Reflecting on 2021, Seaside School District administrators could easily identify the biggest win: Bringing back students for full-time, on-campus learning.

“It was amazing to have kids here again,” Pacific Ridge Elementary School Principal Juli Wozniak said. “And for us, that meant bringing our students to a newly remodeled school for the first time.”

After a year of distance learning students at both the elementary and secondary levels, students returned part-time through a hybrid model at the start of the year. In the fall, they transitioned to a full five-day schedule.

“It’s been fabulous having kids back and having relatively low (COVID-19) cases,” Superintendent Susan Penrod said. “That’s largely due to the fact that we have a lot of safety protocols in place, and we have staff that are really following those. We have really high vaccination rates with our staff, and families and kids are just really supportive.”

Seaside High School and Middle School Principal Jeff Roberts agreed he is proud of the steps taken to “mitigate any significant COVID exposures.” They have occasionally experienced COVID cases among students, leading to their temporary exclusion from on-campus learning, but no more than expected.

“We weren’t naïve to think that wasn’t going to happen, but we’ve been able to take measures and to contact trace and to do things pretty swiftly to mitigate massive exclusions from school,” Roberts said. “We haven’t had to do whole classes; we haven’t had to do whole grade levels.”

A new school environment

A widespread pandemic wasn’t the only significant factor impacting Seaside students, families and educators in 2021. Additionally, they were faced with being in new school buildings and even combining what were previously separate student bodies under the same roof. Not only are high schoolers and middle schoolers at the same building now, but former Gearhart Elementary School students were also integrated into Pacific Ridge.

“Those three things independently would have been challenging by themselves,” Roberts said. “To stack them collectively together really presented us some challenges that other places didn’t face.”

Wozniak agreed, adding the main theme of 2021 was navigating “opportunities to learn and grow and be together” in a way they hadn’t before, even prior to the pandemic.

When all students were invited back on campus in the fall, Pacific Ridge was hosting a student body that had nearly doubled in size compared to the 2019-20 school year—before they had merged with Gearhart. After being “separate for so long,” Wozniak said, everyone had to re-acclimate to learning and being together.

“That was a really unique situation for our kids who were really young,” she said.

She felt happy they were able to once again hold an open house before the new school year. During the event, parents and guardians and even some students got to explore the remodeled school for the first time, which made it “a really special moment,” Wozniak said.

At the middle and high school, Roberts said, figuring out logistics — such as how to move students around the building or where to place classes — has required flexibility and a trial-by-error approach.

“We have theories and ideas on how things are going to work effectively, but then when you see it in practice, you’re like, ‘That doesn’t make any sense, there’s a way better way to do that,’” he said. “We’re going to operate for the foreseeable future that way too.”

However, opportunities have arisen with the middle and high schools in the same building. High school teachers can better understand what academic learning and social and emotional maturity middle school students are coming with when they advance, and the middle school teachers work with the high school teachers to identify priorities for what students need to be successful at the next level.

“That communication has certainly increased,” Roberts said.

Other big moments and milestones for the district during 2021 include:

School saleThe district closed on the old Seaside High School in late December, making it the final property formerly used as a school campus to be sold. The old Broadway Middle School was sold to Sunset Empire Park & Recreation District in January and Gearhart Elementary School was sold in November 2020.

Construction completeThe district completed construction on the new school campus, bringing an end to a multi-million-dollar project that has spanned several years. Penrod said they look forward to holding a grand opening and dedication ceremony in the future.

Summer programWith funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, 2020 (CARES Act), Seaside hosted a four-week summer school program for elementary and secondary students. Summer school included enrichment activities and unfinished learning opportunities for elementary and middle schoolers and credit recovery for high schoolers. Penrod hopes they will receive funding to offer summer school again in 2022.

EnrichmentPacific Ridge implemented a new intervention and enrichment program, “What I Need.” According to Wozniak, COVID guidelines have evolved such that students are no longer restricted to their cohorts. The school can offer specially designed instruction for kids who have a particular need. With the program, students are able to partake in an enrichment or intervention group for math or reading with a different teacher and peers who are performing at the same level. “It’s been exciting to move forward with that,” Wozniak said.

Preschool programThe school district introduced its preschool program, Pacific Ridge Beginning School, with participants able to attend fully in-person in Fall 2021. The beginning school encompasses two classrooms of 25. According to Wozniak, they have a full waiting list as a result of the “very large need in our community for preschool and childcare, in general.”

ContractThe district successfully negotiated a three-year contract with the Seaside Teachers Association and a four-year contract with classified staff in June 2021. “That’s a big win for everybody,” Penrod said.

CARES ActThe district has also used CARES Act and Student Success Act funding for additional staffing. Some key positions added include: Family Resource & Community Partnership Liaison Daffne Mejia Alvarez; instructional coaches and intervention specialists at both the elementary and secondary levels; and new teachers for third and fifth grades.

Additionally, they’ve increased the hours of instructional assistant to support small-group instruction and assist with other responsibilities.

State runnerSeaside High School student Elise Seppa qualified for the state cross country meet.

Artistic achievementThe middle and high school bands were able to perform with live audiences in the fall. Additionally, the high school’s drama program presented “Treasure Island” live. According to Roberts, many of “the wins” in 2021 were “simply being able to resume some of those normal practices that you know are rites of passage for a lot of high school and middle school students.”

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