Tuesday, May 22 and it’s great to be at River!

It is an eventful Tuesday evening here at Columbia River High School.  I am in between events and pausing to soak up the energy and excitement on our campus and in our community.

Last week, we completed the IB Exams.  Three.  Consecutive. Weeks.  Our goal is 95% passing.  We have achieved this goal in each of the past five years.

This morning we set up SBA testing for all Juniors and Sophomores. One more day of state testing will take place tomorrow.   Our goal is 90% participation.  The SBA is required for the school and graduation requirements for students and classes are slightly different each year.  The cleanest, easiest to read version of graduation requirements can be found here.

It will be fun to be on a regular schedule with max teacher contact until final exams in mid-June.  Here’s the link to our schedule for finals.

Tomorrow, we will begin our process of preparation for commencement, first with River Faculty.  The beginning of the end.  Seniors will be selecting speakers and diploma presenters this week.  Follow this link to our list of very important dates for the Class of 2018.  It never ceases to amaze me at how fast the time goes!

In our co-curricular programs, athletic teams are making history this weekend at the WIAA Finals in track, golf, soccer and tennis.  This spring’s production of A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream will debut tomorrow and continue through Friday.  This evening, the Annual Picnic Concert will be hosted by Columbia River Music Students in the courtyard.

We are about to open Hoover Gymnasium and welcome the incoming 9th graders – the Class of 2022 – to the family.

As I write this, the VPS Elementary Track meet is winding down inside Chieftain Stadium.  This is the final week of a grass surface on our infield and turf.  Dirt will start moving soon and an artificial surface is scheduled to be ready after August 1.  This begins the face-lift for our campus.  While we look forward to the future, we celebrate a tradition unmatched.

My message to the Class of 2022 tonight will be to enjoy the opportunity of joining our community as a student.  I will emplor students to take healthy, intellectual risks and push to be “the best you” that you can possibly be.

We refer to the IB Learner Profile and the vision we have for each member of our learning community:  demonstrate respect, act with integrity, value the time and place we share, be excellent and take responsibility.

As we bring one year to close and celebrate our accomplishments; we look forward to our future together.

I believe, for each of us here in our community, that this best is yet come.  It’s great to be at River!

Never Doubt: Our schools and our democratic process unite us in possibility

Two quotations have swirled around in my mind over the last weeks:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead

“From Parkland, Florida….to Los Angeles, California…. so far in just two months, six communities have been impacted by school shootings with injuries or deaths. Sixty-three casualties, twenty people dead in or at schools —16 students and four adults—just 45 days into 2018….”    – #Neveragain statement from Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Webb from February 26, 2018.

March 14 has been determined by many groups locally and nationally as a “Day of Action”.  For some organizations, this means a “walk out”.

At River, our aim is to engage students in dialogue and sustain this movement to a better, more peaceful world.  We have established guidelines that we have developed with our Associated Student Body Leadership and with the Principal’s Advisory Council in meetings on February 16th, 20th and  March 2nd and 6th.  We will share the options with our student body and our community before the end of this week.

We will publish an assembly schedule that will allow for students to engage in organized, and supervised activities.  We are a closed campus.  Planned activities will take place in our regular meeting spaces such as the gym, commons and Media Center.  There will be no outside speaker presentations.  We will adjust instructional time to accommodate some activities and a “moment of quiet reflection”.   If students choose not to participate, we will accommodate those wishes.

  1.  Activities planned for the morning will enable all students to participate or to option-out.  Students will be provided time and space to participate in a meaningful way.  (This may be sitting quietly, registering to vote, or drafting a letter.)
  2. Activities planned for the morning will be inclusive and facilitated with every effort made to recognize divergent points of view and to provide opportunity for exploration into all sides of the issues that arise.

Public schools and our democratic process unite us in possibility.  Never doubt.

More:  Founding Fathers and the Washington Legislature 


Equity & Excellence Grant Award

Columbia River High School has been Selected to Participate in New Initiative to Bring International Baccalaureate Programmes to More Students


Vancouver, WA – January 18,2018  – Columbia River High School has been selected to participate in a new national initiative created to promote the inclusion and success of under-represented students in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) and the Career-related Programme (CP).


Columbia River High School has been selected to participate in the IB’s Excellence and Equity Initiative (E2).  Over the next two years, secondary school leaders from all over the nation and the Columbia River High School faculty will work to remove barriers to IB participation.  The focus of E2 is to increase participation for under-represented students, create pathways to the DP or CP, and incorporate strategies that are designed to positively impact the success of under-represented students enrolled in the programmes.  These efforts will empower more students to graduate with the skills and tools needed for post-secondary education and lifelong learning.


Research indicates that less than 1% of diverse schools nationwide have advanced programmes in which their students reflect the diversity of the overall school population. Research has also shown that the DP and CP can empower underrepresented groups for college entrance, persistence and success. One of the most compelling studies found that IB Diploma candidates in Chicago Public Schools — low income, minority, first generation college goers — have not internalized the negative stereotype effect of similar non-IB students. In fact, the study concluded that, “the IB program in Chicago appears to have accomplished something very rare in urban education: it took economically and socially disadvantaged students and radically changed their long-term educational prospects by making them world-class learners with an arsenal of academic skills.” To read more about this study, visit http://ibo.org/globalassets/publications/ib-research/dp/cps-summary-en.pdf.


“We look forward to adding even more depth to our DP and beginning the CP.  Our goal is to increase participation rates in order to prepare more students to find success as life-long learners,” said Alex Otoupal, Principal/Head of School. “Our teachers and leaders are excited to increase the impact of an international curriculum in our school community.  The E2 Award and subsequent work will bolster and expand opportunities for River students.  It is a great privilege to be considered leaders in these efforts.”


To learn more about E2 and the International Baccalaureate, visit http://www.ibo.org/excellence-and-equity/.


About Columbia River High School

Columbia River High School is a comprehensive public high school in the Vancouver Public Schools District.  Columbia River High School serves over 1,200 students.  Currently, more than 40% of Columbia River High School students participate in the IB Programme.  The on time graduation rate for the Class of 2017 was 95.5%.


About the International Baccalaureate

In 2018, the International Baccalaureate (IB) celebrates its 50th Anniversary. Pioneering a movement of international education in 1968, the non-profit foundation now offers four high quality and challenging educational programmes to students aged 3-19 years old. Through a unique curriculum with high academic standards, we champion critical thinking and a flexibility for learning by crossing disciplinary,

Magnet Night at Columbia River High School

ib image


Columbia River High School’s Magnet Night will be Wednesday, January 17.  Our doors will be open at 6 pm.

Our intended outcome for the first 30 minutes of the evening is to provide a preview of some of our athletic, activity and club organizations. These programs make us a comprehensive high school and we have a great deal to share.  Student and staff representatives from a variety of our teams, clubs and groups will be spread out in the Upper and Lower Commons.  We hope you make personal connections during this time.  We encourage incoming students to interact with current students and staff so that we can keep you informed over the spring and summer of upcoming events.

At 6:30 pm, Our Associated Student Body President and I will provide a welcome and some brief comments as “The State of The School”.

At 7:00 pm we will move to J. Hoover Gym to present our International Diploma Magnet Program.  This meeting is for those students and families interested in learning more about the IB at Columbia River . During this presentation, you will hear from Julie Nygaard, River’s IB Magnet Coordinator, some of our teachers and our current students.

International Baccalaureate Magnet Program application checklist – applications submitted before February 5, 2018 are considered on-time.

In order to be ready for the IB diploma program, students must complete a first year algebra course (or its equivalent) with a grade of A or B by the end of their 8th grade year.  Please note, in order to complete the requirements for the Full Diploma, 9th grade math is PreB Geometry or higher.

Checklist for ALL Applicants

  1.  Thorough completion of the online application (Please use either Google Chrome or Safari as your web browser for the online application.)
  2. Request copies of current 7th & 8th grade transcripts from your current school and submit paper copies to Columbia River High School no later than Monday, February 5, 2018
  3. Schedule and complete an interview and writing sample.  Interview dates are February 1, 3 and 8, 2018.  Use this link to schedule an appointment for an interview SignUpGenius.com/go/10C044EAAAA23AAF94-ibmagnet2

Students who do not currently attend a VPS school will also need to submit their State Assessment (HSPE, MSP and EOC), MAP, SAT, PSAT or other similar scores from standardized tests) to Columbia River High School no later than February 5, 2018.

Students who reside outside of Vancouver School District boundaries…will be able to submit a boundary application after May 1, 2018 from your resident school district. If accepted, this boundary exception will need to be completed before May 15, 2018.

Applicants will be notified about the status of their acceptance by mail and email after March 8, 2018.

2252 in the House

House Bill 2252 is scheduled for public hearing on Wednesday, January 17, 2018 at 1:30 pm with the House Committee on Higher Education in Olympia, Washington.

River students taking International Baccalaureate Exams (and IB students everywhere) who enroll in Washington State higher education programs will gain with this legislation. HB 2252 is sponsored by Dolan, Harris, Santos, Johnson, Bergquist, Steele, Lovick, Senn, Stokesbary, Kilduff, Ortiz-Self, Valdez, Slater and (our very own – Legislative District 49th’s) Monica Stonier.

HB 2252 will require Washington State universities to award college credit for IB exams at both the HL and SL. The current Bill states credit for a score of 4 or higher. Read more about the bill here.

Because the IB is recognized internationally, the IB Diploma far exceeds state diploma requirements, and many colleges/universities already accept IB exams as equivalent credit in various courses, this will be a win for our students.

With HB 2252 we have another chance to create opportunities at home, here in our Washington Higher Education System. This will improve our partnerships, actualize opportunties for students and assist students/families with the financial burdens of university tuition.

As CR’s Head of School, I am not endorsing politics or politicians. My commitment is to advocate for my students and HB 2252 is legislation that is good for everyone. Join me in recognizing the quality work our IB students do in the classroom and those faculty who support them along the way.

Applying to River’s IB Programme


Ten reasons why the IB Diploma Programme (DP) is ideal preparation for university.

  1. It increases academic opportunity – research* shows DP graduates are much more likely to be enrolled at a top higher ed institutions than other entrants holding other qualifications.
  2. IB students care about more than just results – through creativity, action, service (CAS) you learn outside the classroom and develop emotionally and ethically as well as intellectually.
  3. It encourages you to become a confident and independent learner – for example, the extended essay (EE) requires independent research through an in-depth study.
  4. It’s an international qualification – DP is recognized globally by universities and employers.
  5. Graduates are globally minded – language classes encourage an international mindset, key for increasingly globalized societies.
  6. The IB encourages critical thinking – students analyze and evaluate issues, generate ideas and consider new perspectives.
  7. DP Students have proven time management skills – students take good study habits, self discipline and time management to further education and the working world.
  8. It assesses more than examination techniques – learn to understand, not just memorize facts or topics and prepare for exams.
  9. Subjects are not taught in isolation – Theory of knowledge (TOK) classes encourage connections between subjects.
  10. It encourages breadth and depth of learning – Choose courses from six subject groups and study subjects at different levels.

*Based on IB research – http://www.ibo.org/research

Want to learn more? Click this link and please attend one or both events listed below.

VPS Magnet Fair:  January  10 at 6:30 pm Roosevelt Elementary:  2921 Falk Road  Vancouver, WA 98661

River IB Magnet Night & Open House:  January 17 at 6:30 pm at Columbia River High School:  800 NW 99th Street Vancouver, WA 98665


“J-Term” or January school-wide-study-hall

J- Term.

A few years ago, I took a group of AVID Elective students to a nearby university. We toured classrooms of course, but the lessons learned much more sincere and organic when they are unplanned.  The take-away is best when we are able to talk a few students and apply (even replicate). Because it was a transition between terms, we enjoyed some questions / answers with some kids in the dormitories in their down time on a long weekend. We asked some basic questions, such as, “Do you like living in the dorms?”, “What is the most interesting class you have taken outside your major?”

The response was overwhelmingly positive and the more we asked, the more we learned that the culture of learning is what kept students connected.

These students were connected enough to want to stick around during breaks and holidays!

While students had a variety of interests, courses of study and a wide range of long term plans, the learning they experienced as group and their diverse contributions to “J-Term” seemed to have completed the connection for these students to their institution.

In most cases “J-Term” is a Socratic around a particular topic that takes place in the month of January. Students sign up for an elective, sometimes sometimes not, related to their focus or interest.

At Columbia River High School, we are designing a “J-Term” to tailor to individual needs. Many of us have worked in high schools over the last several years and have seen many versions of “tutorial” designed to keep students centered, focused and engaged.  We acknowledge, no model of support is perfect (nor is any kid or teacher), which is why we are choosing to plan, do, study and act on this model of support so that we can continually improve our work.

Our hope with the J-Term effort at River is to provide three Tuesday sessions which will enable students to access help, take time to organize and to plan for success on upcoming semester final exams (Jan 25 & Jan 26).

Again, the River version of J-Term will be:  Jan 9 // 9th grade students reconnect with LINK Crew and rekindle the energy of the launch of the school year. Students will be able to check Skyward and make a plan for the month. {LINK Crew members, may even share their secrets of success and how to study for finals.}

January 16 and January 23 will be an opportunity for all students, 9-12th to take advantage of the precious gift of time in the closing moments of the grading period to retake, redo and ready for the end of the grading period.

In summary, River will be on an Assembly Bell Schedule Jan 9, 16 and 23.  Students will remain in period 2 until released to an intentional and compelling destination.

Students, this is time for you to assemble your best efforts (in the truest sense of the word assemble: to “put or fit together; pull together the parts of” your first 18 weeks of the year) in order to shine during finals.

Thanks for reading!

Photo credits:  3rd Teacher