Oak Harbor levy dollars put into action

Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times Gabe Salinger, center, and other students at Oak Harbor Middle School watch robots at work in Che Edoga’s robotics class. The class was one of two new career-tech courses offered for Oak Harbor middle schoolers this school year as a result of voters approving the levy last February.  - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times Gabe Salinger, center, and other students at Oak Harbor Middle School watch robots at work in Che Edoga’s robotics class. The class was one of two new career-tech courses offered for Oak Harbor middle schoolers this school year as a result of voters approving the levy last February.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Inside Che Edoga’s classroom, all eyes are locked to a crude-looking device navigating through a tabletop maze.

Students surround the table, watching as the unit rolls slowly and turns, collecting cardboard tubes along the way with two prongs that catch them.

The route is all pre-programmed by Edoga’s students at Oak Harbor Middle School. No remote controls are allowed.

This particular mission seemed perfect until one tube teetered at the last moment, turning cheers into groans under Edoga’s watchful eye.

A perfect run?

Edoga didn’t think so.

“That was all five standing up!” one student shouted. “Come on, Mr. Edoga!”

Programming robots to do such maneuvers wasn’t something middle school students were able to do in the Oak Harbor School District until the present school year.

It became possible after a replacement levy was approved by Oak Harbor voters last February, allowing $7.35 million in local tax dollars to continue to be used to help fund the school district each year.

Almost a year after the levy’s passage, middle school robotic students are among those realizing the benefits of that vote.

That class, as well as a class titled “Making Stuff,” are two new career-tech electives added to the middle school curriculum and represent programs that have been added or restored because of the levy.

Edoga taught three classes of robotics at Oak Harbor Middle School in the first semester, and will have three more at North Whidbey Middle School when the second semester starts Friday.

This is in addition to the robotics classes he teaches at the high school and the Robotics Club he guides.

“The reception has been amazing,” he said.

“I think it is pretty cool,” said Charlie Pabona, an eighth grader at Oak Harbor Middle School. “Our electives before were Spanish and languages. Now, we have robotics.”

At a time when Oak Harbor schools have experienced reductions in federal and state funding in recent years, the levy has substantially lessened the impact of those cuts, said Lance Gibbon, school district superintendent.

The school district already has covered significant ground, adding and restoring programs and positions and will continue to do so over the four-year period spanning the levy.

Giving credit to the levy, the Oak Harbor School District so far has been able to:

-Restore junior-varsity sports programs at middle schools, more than doubling participation and eliminating cuts.

-Bring back an elementary, middle school and high school counselor and secondary level support staff for at-risk kids.

-Restore after-school buses for secondary students who stay longer for tutoring and extra-curricular activities.

-Bring back elementary school instructional assistants, adding more clerical support in offices, more supervision and allowing libraries to stay open more days for students.

-Restore half-day, everyday kindergarten due to the ability to fund mid-day transportation.

-Bring back curriculum replacement cycle to allow for the purchase of new textbooks and electronic instructional material, starting with new secondary social studies material next school year.

-Restore building, activity and athletic budgets to previously held levels.

-Add 30 minutes of teaching time per day at middle schools.

-Add staff positions in custodial, maintenance and grounds.

The list goes on and will continue to grow, leaving Gibbon feeling indebted to the community in his first year as schools superintendent.

He also pointed to the ability to now tackle major maintenance and capital projects.

“As a school district and personally, I’m so grateful for the Oak Harbor voters that they recognize the importance of a strong school district,” Gibbon said, “because it’s their support that enables us to protect and restore what I think are vital programs and services for our 5,500 kids. We are very fortunate to have that support in Oak Harbor.”

Gibbon knows what could have been, considering the impact of federal cuts, and sequestration, in his military community.

“A levy loss coupled with all the cuts that have to do with Impact Aid and state funding would have been devastating to the quality of education for our kids,” he said. “More programs will be continue to be protected and restored thanks to the levy.”

That’s music to the ears of William Weinsheimer, principal at North Whidbey Middle School.

He knows that the addition of junior-varsity athletics in middle schools means healthier after-school activities for more kids.

Girls basketball and wrestling start this week.

“One of the challenges for middle school students and families is finding safe activities for kids after school,” Weinsheimer said. “It’s nice for kids to have that.

“It also helps engage kids. They feel better about school.”

In Edoga’s robotics class, Gabe Salinger took extra care in building a robot out of LEGOS that would succeed in its mission of collecting cardboard tubes.

He and Pabona teamed up to build and program the unit and send it on its way.

“It is pretty cool,” Salinger said.

Many students who took middle school robotics will also take the companion class, “Making Stuff,” a hands-on, problem-solving class that involves design and construction of models. It is a precursor to the high school course, Technology Foundations.

“I think it’s really important,” said Marc deLeuze, who teaches the classes at both middle schools.

“It’s going to help to bring our middle school students to the high school already with a little bit of technology interest in their brain and their gut.”


Key facts

-Levy amount: $7.35 million each year over four years. A state match brings it closer to $8.5 million per year.

-Return of junior-varsity middle school athletics, after-school bus service and additional counseling positions.

-Replacement of outdated instructional material, starting with secondary social studies textbooks and electronic resources.

-Return of half-day kindergarten in the district.


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