Building Systems of Support in Chelan

College & Career Readiness, High School Success | 08/20/2018

Katie Gustainis
Marketing & Communications Manager, Stand for Children Washington

They say it takes a village.

In Lake Chelan School District, on the eastside of the Cascades, they’ve spent several years building a very strong and structured village.

With 450 kids in their high school and a slightly smaller middle school population all in the same building, the education challenges that Chelan faces are unique in many ways to their rural geography and small size and yet are still familiar issues for most educators in Washington state.

Naming the Problem

Half a decade ago, in January of 2013, the Chelan High School Principal (and now District Superintendent) Barry Depaoli saw that 63 out of their 100 freshmen had a D or F at the end of the first semester of their freshman year. Surveys showed that students and families did not feel connected to the school, and students didn’t have a feeling of personal investment in their academic performance.

It was time to shake things up.

“When you have that many freshmen falling behind, it can make the rest of their high school career a lot more challenging and it can affect their life opportunities,” says current high school Principal Brad Wilson. “It also stressing the entire school system when you’re playing catch-up for so many students right from the beginning.”

Putting Change into Practice

In order to improve student success, Chelan turned to data-backed research and examples of success from other districts. They decided to build a system that would address student needs at all levels of severity. Also known as a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), this approach is “a framework to help students graduate from high school ready for career, college, and life. It offers different levels of academic and nonacademic services and supports based on individual student needs,” according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) in Washington state.

The district experienced a shift in how they structured their approach to supporting students. “Now, everything is focused on engagement,” says Principal Wilson.

In alignment with the MTSS approach, Chelan School District strategized to create three tiers of intervention and engagement (see graphic).


Source: OSPI Webinar with Lake Chelan School District, November 2017

One notable change included an investment in creating a unique Academic Success student-to-student mentoring program for struggling freshmen. Seniors at Chelan High School applied to become mentors and dedicate one of their school day periods to mentoring their assigned freshman mentee in an Academic Success class. Whether it’s about how to get to class, how to improve grades, or how to find friends, these seniors serve as one of the strongest connection points for engaging these “Tier 3” students who need individualized support.

In the 2016-17 school year, the students in the Academic Success class saw a dramatic improvement in performance from 8th to 9th grade. Impressively, they increased their average GPA by 185% and reduced office referrals by 60% (see graphic below), demonstrating the success of investing in 1on1 relationship development amongst students.

Source: OSPI Webinar with Lake Chelan School District, November 2017 

Planning Ahead

Going into the 2018-19 school year, Lake Chelan is not calling their work done.

This past June, High School Principal Brad Wilson visited Chicago for a three-day training as a member of the 2018 Freshman Success Network created by Stand for Children. He’ll return twice more, along with his high school Counselor and Academic Success teacher, to complete a total of seven training days at the Freshman Success Institute at the University of Chicago.

“After the first session, what really stuck with me was the power of teachers collaborating about individual student success. The research shows it makes a huge difference,” says Brad. “This school year I plan on having our teachers allocate some of our existing collaboration time [that was implemented previously as part of the MTSS] to do some grade-level collaboration.”

“We want to remove barriers for students,” he continues, “We’ve got to keep ourselves solution-oriented and positive when talking about our most at-risk students. I’m looking forward at the next FSI session to learn how to facilitate these types of successful conversations in our school.”

As a small school district, Lake Chelan played to their strengths and invested in creating a community within their schools. They built a village for their students and will be welcoming a new crop of freshmen with open arms - and a lot of support - as the next school year begins.

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  • This is an excellent step forward, especially the colloquium of teachers. I am a member of the founding board of the Seattle Waldorf School. The first Waldorf School was started in Germany in 1918 by Dr. Rudolf Steiner, a philosopher and educator of high repute who incorporated all of what you have mentioned and more in his education of teachers and in the pedagogy for the children. I suggest that you establish a committee of open-minded individuals to study his works and to collaborate with the Seattle Waldorf School. Every great impulse in humanity must have a strong seed from which it may grow. Because of your great desire to do good and for your obvious love of the children, you may start a mighty movement which will benefit the entire educational sphere by this modest seed of your beginnings. I will help you however I can. God's blessings be with you. Kirk D. Gardner PO Box 1115 Langley, WA 98260 Phone: 360-969-1843
    Kirk D Gardner

    August 22, 2018 1:49 PM