Peninsula School District – Gig Harbor, Pacific Northwest

April 22, 2024

Peninsula School District

A welcoming lifestyle supported by a dynamic school district awaits in Pierce County, Washington

 

Excellence, character, confidence, culture, and curiosity – cornerstones of student success

Inspiring and empowering every child, every day.

In Washington State’s Puget Sound region, there sits the friendly and welcoming community of Gig Harbor. With stunning waterfront views and lush landscapes, this inviting “Maritime City” is conveniently located near Tacoma and Seattle, yet it supports a simpler lifestyle.

A view of Mount Rainier, access to state and city parks, and a historic waterfront invite new residents and businesses to indulge in an active lifestyle. The U.S. Census for the City of Gig Harbor estimates that the population of 12,892 is growing 1.61% annually and has increased by 6.76% since 2020. Residents move here to revel in nature and take advantage of the abundant hiking trails, water-based recreation, beaches, and camping.

For families who live in the area, an outstanding education is within reach at the Peninsula School District, where the vision is to inspire and empower every child, every day. The district’s 17 schools prepare students to be successful global citizens by providing innovative, rigorous programs and helping support the community through dynamic initiatives.

 

Outdoor Education

The Peninsula School District is located in a beautiful area, so it is a natural fit that Outdoor Education is a cornerstone of the curriculum. Krestin Bahr, Superintendent of the Peninsula School District, is propelled by a passion for student engagement and adapting open-air activities into teaching methods.

“It is our responsibility to offer diverse learning, while taking advantage of our surroundings and the opportunity to be in nature,” Bahr said. “Outdoor Education cultivates critical thinking and environmental stewardship. We recognize the profound impact nature has on learning, and we strive to harness its potential to enrich every journey.”

The Peninsula School District offers outdoor transitional kindergarten (TK) inspired by a 2021/2022 school year trip to Bodø, Norway. Bahr traveled with a delegation to Bodø to study its early learning programs. “Our TK classes can be outdoors all day in the rain, frolicking in the mud,” states Bahr. “We have proper clothing because one thing we learned in Norway is that there is no bad weather, just bad clothes.”

From nearby park field trips to nature reserves to on-campus outside spaces, students connect with the surroundings, fostering curiosity. Outdoor Education provides first hand exploration of the natural world and instills a lifelong appreciation for the planet.

Arts Infusion and Innovation

Creativity and expression drive artistic exploration and growth, and the Peninsula School District’s Arts Infusion and Innovation program champions this holistic approach. Bahr advocates for its integration into every facet of learning, “Creativity’s transformative power in shaping well-rounded individuals and originality is paramount.”

Through dance, performance, music, and visual arts, schools infuse arts into all content areas and create meaningful opportunities for every learner across all subject areas. Teachers develop innovative lessons combining literacy and science with drama.

The impact extends beyond individual skill development. Kids engage in communal projects, collaborating with local artists and organizations to beautify public spaces and promote social awareness.

The district’s commitment is clear through its implementation of innovative technologies and methodologies. PSD not only cultivates artistic excellence but also equips students with the creativity, adaptability, and critical thinking skills necessary for success in the 21st-century workforce.

Integration of AI in Education

Artificial Intelligence (AI) integration is revolutionizing teaching methods and learning experiences. Kris Hagel, Executive Director of Digital Learning at the Peninsula School District, spearheads incorporating artificial intelligence. “Embracing AI is crucial. It empowers learners with valuable skills and enhances adaptability in an increasingly digital world.”

Peninsula dabbled in AI with small teacher cohorts in the spring of 2022, but then ChatGPT came on the scene. Hagel says, “At the time, teaching and learning staff were sitting next to the technology staff, having conversations every day about how ChatGPT is poised to impact education.”

PSD got ahead of everyone and dove headfirst into what AI was evolving into in the classroom and how to embrace it. The teachers quickly adapted. Hagel says, “That led us to issue our own AI principles and beliefs document, which currently guides us.”

The district has implemented AI-driven platforms to analyze student performance data. Through predictive analytics and adaptive learning algorithms, educators can find areas of improvement and tailor interventions to support individual needs. They can also streamline administrative tasks and allocate more time to student engagement and support.

AI integration extends beyond the classroom, with professional development workshops to equip educators with the knowledge and skills to use technologies effectively. “It is essential to keep abreast of emerging trends, and we have led the state in implementing tools that educators will need to become proficient with,” says Bahr. “By harnessing AI’s potential, we can maximize student engagement and academic achievement.” Districts across the country are now adopting principles modeled after PSD’s AI approach.

Through strategic partnerships, ongoing professional development, and data-driven practices, the integration of AI in education is shaping the future of teaching and learning in the Peninsula School District.

 

Awards, Recruitment, Parents, and Community

Four of the district’s 10 elementary schools were recognized locally and nationally in 2023 for their efforts in reducing environmental impact and offering sustainability education.

The U.S. Department of Education and the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) honored Pioneer Elementary as a Green Ribbon School. “We expect two more schools for this year, but it is too soon to make any announcements,” states Bahr. OSPI recognized Swift Water Elementary, Evergreen Elementary and Voyager Elementary as Green Leader Schools.

Another attractive feature of the school system is its dedicated staff. Retaining long-term teachers and staff and attracting new applicants is not an issue when generations either stay or return to Gig Harbor. “We are fortunate to hire the best and most talented staff. They often stay for years once they do start,” says John Yellowlees, Chief Academic Officer at the Peninsula School District.

PSD is implementing a residency program for special education teachers. In partnership with the Washington Education Association, bachelor’s degree holders can get their teaching certificate and current teachers can provide mentorship, opening opportunities to experience different teaching environments.

Next year, the outdoor Eagle Quest Program will be offered to gifted students in grades 2–5 living on the more rural Key Peninsula. Bahr says, “We want to take advantage of the environment for our families because that is why they live here. This area is rich with evergreen trees, water, wildlife, and orcas.”

The Peninsula School District engages with and educates the public through consistent outreach, both inside and outside schools. Bahr says, “We have a very supportive community and engaged families and staff. Our volunteer parent organizations and advisory committees meet regularly, and they advocate for all students across the district.”

The district surveyed the community on the educational characteristics and attributes that will go into Eagle Quest. “Using that feedback, we will develop that program and start it in the fall. So, we are looking forward to more exciting stuff,” adds Yellowlees.

PSD holds parent nights, many centered around digital wellness. These collaborations help kids understand how to be healthy digital humans, react to social media, and interact with everyday devices, regulating usage. “The goal is to incorporate student voice into decision-making,” states Hagel.

Engaging with parents and the broader community, including through advisory committees, informational nights, and superintendent student advisory teams, is integral to supporting educational initiatives and gathering feedback for continuous improvement.

The Future

In 2019, voters passed a $198.55 million bond to construct four new elementary schools across the district. Bahr says, “We built the four schools below budget and in half the time, therefore we were able to remodel our two oldest middle schools using funds from the 2019 bond.”

With six new buildings within the last three years, the Peninsula School District offers quality, flexible spaces for student learning and future growth.

The Nordic work with aviation, maritime, and electric planes has piqued the district’s interest, and Bahr is excited about partnering with healthcare. “We have an amazing hospital and excellent medical professionals. We know that is a future endeavor.”

The Peninsula School District Board of Directors have set a goal that all students will graduate, and that 100% of students will read at or above grade level by the end of third grade.

Peninsula makes one thing abundantly clear: education is not just about textbooks and classrooms—it is a dynamic blend of outdoor exploration, artistic expression, technological innovation, and community collaboration.

In the Peninsula School District, students are not merely learners; they are adventurers, creators, and pioneers, shaping a brighter tomorrow.

AT A GLANCE

Peninsula School District

WHAT: A school district embracing AI and the great outdoors.

WHERE: Gig Harbor, Pacific Northwest, Washington, U.S.A.

WEBSITES: PeninsulaSchoolDistrictWA.net

PREFERRED VENDORS

Right at School – https://www.rightatschool.com/

At Right At School, we champion the concept of an educational ecosystem that nurtures the holistic development of children. This ecosystem is a collaborative network that binds schools, families, and communities to foster an environment where every child can thrive. We believe in breaking down the traditional silos that have historically segregated educational stakeholders, advocating for a united approach that leverages the strengths of each to support the diverse needs of students. By tailoring this model to the specific needs of communities, such as those within the Peninsula School District, we can co-create strategies that significantly enhance student outcomes.

Our vision is to transform education into a more inclusive, equitable, and effective system that recognizes and addresses each community’s unique challenges and opportunities. This approach not only prepares students for academic success but also for a fulfilling life beyond the classroom.

Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce – www.VisitGigHarbor.com

Discover the essence of Gig Harbor through the synergy of Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce and Visit Gig Harbor. We champion local businesses, foster economic growth, and through tourism curate unforgettable experiences. Explore our picturesque landscape, dynamic charm, and vibrant culture, that embraces diverse economic opportunities and enriches lives.

Garrette Custom Homes – www.GarretteCustomHomes.com

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