A Conversation with Mike Williams, Principal, Echo Glen School, Issaquah, WA

Background:  Echo Glen (EG) is a Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA) facility in Issaquah, WA.  Mike has been Principal there for approximately 6 years, after graduating from SPU as MAT class of 2003.  I posed some questions to Mike in e-mail and he was kind enough to respond not only to those, but also to some other questions I was able to ask via a phone call with him on 11/10/2010.

[John Weisenfeld]  Does Echo Glen (EG) has its own set of teachers that do instruction for the kids while they are there?
[Mike Williams] We are part of the Issaquah School District, so our teachers are actually ISD teachers and part of their union. We currently have 14 teachers in a variety of subjects.

[JW] Does EG have classrooms on site?  Or do they have to go somewhere else?
[MW]  The whole campus is the correctional facility, but unlike many, it’s not fenced in. We’re tucked back in the woods pretty far, so we don’t have many problems with AWOL or unwanted visitors. The residents live in what we call cottages – approximately 16 residents per cottage and there are 13 cottages on campus with only 9 in use at this time. The school buildings are also on site and the students walk up to school each morning. Cottage staff escort the students up and then pick them up at lunch and again at the end of the day. Some of our residents are Maximum Security (about 20 of them) and have 2 classrooms attached to those 2 cottages. Max students can transition to our upper campus school from Maximum Security School as their behavior improves and their sentences allow a less restrictive setting. Once residents get to Echo, they do not generally leave unless they have a court appearance or an off campus medical appointment that can’t be met here.

[JW]  What is the range of ages of the students?
[MW]  Our male residents range in age from 11 to 16 years of age. Our female residents range in age from 11 to 21. We’ve had residents as young as 9 or 10, but that is rare. The male residents go to Maple Lane or Green Hill as they get older. Maple is scheduled to close in the next year or two as a result of budget reductions and reduced enrollment.

[JW]  How many students are there?
[MW] Currently, we have 144, but that changes daily. Students parole and leave, but then are replaced by new or returning students. During my tenure as principal, we’ve had enrollment as high a 192 and as low as 118. Our average for this year is projected to be 133, but JRA has a difficult time making accurate projections as there is never any clear indication as to how many students will be incarcerated over the course of the year.

[JW]  What is a typical school day look like?
[MW]  As much like any other school as we can, but with several differences – probably too many to list, but I’ll try to point out the more significant ones. Our class sizes don’t exceed 11 students. We have 2 mental health classes (one boys and on girls (these do not exceed 9 students and also have a staff escort throughout the school day. Students arrive to school at 7:50 and are released by security via a radio transmission to their first period class. Staff and teachers supervise the walkways while students go to their classes. Between class periods, there is a passing time (2 minutes) and students travel between classes much like a regular school. Attendance is critical and gets called into the office every period – we know where every student is every minute of the day. This is absolutely critical as you can imagine and something we do very well. Teachers have a common planning time and lunch. The students return to their cottages for lunch and then come back up to school for afternoon classes. The school day ends at 2:20 and the teachers are her until 3:00. Wednesdays are a half day ending at 11:23 and the teachers have planning time for the remainder of the day – we follow the same calendar and scheduling routines as the Issaquah School District with the exception of a 40 day summer school. We also use the Wednesday afternoon time for staff development and team meetings.

[JW]  According to the WAC I assume that students there take the same standardized tests, etc.?
[MW]  Yes, we administer the HSPE and MSP – in the middle of DAPE’s currently. It’s a bit of a challenge with grades 5 or 6 through 12, but we manage.

[JW]  Do teachers that get contracted to work at EG have particular credentials in special ed, or child psychology, or…?
[MW]  Much like any other school, they are required to be Highly Qualified in the area of instruction that they are teaching. Our population ranges from 45% to 55% sp. education, so several of our teachers our sp. ed. endorsed along with a content area endorsement. We are also able to have teachers with a K-8 general ed. endorsement based on the age of the students we serve. We have a school psychologist who is dual certified – counseling and psychology. Our School staff represent 24 people (That’s including myself, School Psych, Office Secretaries (2), Librarian/Tech Specialist, 14 Teachers, 5 Educational Assistants, and a Part Time SLP.

[MW]That’s the school side of things in a nutshell. The state (DSHS/JRA) actually owns/operates the facility and the ISD is contracted to provide the educational services. The state (DSHS/JRA) is responsible for security, treatment/rehabilitation programs, medical needs, dental needs, and general welfare of the residents 24/7/365. The facility has a Superintendent, several Associate Superintendents, Maintenance Department, Food Service Dept., Cottage Staff, Intake Staff, Support staff, Security, Recreation, Treatment consultants, Contracted Psychiatry and others I’m sure I’m forgetting – quite the operation.

following is my recollection of the phone call and Mike’s replies may not be verbatim.

[JW]  So you get residents from all over King County?
[MW]  Actually from all over the state.

[JW]  Is it hard to get teachers to work at EG?
[MW]  There is very little turnover in staff at EG.  I am still one of the newest people here after my 6 years.

[JW]  So it sounds like teaching positions there are in high demand?
[MW]  That’s correct, there is a waiting list to get to work here.

[JW]  What are the opportunities for students/graduates?
[MW]  We work with communities to place students in transitional educational or vocational positions after they serve their sentence.  Many can work on food handlers license at EG, which gives them some opportunities,  others may need to work on GED, if their credits are lacking.

[JW]  What is the recidivism rate like?
[MW]  Actually that is a discouraging thing, we find that some of our students actually commit minor crimes in order to be placed back here.  They actually are   smiling during their intake photos the second time.  On the other hand that is a credit to us that this environment is safe for them.

[JW]  So it sounds like students might actually do better here than in their usual environments.
[MW]  That is the sad truth, it turns out that many of our clients have come from rough backgrounds where, for example they didn’t have a safe place to sleep, 3 square meals a day, and an environment of adults that really cared about them.  Granted that each one has done something wrong for them to be here, but the interesting question is how much of that is environmental influence and how much is innate.

[JW]  How are your classrooms outfitted with respect to computers, science, and math instruction.
[MW]  Although we are attached to a relatively resource-rich school district here in Issaquah, we still don’t have such things like Smart Boards.  Our science education could also be improved beyond the current botany that we offer.

[JW]  How is the food?
[MW]  Ahh, no comment, but I can say that most staff brown-bag it!

Thanks again to Mike for allowing me to pepper him with questions.  For more information on JRA or Institutional Instruction see OSPI web page.

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