WSSDA Announces 2020 Boards of the Year

The Oakville, Wapato, and Federal Way school boards have been named Boards of the Year in the categories of small, medium, and large school districts, respectively. Selected from among this year’s Boards of Distinction, these boards were particularly successful at showing a correlation between data, board decisions, and positive outcomes for students.

The awards were determined at the same time as Boards of Distinction, but withheld until WSSDA’s annual conference. Judges included former and current Educational Service District superintendents, State Board of Education board members, former school directors, and others who are involved in education leadership on a statewide level.

Each Board of the Year will be honored with a trophy, certificate of achievement and a $500 check sponsored by Piper Sandler & Co.

The following remarks were delivered at the awards ceremony:

Federal Way

Serving a highly diverse student body of about 23,000 students, the Federal Way board has overseen impressive rates of increasing on-time graduation from 78% to 87% in the last five years. During that time, the graduation gaps have narrowed between sub-groups, including race.

The board’s strong sponsorship of a data-informed strategic plan focused on equity and continuous improvement has closed other opportunity gaps as well. Each school implemented strategies that have been successful in reducing disproportionality in student discipline and increased English Language Learner exit rates. The specific goals and performance measures in the strategic plan also led to increased opportunities for Federal Way graduates. For three straight years, the district has had higher rates of FAFSA applications than the state, which helps students pay for college. During the same period, college enrollment rates have also increased.

The Federal Way board’s commitment to equity is evident in its strategic plan, in which every goal has an equity component focused on closing gaps.  The board has funded extensive equity training for its staff at all levels, and engages in significant professional development itself.


Located in central Washington, Wapato is another school district with a large Native American student population of about 20%. Another 73% of their 3,400 students are Hispanic or Latino, and almost half of all student are English Learners. The Wapato School board demonstrated a tremendous focus on strengthening its relationships with the Yakama Indian Tribe and closing the achievement gaps of their Native American students.

With an intentional plan from the board, the district included the Yakama Nation Tribal Council Liaison on the decision-making team.  They added courses teaching the local Native American language to their middle and high schools and, through a multi-year partnership, added mental health counselors from the Yakima Nation Behavioral Health Services at their schools.

Additionally, the Wapato board sponsored a new partnership with the University of Oregon Teacher Preparation Program with an emphasis on recruiting Native American teachers candidates. Their data backs up their efforts, with the gap between Native, Hispanic and white students narrowing or being eliminated in multiple categories, including graduation rates.


Oakville School District, located southwest of Olympia, has about 270 students, almost a quarter of whom are Native American. More than 80% of students were considered low-income last school year.  Judges were impressed with the school board’s focus on providing the conditions for students to be successful, including providing expanded opportunities for them to personalized plans and access to expanded Career & Technical Ed courses.

Based on what they heard from students and the community, the board sponsored expansion at the secondary level from 3 CTE courses to 7, adding coursework and programs in the fields that interested students. These included agriculture, visual and digital arts, finance, environmental science and early childhood education, in addition to the carpentry and pre-engineering pathways also available to students. 

Judges were impressed with Oakville’s commitment to increasing opportunities for students to expand their horizons and pursue their passions within the small district.

Learn more about the Boards of Distinction program at