Washougal, WA — The Association of Washington School Principals has named David Cooke, Principal of Jemtegaard Middle School, as the Washington State Secondary School Principal of the Year for 2020!  The Secondary School Principal of the Year award is given to individuals who set high standards for instruction, student achievement, and community involvement, as well as advocating for education. 

“I am honored to be the Principal of Jemtegaard Middle School,” said Cooke. “It is an incredible place to work. This award represents the culture and efforts of the staff and students who come here every day.”

AWSP leadership joined WSD leadership at a middle school staff meeting to make the announcement to Cooke and his staff.  Superintendent Mary Templeton announced the guests from AWSP, who proceeded to share accolades with Cooke. 

“Under David’s leadership, Jemtegaard Middle School has gone from a school that was failing to make progress under No Child Left Behind to one that has been State Recognized multiple times for academic performance increases and closing the achievement gap,” Templeton said. “Through this work, Washougal students are rising, and our district with them!  I could not be happier for David receiving this great recognition!  It is so well deserved.”

Cooke has fostered a culture of support for students and their families, focusing on equity, positive behavior expectations, high engagement, and the whole child.

“At every opportunity, David credits the teachers and staff at Jemtegaard for the school’s accomplishments,” said Kurt Hatch, AWSP Associate Director of Middle Level Leadership, adding “His staff has a willingness to challenge practices, remove barriers to success, and do what is right for students.”

“I could not be prouder of my staff,” said Cooke. “About six years ago, we knew that we needed to make changes to ensure that all students could be successful. It was not easy, but we persevered as a team to make difficult decisions, learn together, and build the best opportunities for all students. As a result, our students have experienced significant growth. We have been supported along the way by so many including our fellow Washougal teachers, staff, District Office and an amazing Washougal community.”

Cooke has overseen implementation of Positive Behavior Intervention Support system at Jemtegaard, featuring common classroom expectations, quick support responses, and a focus on ensuring that students who need help are guided through restorative practices and back in the classroom as quickly as possible.  This has led to a dramatic reduction in missed instructional time, and fewer discipline referrals for students. 

“David exemplifies the best of the best in school leaders in his relentless pursuit of bringing adults together in a common purpose and mission. Their focus on equity, student achievement, and intentional impact on each and every child is what brought his nomination to the top,” said Scott Seaman, AWSP Executive Director. “Leading educational change that is student-centered takes an entire school community and David’s leadership has fostered that ongoing culture.”

“Our students are caring, hardworking and resilient,” Cooke said. “They support each other in their academic, social, and emotional growth.”

The Spanish Speaking Family Night initiative was started by Cooke in response to feedback from second language speaking families, who wanted to connect with the school and learn how they could be part of their students’ learning.  Cooke worked with community leaders and Spanish speaking staff and translators to build relationships with students and their families, identifying resource gaps, communication barriers, and providing support and resources that ensure families and students have what they need to succeed. 

Washougal WA — A student’s classroom can be almost anywhere during this time of remote learning.  For second grade students Marina Guevara, Julie Taie and Lisa Haskin at Gause Elementary, their field science assignment took them out into the world to look for and study signs of erosion.

“We began the year by thinking about what it looks like to be a scientist,” said Guevara.  “We felt that this unit provided good opportunities to ‘unplug’ and have students apply what they are learning.” 

Once they received permission to go outdoors, students were challenged to collect and examine rocks and take a photo or draw a picture of a nearby body of water to identify possible signs of erosion. 

The lesson included looking closely at phenomena happening at a beach in Northcove, WA, nicknamed “Washaway Beach” due to erosion.

“We are continuing to read to learn more about rivers, rocks, beaches, and oceans to help us understand what is happening and possible solutions once we do understand,” said Taie.

According to Guevara, taking this time away from the computer screen gives students a needed change of pace.

“We could see students, and even families, excited and engaged in this project,” she said.  “I think it’s powerful that they found these examples on their own. It is also exciting that this current distance learning situation allows us to collect a variety of responses and data to study.”

“If examples were provided in the classroom or in a group, all the students would see the same thing,” said Haskin. “This way we have different sets of eyes and ears finding evidence of erosion in a variety of places and making observations to share with the class.”

One of the biggest challenges with distance learning for all teachers is fostering connections.

“Creating relationships comes first for me,” said Guevara. “I want my students to know I am there for them and that I care about them.  Being behind a screen is a whole different ball game. Connections can be difficult to foster via technology.” 

But projects like this provide for moments of connection as they show their learning and share what they have seen. Students were connecting with the shared photos saying things like, “I know that place! I’ve been there!” 

“The pictures submitted by students not only provide different data points but also included some special moments shared by families exploring together,” said Guevara. “We were lucky that we had some nice sunny days to work with too!”   

Guevara says she sees evidence of resilience in her class of seven and eight-year-olds every day. 

“The end of last school year and the beginning of this one has been filled with challenges and growing pains,” she admits. “But I feel like we are really getting the hang of it. We have found a rhythm. Part of our learning mantra this year is ‘I’m here to grow every day,’ and I see our students embody that in how they approach their learning, how they communicate with me and with peers, and even how they advocate for themselves through technology.”

“Learning and communicating through screens can be daunting but we are still interacting with our students and they are showing a keen desire to learn despite the challenges,” Guevara said.  “We are so proud of them.”

Having a fun day.

Washougal, WA — Washougal High School Associated Student Body leaders are putting 21st Century Skills to use as they work to reimagine their role to unite and inspire classmates. Gone are the tried and true pep assemblies, spirit activities, work parties and school events.  

Ethan Mills, WHS ASB President, said it is a challenge for ASB to do their job to help students feel spirit and unite a school community when everyone is learning remotely.  “We have been isolated for a long time,” he said. “For me, I’m definitely more of an in-person leader and it’s hard to feed off the energy of others when you are just on camera. I’ve learned that you just have to put yourself out there and do your best no matter what the situation is.”

According to WHS ASB Advisor, Kyla Ritchey, there were many discussions on how to shift the group’s thinking for this school year.  “Before the school year started the class met to discuss what we should do and how they are going to best serve their students’ needs as well as the Washougal Community,” she said. “What impressed me about the students was their honesty.  They had no idea where to start but felt the need to help. It was from this conversation that the idea of multiple surveys throughout the year would be the best way to gauge the needs of the WHS students.”

The first survey was given out before school started and ASB is using this data to drive the work that is being done.  “The surveys collected different points of views from the student body,” said ASB Senior Senator, Briahna Ruth.  “It was important to us to try and hear from as many students as possible since we are all learning remotely.”  

“A possible benefit to this situation is that, I believe, we are understanding more of our student body’s needs and their expectation,” added Mills. “Through our survey there are more voices being heard.”

WHS ASB students recently split into three project groups that were determined from the collected data. Each group is assigned a specific area of concern that came up frequently in the survey.  They are social opportunities, communication, and resources.  With the help from partner organization, Unite! Washougal Coalition, a “mantra” was created for students to consider as they work on creating their projects.  It is to “connect, grow, and be well.”

“Students will need to be able to explain how each project will help WHS students and staff feel connected, grow as an individual, and continue to be well whether that is mentally or physically,” Ritchey said. “While projects have not been determined yet, there are a lot of great ideas being thrown around right now.” 


A major challenge for the group is getting to know one another and working together in this time of social distancing and remote learning. “Typically, they would see each other every day during class and multiple times over the weekend when working on events,” Ritchey said. “If they had a question, they could find each other at lunch or before school to get the answers. Currently, they only see each other twice a week during Zoom meetings. We are still working on community building and feeling comfortable working together.” 

Students are also being challenged to think outside of the box.  “These kids have great ideas,” said Ritchey.  “Some of the ideas though we just aren’t able to do for a multitude of reasons. Instead of giving up on the idea, I have encouraged them to think outside of the box to make some changes to the idea that would make it work. It may not be the exact picture they had in their heads but at the end of the day, it will accomplish their overall goal.”

“Our role as ASB, especially for the younger grades, is to help them keep in mind that they will be getting back to class,” explained Ruth.  “There are still good things to look forward to.”  For instance, the group is working on ways to celebrate virtual spirit weeks, development of a kindness week, exploring socially distanced events when it is safe to do so and plans to reimagine the annual Stuff the Bus food drive.  

The biggest challenge for Ritchey as their advisor is to keep the students motivated. “A lot of them feel overwhelmed and hopeless, this was not the year they had pictured,” she admits.  “I try to keep it positive during class, encourage them, and let them know that even though it may not look the same, we can still create some new experiences and traditions.” 

Overall, the WHS ASB students have shown resilience time and time again.  “Whether it be the laughs we share instead of showing frustration in the situation, or finding common ground when disagreeing on a topic,” said Ritchey. “These kids are really great and impress me more and more every time we meet. Being a student leader during this time is more of a challenge than ever before, but I couldn’t pick a better group of students to work with.”

“This is definitely a challenging year, and everything is harder to get done since we are not all together in person,” said Mills.  “I am learning a lot about leadership and resilience that should help us all prepare for our futures.”

Washougal WA — Flashing red lights on a brand new brushfire rig and a cluster of red balloons welcomed Cape Horn-Skye Elementary first grade students of Nichol Yung and Darcy Hickey as they arrived at the school parking lot to meet some local heroes on October 9.  Through their family car windows, and wearing masks, students handed their handmade thank you cards to representatives from Camas-Washougal Firefighters, Chris Kassel and Matthew Miller, also masked and wearing gloves. In return, each student was given a shiny red fire hat. Although no one could actually see the smiles behind masks, you could feel the joy felt by firefighters and students in the exchange. 

“These written notes are so important because they provide an opportunity for the students to show gratitude and connect with people in our community who work and volunteer to keep them safe,” said Yung of her students appreciation for the firefighters. “In a world where there is so much ‘virtual’ and for a 6 year old, it’s oftentimes difficult for them to distinguish between what is real and what is make-believe, these cards provide that bridge from what they may see on the news or hear friends and family talk about to something concrete.”

The class learned about wildfires and discussed how local fires had impacted the area. Some students shared how their families had to be ready to evacuate here in Washougal. 

“We had some students keenly aware of how some of their extended family members in Oregon were affected by the recent fires,” Hickey said.

The project gave these kids an opportunity to open up and process their feelings from what they had encountered during that difficult time.

“Since all of the students were directly affected by the fires, especially with the smoke, they were able to offer support by providing a listening ear and observe the courage they all had in getting through this scary time,” said Yung. “This was a real-life experience for all of them and with the chance to meet some firefighters, they can make the connection with what they experienced to those who helped put the fires out.”

“It was great to just be out in the community and see all of these happy kids,” said Miller.  “The cards were very sweet and mean so much to us.”

“We really enjoy being a part of these type of events,” said Kassel.  “It is important for children to see us in normal situations so they know we are not scary, so in a time of emergency, they will not shy away from us.”

Student Ada Berg hoped her card made the firefighters happy.  “I wanted to thank them for fighting fires and helping to keep people safe,” she said.  For Berg and her family, the fires were very real with her grandparents evacuated from their home in Estacada, Oregon.

“I want to be a firefighter,” admitted student Grason Powell.  “I want to help save the world.”

“We want the students to be able to understand that just as firefighters have a huge impact on communities in keeping them safe, children also have something to contribute by way of showing gratitude and support,” said Yung. “We hope that this show of gratitude and support will not only be evidenced in this activity but in every aspect of their lives and that it is a life-long attribute that can only help them have positive emotions, which can be easily shared. We want them to have an ‘attitude of gratitude’.”

“We are so excited to see the kids hand the firefighters their cards because we know that firefighters don’t always get recognized unless there is an emergency,” said Hickey. “We want them to know that, emergency or not, they are appreciated and we hope that we see the light in their faces as they receive a heartfelt card and well-wish from a 6-year old who admires them for their bravery.”

Greeting students.

Washougal, WA — Response to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought sweeping changes to education. Teachers at Canyon Creek and Jemtegaard Middle Schools are experiencing a small benefit of that change as they come together weekly for their Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting via ZOOM. PLCs require whole-staff involvement in a process to reflect on instructional practices and student data, as well as monitoring outcomes to ensure success.

“The combined CCMS/JMS PLCs has been one of the few positives to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Tim Davis, JMS Math and Robotics teacher.  “We have always enjoyed working with the CCMS math team a few times a year for curriculum training.  We did a lot of sharing of lesson ideas, tech tricks, student motivation techniques and engagement ideas but ended each time saying we should do this more often.  It never materialized because we would lose at least 30 minutes of our valuable time driving from one building to the other.  Along comes the pandemic, the move to ZOOM, and two forward-thinking administrators and here we are!”

The major focus of the PLC groups is to analyze student data to help determine if students are benefiting from lessons, and to adjust instruction for students who need additional time to master standards, as well as to plan instruction for those who have achieved mastery.  Davis, who teaches the only Algebra class at JMS, had never had anybody to examine his Algebra data and outcomes until the schools combined their PLC groups. 

“Now with more minds focused on the data, we are able to see multiple ways to address students’ needs,” he said.  “We commonly work past our allotted time because it’s refreshing to have new ideas to explore.  I look forward every week to our Wednesday PLC time!”

According to Davis, the credit for the combined middle school PLCs goes to JMS principal David Cooke and CCMS principal Brian Amundson. 

“I witnessed how well they worked together in the past when they were both at JMS,” he explained. “This is an indication of how well they will work together in the future.  I think we will see the two middle schools working together on additional exciting ways to help our students in the future.”

“Having an opportunity to hear what others are bringing to the classroom, and borrow a few lesson plans, has been a thrill,” said Jason Barnes, CCMS English Language Arts and History teacher. “This has also given us the chance to affirm each other’s practices, which is especially life-giving in the current isolation of COVID-19.”


And, Washougal’s Superintendent agrees.

“Washougal School District invests heavily in PLCs and believes in their power to help enhance teaching skills and the academic performance of students,” said WSD Superintendent Mary Templeton. “The combined PLCs allow more minds to get together and share and refine lessons to keep our students engaged and achieve higher levels of success.”

Barnes, who has been a part of the social studies PLC this year, explained that the group has a shared Google Classroom set up for an exchange of information and resources, and are able to ask for advice on lessons that would otherwise be challenging to navigate solo. “We have also been able to align our units more closely with each other, getting our middle schools in a better alignment as we prepare them for high school,” he said.

“I have personally found it exciting to hear about the various ways that some of our more senior-tenured teachers approach their history classes, left mesmerized at their thrilling unit plans,” said Barnes. “It really helps to know that we are all doing great things in our classrooms.”

Washougal WA — It is 7:45 am and 60 first grade students at Columbia River Gorge Elementary are beginning their school day.  At their home workspace, they log in to a Zoom classroom to welcoming music and each is greeted by name.  On the screen is a list of materials they will need for the day’s instruction flacked by smiling and waving bitmojis illustrations of their teachers.  A five-minute countdown begins at 8:00 am, and at 8:05 am, each student, now prepared for their day, breaks into individual virtual classrooms with teachers Allison McGranahan, Sydney Termini and Taryn Tedford.

“We feel it is important to start our day by having everyone together and greet each student by their name,” explained Tedford.  “The bitmojis are just a fun way to represent us and our excitement for what’s to come.  For instance, we had them wearing scrubs on the day we were studying the human body. Our morning routine is a small way to build a sense of community and connectivity that is missing in distance learning.”   

Once broken out into classrooms, teachers lead an hour lesson.  The larger group comes back together again at 9am to meet with a specialist for instruction and activities in art, music, PE and even Library.  “It is important that students are able to stay connected with other teachers and continue to learn in these other important curriculum areas,” McGanahan said. 

Students then go back to their classroom group for the last half hour of instruction.  The remainder of the school day is spent viewing selected pre-recorded lessons and completing assignments.

The CRGE first grade team’s approach to teaching changed some since last spring, when teachers everywhere were asked to turn on a dime to online classes.  They began this year by reviewing curriculum and deciding which lessons to begin with for remote learning. “We know that certain topics were okay being recorded and others are more conducive to being live lessons,” explained McGanahan. “We’ve tried to make it so that even if kids aren’t able to be at the Zoom lessons, they are able to engage in the learning lessons.”


Like the K-2 teachers of the Washougal School District, they are using the educational software app, SeeSaw to capture learning during the distance learning. They are able to send video lessons and activities for students to interact with during the afternoon asynchronous learning time.

Teachers set up activity buttons for students to connect to three lessons.  One day may include math, a listen and learn activity and a skills practice, such as handwriting or answering questions about a story.  There are also activities for the areas of science and even community building.  Students can log in at any time in the day to complete the work.  “I had a student who had a dentist appointment during class time but was still able to participate easily in the activities,” said McGanahan.  “This offers a lot of flexibility for families.”

A good example of Seesaw’s use was a recent first grade unit on folk tales. “The assignment was for students to retell a folk tale or fable in their own words,” explained McGanahan. “They recorded themselves telling the story and even downloaded artwork they created to illustrate it.  Then we were able to watch and listen to their work.” 

“I am so amazed at how committed many of our families and students are to this whole distance learning process,” McGanahan added.  “It is a lot and it is a challenge, but we have had kids show up when the power is off, the wind is blowing, and the smoke is in the air. Kids show up and participate when they are tired and are not feeling well. I have had a kid show up to Zoom because he did not want to miss it, even though his tummy hurt, and he had to leave because he was getting sick. Our students are not giving up just because we are doing distance learning! They are actively engaged and will be able to pick up right where we left off when we get the chance to be back in the building.”

Youngest learners thrive with structure and routine and the CRGE team understands that it is a struggle for students to not be in the classroom. “Even with all the tools we have in place, this is not the same as it would be in person,” McGanahan said. “Sometimes students just need to be near the teacher and talk through a problem without the whole group watching. They need to get up and move and learn in different ways, and that is difficult over Zoom.”

Termini agrees.  “It is a challenge for me to not see each students’ process,” she explained.  “I don’t see them individually as they work through an assignment to recognize where they may have struggled. I just see the outcome, not how they problem solve and approach the work.”  

Another challenge to distance learning is lesson preparation that must take weeks of lead time to gather and distribute materials to families who drive to the school at specific times for pick up.  “It was such a treat to see students as they came to pick up bags,” said Termini. “It was good to touch base face to face with our students and their parents to check in on how it is going.”   

A benefit that has risen from remote learning is the stronger connections being made with many of the students’ families.  “We are working hard to address parent needs as much as we can and support them,” said Tedford.  “The partnership we have with parents is so important and is being fine-tuned.” 

“We are not able to do our job without family support and I absolutely love the depth of connection with parents I am able to make because of distance learning,” said McGanahan.  

 “I appreciate how supportive our student’s families have been,” added Termini. “We couldn’t do it without them!”

Greeting students.

Field trips are often one of the most memorable learning experiences for young students.  The opportunity to go outside the classroom can be an exciting and impactful way to bring lessons to life. This is why Cape Horn-Skye Elementary first grade teachers, Darcy Hickey and Nicol Yung, decided to deliver the experience online.  

“The idea of having Virtual Field Trip Fridays came about from us as a team discussing how we could do something fun as a grade level and make it meaningful to the kids,” said Hickey.  “We chose Fridays because after a week of distance learning, we wanted the kids to have something fun and different to look forward to.  We set up a Zoom link for the entire first grade so all the students get to experience the field trip together.”

Students have participated in four virtual field trips so far this year.  “We have visited a dairy farm, an egg farm, an ice cream factory and a symphony,” explained Yung. “An upcoming field trip will be to attend a shadow puppet show.”

Each field trip is planned with a thought to science, literacy, and the arts. “For example, our trip to the symphony fell in line with our study of sound in science,” said Hickey. “We also love that it supported music standards.”  

A lesson unit in language arts involved fables, and since many centered around a farm setting, a virtual trip to an egg farm was arranged.  “Our trip was also a segue into doing a science experiment with eggs,” said Yung.  “Our art teacher, Alice Yang, was a special guest who joined us on our field trip to the dairy farm.  She led the students in a directed drawing of a cow.  The upcoming field trip to the shadow puppet show aligns with our study of light and shadows in science.”

“We want the kids to know and understand that despite the fact that we are in a remote learning situation, there are still many opportunities for them to experience and learn things about their world around them,” explained Hickey.  “We want them to know that they are still connected to the world and that they can participate in meaningful activities, experiments, literature and discussions about everyday things that are a part of their lives like eggs, milk, ice cream, light, and sound to name a few.”


Hickey and Yung strive to help students think about topics that they are familiar with more critically and on a larger scale. They provide hands-on science experiments and activities throughout the week that support the field trips.  For example, students were provided materials to do an experiment on how sound waves travel before the symphony.  For the upcoming puppetry field trip, they were given materials to create shadow shapes on the wall.

The most recent field trip to an ice cream factory on October 2nd also featured CH-S’s new principal, Brian Amundson, reading the book Should I Share My Ice Cream, by Mo Willems.  “This was a great way for our students to get to know Mr. Amundson since we aren’t in person right now,” said Hickey. “He also led the students through a STEM challenge.”

“The entire staff at Cape Horn-Skye is awesome,” said Amundson. “The creativity of the teachers and the ways they are finding to connect with students and families is amazing.”

The virtual time together this week ended with a surprise Dairy Queen gift card for a free ice cream. “We reached out to former School Board member, Teresa Lees, who contacted the manager of Cams DQ to ask about donating the 50 gift cards to our students,” said Hickey. “Donna from DQ was thrilled to be a part of this and didn’t hesitate to say yes.”

Washougal, WA — Washougal School District (WSD) last week welcomed their first 200 students into the classroom at all grade levels and the experience is helping administrators and educators shape their next phases of a detailed reopening plan.

“Just like everybody else we are moving to the first reopening category even though we’re in a high infection rate countywide,” said Dr. Mary Templeton, Superintendent of Washougal School District. “We are bringing back small groups of students totaling 200 who are coming to our campuses for in-person learning.” 

The district is only serving special needs students in the classroom during this phase, who are dispersed through all Washougal schools. This is week two, and Templeton said WSD will likely roll in the second wave of students in mid-October — which includes students who are homeless or disadvantaged. 

“We know which groups of students are not achieving at the rate we want them to,” said Templeton. “We want to level the playing field for them. Right now, all high school, middle school, elementary school students with special needs are in the classroom. We’ve identified them and that’s the breakout. We are busing, which is nice, it’s an indicator that we’re progressing. We had to temporarily lay off many employees, but we did keep a small group of transportation staff for this first phase.”

WSD has 40 staff members onsite operating in the classroom or working directly with children. 

“I’ve been on campus several times and everybody is excited to be with the kids, and they tell me it’s going well,” said Templeton. “These are the comments I heard when I was out and about. I walked in and spoke with office staff who say it’s so great. I loved hearing the sound of children laughing and talking. The cafeteria had children laughing.” 

Classrooms mostly consist of groups of five. There is no requirement for what small group means, but WSD is averaging five per class. Students and staff are following all the COVID-19 guidelines. Most tudents are not there for the entire day. They are having lunch and then busing them home.

Some students, however, are there five days a week, and some are attending hybrid and it’s based on student need.

“It’s one step in the right direction and it’s what is being recommended,” said Templeton. “We are fast-forwarding in our minds what will be the need, what do need to have ready to go in the next step, which we hope to be a hybrid elementary situation. Just like everybody we have community members and parents who would like us to go faster, and some would like us to go slower. We are taking a measured approach. We don’t want to move too quickly. We are trying to be respectful of everyone’s desire and to make sure we are prepared.” 

Here are some of the things WSD is doing to get ready for the hybrid in-class phase:

  • Hygiene stations throughout the schools
  • Distance protocols
  • Staff training
  • Recommended PPE
  • Isolation rules and protocols 
  • Quarantine process 
  • Health screening at entrances
  • Signage and markers
  • Increased sanitation receptacles

Templeton said they are working with the health department on a regular basis.


“Everybody needs to mask up and social distance, which will make our schools open faster,” said Templeton. “The last thing is that we need to maintain our focus on our remote learning. We can’t lose our remote learning momentum. It’s going well, but it does have problems. We are working through those. We must maintain our focus on keeping the learning going and keeping those relationships strong.” 

For the next wave, WSD will possible add another 200 students that would most benefit from onsite instruction.

“We are taking a thoughtful and measured approach,” Templeton said. “I don’t have teachers telling me they don’t want to be in the classroom, but several have asked us to have a choice of being in the classroom or to teach strictly remotely.  Some are choosing to be onsite and some are choosing to be at home.”

There is a process for a staff member who requires an accommodation, and WSD is able to offer that to them. These accommodations may be for them to have a completely virtual classroom, based on parent and student requests. 

Dr. Mary Templeton, Superintendent of Washougal Schools.

There might be teachers who may need to take a leave of absence. 

“I think teachers miss students and they want to be in the classroom, and we’re making sure it’s a safe opening,” Templeton said. “What are things we need to shore up? We’ve been having this conversation for several months. Each building has a designated COVID safety coordinator.” 

Templeton is in her third year as WSD Superintendent, entering the job at the height of the 2018 teacher’s strike. And, now these past six months she’s dealing with the pandemic.

“It’s all hands on deck, we have a good time,” she said. “We have accomplished much. We have successfully marketed the district with Washougal Rising. There’s a high self-esteem. We are now a destination district. It’s an indicator things are working. We’ve had three state recognized schools. Equity is very important to us. We have many students of color participating in accelerated programs. It’s unprecedented excellence. We are aggressively optimistic. If you can’t maintain your optimism it’s hard to move forward. We are all impacted by what is happening. We must have grace and patience with each other. I live here and those are the things we must maintain.” 

Washougal, WA — If asked the question ‘what’s cooking’ at Washougal schools, the answer may surprise you.  Washougal School District (WSD) is implementing a new approach for school meal service, with restaurant style, scratch-made, healthy, and nutritious food available for students and employees. 

“At the end of the day it is really about the desire to provide our students with high quality, delicious, homemade meals,” said Mary Templeton, WSD Superintendent.  “This program builds on our efforts to achieve our mission to know, nurture and challenge all students to rise.  It is important for our students to know they are loved and cared for and we know food nourishes the body, the mind and the spirit.” 

The work toward this change began in early 2020 with Templeton along with WSD Business Manager Kris Grindy and Career and Technical Education Director Margaret Rice researching schools across the country who were moving in a similar direction.

Grindy and Rice met with a local chef to start a needs analysis and survey of school kitchens.

“The main goal was to create a transition plan based on his findings and help us work through this complex transition, which included hiring an Executive Chef Supervisor to lead our own Culinary Staff,” explained Rice.

At the end of July, the district hired Chef Chris Youngren to lead the new Culinary Services team.  Youngren has worked in the culinary business for more than 20 years. Her career started in restaurants, but she has worked extensively in schools, most recently for the Stevenson-Carson School District.

“Our goal is to transition our former Nutrition Service program into a Culinary Service Program that prepares meals with love and care for our students from scratch; meals we would be proud to serve our own families at home,” said Rice. “By doing this we will continue to work toward building a more inclusive culture/community, one where people sit down and eat together, share stories, and laugh while filling their stomachs.”


Even without students in classrooms, Culinary Services is already working with fresh produce and scratch cooking to provide meals for the district children, which are free through December.  This program, funded by the Federal Government, is available at no cost to any child 18 or under. The District will return to charging students for reduced and full-price meals starting in January, unless the federal program is extended. 

In the past, the food program meals were created with previously frozen foods. Now the ingredient quality is better, and all the meals are fresh.  “This means we are starting with high quality ingredients,” explained Chef Youngren. “For example, we might purchase a ham and slice the meat for our deli sandwiches ourselves ensuring a higher quality product than what we might get if we purchased deli meats already sliced.  Everything is being cooked in our central kitchen at Gause Elementary and then cooled immediately and prepared for distribution.”

Adjustments were made to the take-out model of delivery so families can easily reheat the meals to eat right away or freeze it to be eaten later.  Meals include reheat instructions and are packaged in containers that can be used for reheating.  Take-out bags include handles, which makes it easier for students and their families to carry several meals at once.

Washougal families who have not yet completed a Free and Reduced-Price Meal application form for the 2020-21 school year are encouraged to do so.  This application needs to be resubmitted each school year.

“In addition, there may be families in our community who have never thought to apply, but who may qualify if their circumstances have changed due to the COVID crisis,” said Grindy. “Families are asked to apply before October 15, but can still apply any time during the year, especially if the family experiences a change in situation that may qualify them later.”  To apply or reapply, even for those currently receiving meals, go to  The Washougal School District is an equal opportunity provider. 

And while students have not yet returned, WSD employees working in buildings or offices are getting the opportunity to order and buy these meals too.

“Staff are invited to pre-order and purchase meals that will be available each day in all buildings at lunch time (11am-1pm),” explained Rice.  “If they work in a District building other than a school, they come by the closest school to pick up their meals.”  Staff meals are charged at the adult price, and the additional participation provides additional revenue that the culinary program will use to continue future innovations and investments. 

Feedback from customers has been positive, with comments about how fresh and tasty the meals are.  “We are also getting good suggestions to improve the service,” said Chef Youngren. “For instance, we have been asked to include more condiments and plastic silverware.  We had in our minds that meals would be eaten at home and those items would not be necessary, but for instance, we are now serving staff in our buildings and they need those things.  We are taking this time to listen and adjust to be ready when we are all back together again in the schools.”

Preparing food.

According to Rice, a key to success will be providing an excellent product at an excellent value. 

“We want our food quality to match up with other restaurants, to be just as good but not as expensive,” she said. 

A regular priced lunch at Washougal High School is $3.40 and adult meal cost is only $4.50.

“Once our students return to school, they will be greeted with the smell of delicious food cooking,” said Templeton. “Meals will be a higher quality and more restaurant style food.”  

Menu items will include items such as teriyaki rice bowls, bento hummus boxes, pulled pork sliders with coleslaw, Taco Tuesday, and even chicken and waffles.  You only need to step into the school kitchen to experience the welcoming smell of fresh pizza coming out of the ovens to understand the difference.

Another change students will see is the Culinary Services staff wearing chef coats as they prepare and serve meals.  “We are professionals and we want staff to look like the professional team they are,” said Chef Youngren. “These folks work hard and deserve respect for making these meals with love and care. Our staff is extremely excited to be a part of this new Culinary Services model.  They are looking forward to the direction it is going and proud to be a part of it.  Everyone is excited, onboard, and willing to do whatever is needed to make sure we can meet our goals of this program.”

“It is exciting,” said Glenda Huddleston, Culinary Services Server 1. “It just feels better to actually be cooking and serving fresh food.  And it tastes good!”  Staff involvement includes the use of their recipes. Culinary Services Server 2, Linda Manire’s fresh pineapple salsa and pico de gallo recipes were used for a recent Taco Tuesday meal.  

Rice, as WSD CTE Director, is playing a large part in the development of the new meal service program.  “My role is to see the bigger picture as well as watch the fine details,” she explained. “I’m helping guide the program in the direction we want it to be in the future.”  Long-term, WSD would like to build in the opportunities for WHS culinary students to learn and grow their skills working with Culinary Services staff in partnership with their teacher, Chef Brenda Hitchins.  Eventually they would like to leverage partnerships to develop and establish a registered Youth Apprenticeship Program.

“We hope our students will enjoy the food more and that less students feel they need to bring lunches to school,” Rice said. “As a parent, I remember the added stress of trying to get a healthy, yet delicious meal together every day for my child and we would like parents to know that we have their backs. We want the food they eat here to be some of the best meals they had all day. We’re creating a food experience, one where folks look forward to what is on the menu for the next day and they are talking about it.”

“The highest compliment will be when students are posting photos of their school lunch on social media to tell others how yummy is,” Rice added.  

Getting pizza out of the oven.

Washougal, WA – Late last week, Washougal School District began notifying staff in certain positions that they were being placed in temporary layoff status starting on September 9, 2020.

Temporary layoff status is temporary leave from a work assignment. In temporary layoff status, employees maintain their benefits, such as healthcare, as long as they pay their portion of their premiums. In this status, employees may also apply for unemployment benefits.

“Our goal is to get students back to the classroom as soon as it is safe to do so,” said Mary Templeton, WSD Superintendent. “Many of the staff will be able to return to work as the district begins bringing back groups of students for in-person education. The decision to bring employees back from temporary layoff will be based on need and position.”  

“This very difficult decision was made to address budget challenges the district is facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Aaron Hansen, WSD Assistance Superintendent of Human Resources and Student Services. “School districts receive funding from the state based on enrollment numbers and bus ridership, both of which have declined.” Additionally, the district has additional unbudgeted expenses because of the COVID pandemic, including providing personal protective equipment, increased costs for postage and transporting classroom materials, and increased technology expenditures to support families in connecting to online coursework. 

Positions identified for temporary layoff make up 29.4 full time equivalent (FTE), or about 60 full and part time employees.

“The majority of these staff work in the district transportation department, but the list also includes library assistant, playground assistant, paraeducators and custodial staff members,” said Hansen. “Additional positions may be impacted as we work to align staffing with our enrollment.” 

Employees who are being laid off are provided with information about the change and resources to support them in accessing unemployment benefits, as well as guidance on maintaining their health care coverage. 

“If we all do our part to stay healthy and avoid the spread of COVID19 virus, we will all be together in our schools more quickly,” said Templeton.