In Search of Excellence

July 01, 2003 | Lowell Dunston

Excellence does not come by accident. It happens through prayer, vision and intentional effort. This article chronicles one school’s search for excellence.

Seven years ago, Cypress Adventist School in Lynnwood, Wash., faced a major, redefining moment. Yielding its ninth and tenth grades to support the new day academy in the greater Seattle area, Cypress had to reshape its future.

The school board faced several challenges—a decrease in subsidy, changes in and reduction of staff, stability of enrollment and a change of focus for the institution. The board’s first decision was to pursue academic excellence in a strong K–8 program. In town-hall meetings, constituents were polled on what they prized most about Cypress.

From those suggestions, a prioritized “dream list” developed. Board committees worked on curriculum, technology, finance and facilities. For two years, the curriculum committee probed ideas and practices to improve the quality of instruction. Their recommendations included:

• A full-day kindergarten

• A maximum of two grades per classroom

• An enhanced focus on reading

• Improved math instruction

• Making quality writing a school-wide priority

• Enrichment of the fine arts program

Teachers were given opportunities to grow through workshops in Thinking Maps, team building, Integrated Thematic Instruction, Glasser Quality Schools, and a variety of brain-based learning and technology classes.

Over the last several years, the intentional efforts of the school board, staff, parents and constituents have produced a significant list of accomplishments:

1. A network of computers in the classrooms for maximum daily use

2. Oregon Educational Software (internet access and Web site)

3. Enhanced reading instruction

• 1,000 titles of a personalized accelerated reader program

• A collection of 115 quality sets of children’s literature for different levels

• Eye-Q Reading (individual computer program with spelling and composition)

4. Improved math instruction and focus on problem-solving

5. An art teacher for school-wide instruction in various modalities, including a new ceramic kiln

6. Hand chimes for grades three and four and handbells for grades five through eight

7. A $25,000 “Big Toy” installation for the playground

8. A pre-kindergarten program for four-year-olds that has boosted enrollment at the entry level

9. Two auctions to raise money for technology and art, plus a school van to transport students to and from school

10. Composite ITBS class average scores at or above the top 20th percentile for all grades

11. Increased enthusiasm and involvement of volunteers thanks to the work of a new parent involvement committee

12. Increased enrollment of children of various Christian and non-Christian faiths wanting to be part of the “Cypress experience”

13. A multi-ethnic student body enriching the school culturally and relationally

14. A “latch-key” program to supervise children at the school from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The school also offers community service experiences, including nursing home visitation, packaging food for Northwest Harvest, clean-up days for church grounds and the school campus, visiting churches to provide student participation in worship services, Big Brother/Big Sister program, Thanksgiving dinner for seniors, each classroom’s adoption of a family at Christmas time, St. Jude’s Math-a-Thon and Jump Rope for Heart.

The road toward excellence is not easy. As in any school community, Cypress has experienced its share of challenges and disagreements. Through difficult times, a unity of purpose and a desire for excellence have enabled the school family to weather hardships and further crystallize a sense of mission.

The Cypress family is grateful for many blessings from God’s hand. We pay tribute to a “fallen friend,” Karen Nuessle, who constantly encouraged, guided and provided direction in the early stages of our journey. Her insights were invaluable. We are thankful for the Washington Conference and its continuing strong support for schools. And we salute teachers, board members, parents and volunteers who support our mission: To educate children to their full individual potential in a warm and caring environment.

Most of all, we treasure the trust, energy and friendship of our students. The search for excellence is ever ongoing, never ending. We have discovered that the joy is not just in the final product but in the journey itself.