South Kitsap schools' Whole Child concept goes beyond test scores, superintendent says

Treasure hunters.

That was the analogy South Kitsap School District superintendent Dave LaRose used while discussing how to reach each student’s potential during last week’s Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce meeting at Blondie’s Restaurant & Lounge.

LaRose used his daughters — Lyndsi, a sophomore at UCLA, and Madison, a sophomore at Peninsula High School — as examples. He said his own influence alone would not have been enough for his children to “unlock” their full potential. But with the guidance of himself, his wife, Mindi, and others, he feels that is occurring.

He said that perspective has been influential in the district’s Whole Child concept. LaRose said schools traditionally have been too focused on segments of the educational process, such as standardized testing. While noting that is important, LaRose said he prefers to examine a broad range of issues.

“You can have the best textbooks,” he said. “But if you’re in an environment where children don’t feel cared for or loved, it doesn’t matter.”

He outlined how the aim of Whole Child is to make each student feel safe, healthy, cared for and supported, engaged and connected, and challenged.

There are several programs within the district aimed at meeting those objectives. LaRose listed Partners in Learning Success, Ready for Kindergarten, Kids at Hope, Boys & Girls Club, Back to School Celebration, Backpacks for Kids, and the summer lunch program.

That is where LaRose stresses community involvement — the treasure hunters — to reach each child. He said some adults work best in hands-on situations, such as mentoring a child with a difficult home life. Others, he said, are not as comfortable in that role, but might be able to lend monetary support to a program such as Backpacks for Kids, which supplies needy families with food.

LaRose said that extends to the summer when some children do not receive enough nourishment at home. He said the district served lunches to 8,339 students last summer.

“Some aren’t doing as well as when we’ve left them,” he said. “When something gets in the way of learning, we must do something.”

That also applies to the Ready for Kindergarten program. LaRose said he has received some criticism for that because it does not apply specifically to Kindergarten through 12th grade. But he said there is a problem when one student enters the classroom knowing how to read, while others do not even know their middle name.

When there is a learning gap in a child’s formative years, it creates a void for a lifetime. Instead, the Learning for Kindergarten program aims to work with youths and their parents to give them the preparation they need to enter school intellectually parallel with their peers, LaRose said.

“Lives are not only changed,” he said. “I believe they are saved by these programs.”

He said it all comes down to eliminating barriers in education. LaRose believes that begins with communication between the district and community to “tell them what our needs are.”

Through that collaboration, LaRose wants to find ways to reach every child in the district. He said that extends beyond programs and textbooks into a belief process. Students at some schools say, “I believe all children are capable of success, no exceptions!” following the Pledge of Allegiance each morning.

“Hope isn’t by accident, and neither is hopelessness,” LaRose said. “There is science, research and data behind hope.”

For LaRose, it all connects with how the district finds the potential in each child.

“It’s life and death, and it’s our babies,” he said. “That’s how seriously we take our work.”

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