The Seaside School District reinvented itself in more ways than one in 2020.

A new high school and middle school campus and renovation of the former Seaside Heights Elementary, a new superintendent, and new ways of educating students marked a season of personnel change, construction and response to the coronavirus pandemic, which closed schools to in-person classes and introduced distance learning.

Pacifica Projects, traditionally a rite of passage for seniors, were canceled. Team sports never happened, and extracurricular activities were limited.

This was also the first time Seaside seniors ever participated in a graduation ceremony in their cars from the Turnaround and the parking lot of the Seaside Civic and Convention Center.

New superintendent

Heading into the 2020-21 school year, the district’s board of directors officially handed the reins to incoming superintendent Susan Penrod on July 1, while transferring former superintendent Sheila Roley to administrator for special projects for the final six months of her 30-year tenure in the district.

A graduate of Willamette University, Penrod’s past experience included prekindergarten work, career and technical education, and various educational jobs throughout the state.

Penrod, formerly K–12 curriculum administrator at the Eugene School District, joined the Seaside School District in 2019 as assistant superintendent to support Roley until the official transition.

Drive-in graduation

Seaside High School’s annual commencement ceremony to honor graduating seniors typically takes place in front of a packed house at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center.

Instead, the Class of 2020 took a slow drive down Broadway to the Turnaround, where they received their diplomas with cheering friends and family members lining the street, waving signs and snapping pictures.

Vehicles transporting the graduates were then ushered to the large public parking lot downtown. There, the official ceremony took place outdoors under waning light and a drizzling rain, which did little to hamper the positive energy emanating from the students, teachers, family members and friends collected in the audience.

Principal Jeff Roberts encouraged the outgoing seniors to embrace their generation’s reputation for being persistent and strong-willed and use it as a standard by which to measure themselves throughout their lives.

Distance learning

While school administration and staff had hoped to move into the new campus in the fall of 2020, the date to return to in-person learning for the Seaside School District remains an elusive and constantly moving target.

In response to Oregon Department of Education guidelines pertaining to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the district developed in-classroom and distance learning options with the goal of transitioning to in-person learning. The hybrid model offered high school students instruction four days per week, with four classes per day at 60 minutes each with. Students could also opt for 100% online learning.

The school board approved a request from Penrod earlier this month to continue with comprehensive distance learning until at least Feb. 1 as coronavirus cases continue to increase in Clatsop County.

New campus

Construction rounded a corner at the new campus on Spruce Drive, which is the end product of a $99.7 million bond to move Broadway Middle School and Seaside High School out of the tsunami inundation zone. The former Heights Elementary, renamed Pacific Ridge, also received an extensive upgrade, renovations and added classroom, gym and playground space.

Project expenses—including environmental review and permits, extensive site work, construction and equipment, permit fees, consultants, architects and project management — totaled more than $131 million.

The district has been able to fund the added costs through state and federal grants, bond interest and other revenue sources. They also applied for a loan to fill the gap between expenses and revenue, about 3% of the project.

A costly reapplication of exterior insulation was covered by insurance, but the redo of the work has delayed completion of the project until February.

The former schools, while falling short of the district’s hopes regarding their sale, did bring in some revenue. The old Cannon Beach Elementary School was sold to Cannon Beach for $400,000 early in the year. Gearhart Elementary School sold for $400,000 plus an additional $100,000 donation, and Seaside High School and Broadway Middle School are both under contract.

State scores

Seaside students showed rising attendance, test score and graduation numbers, according to the Oregon Department of Education. The district’s numbers have slowly increased in line with the district’s concerted effort to improve attendance, engage students and help them prepare for the next stage of life.

According to the education department’s at-a-glance school and district profiles, produced statewide on a yearly basis, Seaside’s on-time graduation rate was 77% for the 2018-19 school year.

One of the district’s long-term goals as per its five-year strategic plan is that by June 2024, all students will be on track to graduate and be prepared with a plan beyond high school.

To start, Penrod hopes to see the district matching statewide rates, which were 80% for on-time graduation and 86% for five-year completion in 2018-19.

Data from the report cards provides a starting point for the district to evaluate differences among demographics and identify how the schools can work more closely with individual students to meet their needs.

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