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Three Ridgefield Schools win Washington Achievement Awards - 04/17/14
Thursday, April 17, 2014-Ridgefield, WA-Three Ridgefield schools - Ridgefield High School, View Ridge Middle School and South Ridge Elementary School - were selected by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) as recipients of 2013 Washington Achievement Awards in an announcement made on Wednesday.

Ridgefield High School received awards in four out of the six categories: Overall Excellence, High Progress, Special Recognition for Reading Growth and Special Recognition for Math Growth. South Ridge Elementary School received awards in two categories: High Progress and Special Recognition for Reading Growth. View Ridge Middle School received an award for High Progress.

To achieve Overall Excellence, schools must qualify in one of two ways: they must either meet Annual Measureable Objectives (AMOs) for all students in reading, math and graduation rates for the three most recent years or rank among the top 5% of schools on the 3-Year composite index rating.

Schools who receive recognition for being top performers in the High Progress category must be in the top 10% of Title I schools for performance improvement in both reading and math for the past three years.

In order to receive Special Recognition for a specific content area (Reading, Mathematics or English Language Acquisition), schools must rank in the top 5% highest performing schools based on median growth across the state.

Ridgefield High School Principal Tony Vandermaas, View Ridge Middle School Principal Chris Griffith, South Ridge Elementary School Principal Janice Sauve and Superintendent Art Edgerly will attend an awards ceremony hosted by Timberline High School in Lacey, Washington on April 24.

Uhacz surprised students by explaining they would work together for six weeks in their newly-formed groups
Uhacz surprised students by explaining they would work together for six weeks in their newly-formed groups
Ridgefield sophomores investigate their own perceptions of right and wrong in Language Arts' Image of Man unit (Photo) - 04/14/14
Monday, April 14, 2014-Ridgefield, WA-Sophomores at Ridgefield High School explored their perceptions of the image of mankind and morality through innovative class projects during Jill Uhacz's language arts classes. Throughout the multi-week unit, students studied philosophy about the different images of man, read the Lord of the Flies, watched the movie Castaway, and participated in an in-class bomb shelter activity used to create student teams for the next six weeks.

Uhacz developed the unit using project suggestions from a teacher she worked with at a different school. "She shared so many great ideas with me," said Uhacz. "She created wonderful activities that I used as a starting point, and then jumped off from there."

The Images of Man

Uhacz taught the students five different philosophies describing the nature of humanity and assigned a writing project using the material. Students selected one or more of the following philosophies which they felt described the nature of mankind:

- "Man is a wolf to his fellow man" suggests that humans are antisocial, aggressive and immoral creatures whose behavior is stimulated by dangerous instincts.
- "Tabula Rasa or 'blank slate'" portrays humanity as amoral or ethically neutral and suggests that humans learn morality throughout their life.
- "Man is a mixture of good and evil" presents the concept of human nature as a union of opposites with good and evil competing to capture the human heart.
- "Man is naturally good and can improve himself" provides a more optimistic view that human beings everywhere are basically good and continuously improvable.
- "Man will transcend himself" considers every individual as a fountain of unlimited possibilities with the freedom to grow beyond any individual before.

As part of a writing assignment, students selected a philosophy (or philosophies) which they felt best represented their own perception of the image of man. "The kids are so great with this challenging new material," said Uhacz. "Each class participated in very intense conversations about each of the different concepts and what it meant to the students."

Even though each student explores their own perception of the image of man individually, the classes started to develop a common generalization. "The classes this year generally seemed to believe that man is a blank slate with no instinctual moral compass," said Uhacz. "That being said, a few students suggested that we all do have a conscience which led to spirited debate."

Dropping the Bomb

What would you do if you had to choose who would survive after a nuclear bomb detonated in your city? Uhacz's students explored that very concept in an activity Uhacz used to create randomly-assigned student teams.
At the beginning of class, students were separated into two large groups of 12 students each and told to pretend that they were at a dinner party when the Civil Defense warning system announces that enemy planes are entering Washington State and proceed to drop nuclear bombs on the area.

Continuing the story, the host happens to maintain a well-equipped bomb shelter in the basement where all 12 of the dinner party guests have survived the blasts. A radio message announces that the radiation will last an entire month. Unfortunately, there's only enough food and supplies in the bomb shelter to support six people for that amount of time so each group must decide which six characters will survive.

Each student received an envelope with their character including detailed background information. The 12 characters included a psychology professor, a nutritionist, a student performing radiation research, an individual with a photographic memory, a pregnant mother, her medical student husband, an electrician, the electrician's son, a minister, a football player, a happy go-lucky romantic, and the bomb shelter's owner.

As a group, the students chose five people to be saved in addition to the shelter owner (a project requirement) with the remaining six characters sent out of the shelter. Students rationalized who should stay based on a variety of factors and opinions. One group voted as a democracy and kept certain roles based on how they would help the group in the coming month. The second group debated the different roles with some students suggesting kicking out the shelter owner despite the project's rules.

Uhacz asked both groups if they considered diversity in making their decisions. Both groups explained that skin factor and gender played no role in the decision; that the selections were made based on the most common good provided to the group as a whole.

Working as a Team

Once the bomb shelter activity was finished, Uhacz explained to the class that their new groups - those who stayed in the shelter and those who were kicked out - were now their assigned student groups for the next six weeks. Students were surprised how the Bomb Shelter Activity so effectively and randomly selected which students would be in each group.

Over the next six weeks, team-based projects will require contributions from each team member with each team developing expectations and consequences should a teammate fail to contribute. During the class, groups committed themselves to help each member improve their grades by studying together while also implementing rules for what would happen if student members failed to do their work.

Uhacz reminded students to always keep their own perception of the Image of Man in mind throughout the coming six weeks as upcoming projects will continue to challenge their perceptions. For Uhacz, challenging students to truly think about their own perceptions is key to her class. "One student told me 'this class makes my brain hurt!' which, to me, means I'm doing a good job!" said Uhacz.

Students served every role in the mock trial, including the jury
Students served every role in the mock trial, including the jury
Elementary students try to identify forest fire starters for a mock trial in Ridgefield's Highly Capable Program (Photo) - 03/31/14
Monday, March 31, 2014-Ridgefield, WA-Elementary students interrogated one another in a mock trial to determine the cause of a fictitious forest fire in a project for Ridgefield School District's Highly Capable Program.

The Highly Capable Program offers challenging projects and additional coursework for students from third through sixth grade at both elementary schools. "Gifted students need the opportunity to work with like-minded classmates," said Ana Hochhalter, teacher for the Highly Capable Program at both schools. "The Highly Capable Program helps students succeed by offering challenge and increased levels of discussion."

For the mock trial project, Hochhalter selects trial topics based on events that could happen in the real world. In this case, two college students are accused of starting a forest fire while on a camping trip which caused massive property damage to the local area. "I always try to find projects that simulate real-life connections to really engage the students," said Hochhalter. "The students act out each role, sometimes multiple roles, so this trial provides additional challenge by causing students to think about the perspectives of people from different walks of life."

Students each received their role packets which included information about their role as well as confidential information that they would share only if properly questioned. Students assumed the roles of the presiding judge; courtroom bailiff; prosecuting and defense attorneys; the suspects and a wide array of witnesses including two young siblings who, if properly interrogated during the trial, will reveal they actually started the fire by cooking pine cones in the college students' fire pit. Students from other classes volunteered to serve on the jury. "The jury doesn't know the facts of the case," said Hochhalter. "The students acting as the attorneys must properly interrogate all the witnesses or the truth won't come out."

Students had different reasons for volunteering to serve as attorneys and the judge, the case's most challenging roles. Olivia Krause, a third grader, served as the defense attorney for her class's trial. "Lawyers are hard-working and I felt like I could do that here," she said. "The hardest part was getting all of my lines ready so I wrote them down on notecards." Uruwa Abe, one of Olivia's classmates, served as the prosecuting attorney because she enjoys performing in front of people. "I really like acting in plays so I wanted a role with a lot of lines," said Abe. "It was difficult coming up with what questions to ask, but once I came up with them, I was very comfortable performing."

Nate Scullard-Bender, a sixth grader, volunteered to serve as the prosecuting attorney for his class, "I've been told by a lot of people that I'd be a great lawyer," he explained. Claudie Miller, a fifth grader, served as Scullard-Benders' opponent, the defense attorney, "My favorite part of preparing for the trial was coming up with the questions and telling Nate he was going down."

Serving as the judge presented the biggest challenge as the role required the student to keep the courtroom in line. "I took the role of judge because I might be called for jury duty one day and I thought this would be a fun way to get a feel for it," said Sydney Dean, a sixth grader. "I like practicing with my friends and classmates, and it's great having a nice teacher who helps along the way." Although the third grade class wasn't able to figure out who actually started the fire, the jury found the college students not guilty based on lack of evidence. In the higher grades, student courtroom interrogations revealed the true culprits as the two children trying to cook pine cones.

In order to develop engaging new content each year, Hochhalter researches ideas from a wide variety of topics including Forensic science, art history, Greek and Roman Mythology, Shakespeare, foreign language and many more. "Keeping student motivation high is a top priority for my lessons," said Hochhalter. "I review my curriculum every year so I can ensure students work on new concepts and ideas."

Students enjoyed using the technology to record more accurate results
Students enjoyed using the technology to record more accurate results
Ridgefield seventh graders use state-of-the-art technology and hydrochloric acid to learn about chemical reactions (Photo) - 03/24/14
Monday, March 24, 2014-Ridgefield, WA-Seventh graders at View Ridge Middle School use state-of-the-art technology and hydrochloric acid to create chemical reactions and identify their properties as part of the science curriculum.

Students in Shelli Colwell's science classes learned to identify evidence of chemical reactions by measuring the change in temperature caused by the submersion of different metals into hydrochloric acid. This year, Colwell borrowed geotechnical probes for her classes from the school's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program. The probes connect via USB wires to laptops which use software to monitor ongoing changes in temperature throughout the experiment.

"This hydrochloric acid experiment comes as part of the Properties of Matter Unit kit we receive from Educational Service District 112, however students typically use standard thermometers," said Colwell. "This year, the geotechnical probes we borrowed from STEM will allow the students to have more hands-on experience with technology and enable them to record more accurate results."

Prior to conducting the experiment, Colwell taught safety procedures to the class including how to carefully handle acids and other chemicals as well as the importance of wearing safety goggles during any experiment involving chemicals. Student teams started the experiment by placing an electronic geotechnical probe connected to a laptop into a beaker of hydrochloric acid to measure the liquid's base temperature. Then, one of the team members would gently pour metal shavings into the acid while the other members observe and record temperature changes using special computer software called Logger Lite. Teams also observed other properties including changes in color and odors.

Students appreciated the accuracy offered by the geotechnical probes. "I really enjoy the hands-on experiments we do in this class," said Sofia Lee, a seventh grader. "To me, the hardest part is collecting the data and being precise during the process so the probes and computer software help us a lot." Sam Frosh, one of Lee's classmates, agreed, "I'm pretty comfortable using new technology in class because we get hands-on experience in almost every subject now."

Colwell observed other benefits stemming from her students using the new probes, "In addition to being more efficient, using state-of-the-art technology really engages students and makes them more attentive to the experiment."

Dr. Nathan McCann answered questions from the community at a forum Thursday night
Dr. Nathan McCann answered questions from the community at a forum Thursday night
Ridgefield School District selects new district superintendent (Photo) - 03/21/14
Friday, March 21, 2014-Ridgefield, WA-The Ridgefield School District Board of Directors proudly announces their selection of Dr. Nathan McCann as district Superintendent. McCann accepted the position this morning after being notified by the board of their decision.

"We selected Dr. Nathan McCann due to his passion and commitment to continuous improvement in education," said Joe Vance, board member overseeing finalist interviews. "We interviewed three very qualified and excellent finalists, and feel that McCann represents the best overall fit for Ridgefield."

The finalist interview process included full-day tours of the district followed by one-hour Community Forums where anyone in attendance could ask questions of the candidates over three nights: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. "We would like to thank the Ridgefield community and school staff for their dedication and participation in the finalist interview process," said Vance. "We were extremely pleased to see so many attending the forum and taking the selection of the position of school superintendent as seriously as we do."

McCann will begin serving as Ridgefield School District's Superintendent on July 1, 2014, following the end of the current school year. He currently serves as the Superintendent of Altar Valley School District in Arizona. At his Community Forum last night, he told the audience he would like to relocate to Ridgefield with his wife and children because of the excellent quality of schools and the small-town feel of the community.

Ridgefield School District's current superintendent, Art Edgerly, announced in October 2013 that he would retire at the end of this school year on June 30. Edgerly has served as the district's superintendent since 2007.

For more information, visit the district website at www.ridge.k12.wa.us.