, we are taking daily attendance like we always do when we're in session. Daily attendance could be that the student comes to a class meeting that's scheduled in the morning. It could be that they come to reading class or math class, maybe participate on Seesaw or Google Classroom in a lesson. Of course, it's my hope that every student can participate in every one of those every day to most closely replicate school. But we understand, especially in this time, that some families' schedules will not allow that, so we ask that you at least are able to connect with us once a day so that we can mark you as present and okay, and not worry about you. We also are going to be recording the lessons that the students are participating in on a live situation so that parents will be able to access them later if their schedule is more conducive to that. Tara, did I cover both parts?

Tara McCabe:
Yeah. I believe so. They just had the follow-up of what should they do if their student can't attend one of their live classes?

Jerry Gaston:
Thank you. I thought maybe there was one little piece that I hadn't touched on. Like always, if you have a student in a third grade class and they happen to be in Ms. Bainton’s class and you have a scheduling conflict, I'd certainly email or call Mrs. Bainton. There is not a teacher on this staff that isn't ready to collaborate and cooperate and understand the situation we're in and work with you on that.

Tara McCabe:
We have this one a few times actually. People are wondering if they can get more information about the district provided school supplies.

Jerry Gaston:
Yeah. Absolutely. So I was talking with a group of parents the other day and said, "Hey. You’ve got extra money to go out to dinner this weekend because we’ve got school supplies covered." And that's really an extra gift to parents, especially those who have multiple kids in the system, and sometimes late August and early September is a big expenditure. The first of those will be going out the first Thursday of September, so next Thursday. And it will include the essential supplies that are needed to get the year off and running. And then every two weeks after that, there will be other opportunities that, if they haven't been communicated to you yet, will be soon where there'll be a drive by pickup for those supplies. And, of course, Dean Blankenship who's on the call might have something else to add to that because she's much more the expert on the supplies than I.

Dean Nicole Blankenship:
I can add a little bit to what you were sharing. We are providing essential curriculum and learning tools for remote learning. All of our families should have received some email communication about that just yesterday, and those essential learning items will be picked up on our campus. In the email there's details about times. The first pickup will be the first Thursday of school, the third, and you'll have three options to choose from where you can drive onto campus and pick up your supplies, no need to get out of your vehicle. You'll be able to pick them up efficiently and bring them home. And if there are any additional supplies needed that aren't in the kits, your teachers will let you know if there's anything else needed during our remote learning model.

Jerry Gaston:
Thanks, Nicole. And as I said, she's got a lot better answers than I do.

Tara McCabe:
Jerry, we have a couple of more questions. We have a few kindergarten parents that are wondering how remote learning is actually going to work for 5-year-olds who haven't quite yet learned how school works, the process of sitting, and being able to stay still for a lesson, and how our teachers might be able to engage them?

Jerry Gaston:
Well, being a guy who still has trouble sitting still, I certainly empathize and understand the question. I can tell you that July 5th, I got a call from Mrs. Keri Heggenes, who is the kindergarten team leader. And I thought, wow. I'm nervous about seeing her call on the caller ID because it's not near late August yet. And, of course, Keri was already thinking about starting the school year and what that was going to look like and how she was going to make sure her team was serving the students well. So I share that just because I think the committed nature of that team of kindergarten teachers is really the answer where that question's answer lies.

Jerry Gaston:
We understand deeply, we met as a kindergarten team again today, the real challenge of kicking off their entire educational career on Zooms. The schedule that they were working out details on today accounted for these are 5-year-olds that have maybe never had to sit still for very long and listen. And they are an experienced team who understand 5-year-olds better than anyone, and the schedule that they came up with today that has a little more detail than the previous district provided schedule is one that's going to get communicated to parents very soon, and that I think you're really going to love.

Tara McCabe:
We have a parent question regarding webcams being optional for students during a live session.

Jerry Gaston:
I think the question, then, is about if a student could participate in class without the camera being on, and I certainly understand in our tech-heavy world that there are situations that would make a parent nervous about having an online visual presence. I know that the Teaching and Learning Department has been actively looking at what is the safest way to make sure that kids are protected and they're keeping us updated every step of the way on what we can do. But certainly in the end, a parent can collaborate with us, and we want to do anything we can to ensure that they're feeling good about the care we're giving. That certainly does not have to inhibit them from receiving all the benefits of the rich education that's coming.

Tara McCabe:
Thank you. We have another question regarding teachers and if they will be teaching from campus or from their home.

Jerry Gaston:
Yeah. Great question. Because earlier I was talking about the flexibility needed for families. I also strongly advocated for there being some flexibility for teachers as well. We have a lot of teachers on the TES campus who have kids in the Tahoma system that are experiencing the same things you are. And so the agreement that's been made now in cooperation with the teacher's association is that they can choose to teach from their classroom or from home. There are expectations if it's from home, that they provide a really professional environment for that to occur. And I'm strongly encouraging them to have at least some of their teaching from their classroom. I think the emotional connection that will show with kids and teachers being as close as possible to the real environment will be important. Right now the most recent check I have is that most teachers plan to be onsite for most days.

Tara McCabe:
We also have a parent question regarding specialist times. Will any of the specialists be live interactions?

Jerry Gaston:
Yeah. So you'll notice on the schedule that there's a half hour PE time in the morning, and right now, the PE teachers, “Team Awesome,” as you all know them. Team Awesome has decided if they have the PE activities posted for students to do throughout the week, they can use that time to connect with kids on a Zoom meeting, if the student wants that connection. Last year also Team Awesome had a few opportunities, extra opportunities to come to some physical fitness scavenger hunt, and I'm sure with their creativity, they'll continue to offer some of those special experiences once in a while as well. And then in the afternoon, you'll notice there's a 45 minute specialist time.

Jerry Gaston:
And that will be a rotation of art, STEM, music, and Future Ready. Those will start out being not online. It'll start out being taped so that students can access them. If it's not possible for them to access during that block, they can access them at another time of day or evening. As we get feedback from the parents, we'll want to adjust that and maybe have them all be or some be live and in person. One thing that we were really conscious of as we were planning this schedule is not having it be too overwhelming for families or students, especially in the first couple of weeks when we're settling back in.

Jerry Gaston:
These are great questions, of course, just the kind would expect from Tahoma community. I joked with my team yesterday that I had the easy job. They had to search through all your questions and put them into categories and figure out the technology. I'm lucky they gave me the easy part. So, I'm getting a thumbs up that perhaps we've answered all the questions at this point. I am almost guaranteeing there will be more, but you know where to find us.

At Tahoma Elementary, we truly aim to serve. We want to be partners with you. I thank you for your time tonight. Keep in touch and I can't wait to see you soon.

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