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New effort forms partnerships to help ninth-graders succeed in Central Washington
 Janelle Retka  / 

As the new school year quickly approaches, some high schools in Central Washington are zeroing in on how they can help ninth-graders be more successful.

That’s because freshman year outcomes have been found to be a key indicator of the likelihood of high school graduation.

“Students are four times more likely to graduate if they pass all of their classes freshman year. So it’s just a hugely important year,” said Libuse Binder, executive director of Stand for Children Washington.

Washington ranks 44th in the nation for graduation rates, with a 79.4 percent graduation rate compared to the national average of 84.6 percent, according to the nonprofit education advocacy group.

In 2018, just 73.9 percent of freshmen statewide were on track to graduate by passing all classes in the ninth grade.

This past legislative session, lawmakers approved $250,000 over the next two years for a pilot program to address this gap.

Central Washington was seen as a “high-needs area,” leading the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, or OSPI, to focus the funds locally, said Katherine Mahoney, the state body’s assistant director of policy for system and school improvement.

Rather than running an entire program on those funds, OSPI is partnering with a new Stand with Children program, the Center for High School Success.

The center, launched earlier this month, will offer training for partner schools on data-based intervention on a one-by-one basis, such as by addressing tutoring needs or attendance. It then provides coaches who meet regularly with school teams to continue training in data analysis and intervention.

It’s starting with a handful of partners.

Grandview and Toppenish school districts in Yakima County are among eight initial districts to partner with the center. A few more are expected to join soon. All but one district is east of the Cascades.

In Toppenish, OSPI information shows 54.5 percent of ninth-graders were on track in 2018.

The center is modeled on a similar program in Memphis, Tenn., that saw an increase of 30 percent of freshman students on track to graduate in the 2018-19 school year across 13 participating schools. It’s free to the partner schools, but is projected to cost the center $850,000 for the first year.

The OSPI funds will go to additional school costs for five districts, which have not been announced yet, but overlap with the center’s initial eight partners. The funds can be used to bring in substitutes so that teachers can attend training or pay for data programs.

Ninth-grade teams

Each school partnering with the center forms a ninth-grade success team made up of school staff such as freshmen teachers, counselors and attendance administrators. They are asked to meet regularly to identify students with potential needs, such as kids with poor attendance or previously failed classes. A plan is then drawn up to address each student’s individual needs.

Each school will address the gap in student success differently based on their student population, said Kefi Anderson, program manager for OSPI’s 9th Graders on Track work. Running interference could mean providing a mentor or tutor to a student, for example.

Binder said one recent example involved simply talking to a new freshman couple about balancing social life and school.

By eliminating small issues like that, teachers and administrators are freed up to better meet the needs of marginalized students such as students of color, English as a second language and low-income students, said Katie Gustainis, communications director for Stand with Children.

“We’re here to make sure that we’re helping the kids that the system isn’t serving as it is, so the work is in equity and inclusion focus, and leading with equity is embedded in this approach,” she said.

In Grandview, graduation rates have improved dramatically since an attendance program was rolled out four years ago districtwide. But the district still sees an 87.4 percent graduation rate across four years.

“That still leaves about 15 percent of our students who are not graduating,” said Jose Rivera, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. He said the equity focus of the new program brought him a lot of hope that they might see greater high school success in the coming year.

“I really love that they led with equity,” he said of the new center’s training. “You have to know your students, who they are, and be able to welcome them, embrace them. Because if you don’t know who they are, how can you meet their needs?”

By participating in the Center for High School Success program, Rivera said he hopes to see each ninth-grader at Grandview pass every class. Going into the school year starting on Aug. 22, he said the school’s ninth-grade success team was already looking at the incoming freshman class’ attendance and achievement from last year to plan potential student interventions.

“As soon as they come in, we should be able to embrace those students,” he said. “I think it’s going to pay dividends down the road.”

A previous version of this article said that Yakima's East Valley School District was part of the Center for High School Success program. East Valley in Spokane is involved.

New rules to deny green cards to many legal immigrants

WASHINGTON — Legal immigrants who use public benefits — such as Medicaid, food stamps or housing assistance — could have a tougher time obtaining a green card under a policy change announced Monday that is at the center of the Trump administration’s effort to reduce immigration levels.

The new criteria for “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” due to take effect Oct. 15, will set new standards for applicants seeking legal permanent residency in the United States, criteria that will skew the process in favor of the highly skilled, high-income immigrants President Donald Trump covets. Since its first days, the Trump administration has been seeking ways to weed out immigrants the president sees as undesirable, including those who might draw on taxpayer-funded benefits.

Wealth, education, age and English-language skills will take on greater importance in the process of obtaining a green card, which is the main hurdle in the path to full U.S. citizenship. U.S. immigration law has long-standing provisions to screen out foreigners who might be a burden on society, but the rule change amounts to an expansion of the government’s definition of “public charge” — and who is deemed likely to become one.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said at a White House briefing that his agency is seeking to bring precision to an existing tenet of law that has lacked a clear definition.

“Through the public charge rule, President Trump’s administration is reinforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful here in America,” said Cuccinelli, evoking his own family’s Italian ancestry to characterize previous generations of immigrants as bootstrap-pullers. “This administration is promoting our shared history and encouraging the core values needed to make the American dream a reality.”

The move is part of the Trump administration’s systematic effort to add new bureaucratic obstacles to the U.S. immigration system at the same time the president wants to put physical barriers along the Mexico border. The administration has slashed the number of refugees admitted to the United States, tightened access to the asylum system and expanded the power of the government to detain and deport immigrants who lack legal status.

Analysts say the public charge change could dramatically reduce family-based legal immigration to the United States, particularly from Latin America and Africa, where incomes are generally lower than the rest of the world. It also could lead to an increase in deportations as those present with some form of provisional or temporary immigration status in the United States are denied legal residency.

A USCIS official said the change will have little to no effect on those who already have permanent resident status who are seeking to become naturalized U.S. citizens. “Naturalization applicants are not subject to a new admissibility determination and therefore are not generally subject to public charge determinations,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

But advocates for immigrants say the new rule could narrow the pool of people who are eligible for green cards, which are necessary to get on the path to U.S. citizenship, effectively blocking immigrants who live in poverty from having a chance at naturalization. Naturalization applications spiked during the 2016 presidential campaign, which some called the “Trump effect” because many immigrants were eager to vote.

Cuccinelli said the change would benefit U.S. taxpayers by selecting better candidates for U.S. citizenship, by ensuring “that our immigration system is bringing people to join us as American citizens, as legal permanent residents first, who can stand on their own two feet, who will not be reliant on the welfare system, especially in the age of the modern welfare state which is so expansive, and expensive, frankly.”

The rule circumvents earlier, failed efforts by the administration to build support in Congress for a similar “merit-based” overhaul to the immigrant visa system, and it fulfills a longtime goal of senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller and other immigration hawks who have sought new tools to reduce immigration levels.

USCIS approved more than 638,000 green card applicants in 2018, a five-year high. The U.S. State Department issued an additional 533,000 immigration visas last year to applicants abroad, mostly to the family members of U.S. citizens and legal residents.

The policy change has been under development for more than a year, and drew a record number of public comments — more than 200,000 — during that phase of the federal rulemaking process. Miller grew impatient and blamed former USCIS director Francis Cissna for not moving faster to implement it. The White House replaced Cissna with Cuccinelli in June.

More of the Story: Union Gap-based Liberty Works rebuilding after sale
 Mai Hoang  / 

It’s been a year of change for Union Gap-based water bottle manufacturer Liberty Works.

Last September, the company, then called Liberty Bottleworks, was purchased by a California manufacturer. The sale came as Liberty was struggling with competition from bottles made abroad and lacked the capital it needed to grow.

Since then, the company has increased employment, added a new product line and is in the process of rebranding. A lawsuit that was filed in connection with the sale has been resolved.

The Liberty story

Liberty Bottleworks, founded by Timothy Andis and Ryan Clark in 2010, had garnered national attention for manufacturing a water bottle in the U.S. It had cameos in several television shows, and the company was invited to represent Washington state at a “Made in America event” at the White House in 2017.

The acclaim, however, didn’t always translate to business success, as the company faced stiff competition from foreign-made bottles that cost less to make. The company lacked funds to venture into new product lines, and founders Andis and Clark left the company.

Covina, Calif.-based tool manufacturer Olympia Tools purchased Liberty Bottleworks in September. Olympia Tools officials said the purchase would provide the company much-needed capital to develop new products and increase production.

A surprising twist came around that time when Peter Plath, an investor in the company, filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit named Liberty Bottle Co., the corporation operating the company before the sale; Liberty Works LLC, the corporation governed by Olympia Tools; and Andis as defendants.

Company officials said Plath filed the lawsuit to ensure that the company could continue operating and Olympia Tools could close on its purchase. Had he not done so, the company would have had to file bankruptcy, shut down and lay off employees, officials said.

Whatever happened?

About 30 employees now work at the plant at 2900 Sutherland Road, up from the 17 to 18 employees who were working in the months leading up to the sale, general manager Aaron Collier said in an interview last week.

The company is in the process of rebranding; it now goes by the name Liberty Works, though it plans to retain the Liberty Bottleworks name for the original water bottle, which is made in Union Gap with 100-percent recyclable aluminum. 

The company launched a new product line, the Liberty Venture Line. The product line is made up of double-wall and vacuum-insulated stainless steel bottles in various sizes. Unlike the original Liberty Bottleworks bottle, the products in the Venture line are manufactured outside the U.S. The art for the bottles is still done at Liberty Works’ plant in Union Gap.

The company wants to manufacture the Venture products in the U.S. as well, but it will take time to figure out the technology and the equipment required. “It’s part of the business plan,” Collier said.

The company is also working to rebuild its retail business. The company’s primary business — about 90 percent — is filling custom bottle orders from companies and organizations, with a small portion of sales coming through Amazon, its website and at the retail store at its Union Gap plant.

The company hopes to ramp up wholesale distribution to retail outlets over the next year, said sales manager Shawn Hill.

In the meantime, the company has increased its community engagement efforts and has worked on re-establishing brand recognition, locally and nationwide, said Kari Eagle, marketing and sales director.

The company has recently sponsored several local and regional events. Locally, it was the lead sponsor for Over the Edge, a fundraiser for Wellness House where people rappelled down the side of the Liberty Building in downtown Yakima. The company is also a sponsor of the Chinook Fest music festival and the Yakima Taco Fest.

Outside the Yakima Valley, Liberty Works was one of the sponsors for the Seaside Beach Volleyball Tournament, a national event in Seaside, Ore., that attracts more than 1,600 youth, semi-pro and professional beach volleyball teams. Liberty Works provided a hydration station where people could fill their bottles.

The hydration station, which the company plans to have at other events, is a symbol of the company’s commitment to eliminate single-use water bottles.

“It’s pretty nice to be part of the trend,” Collier said.

Eagle is also working on a new website and social media strategy. The rebranding will revolve around promoting the company’s support of sustainability. The company also will use social media to highlight collaborations with independent artists whose works are used in Liberty Works’ bottle designs.

As for the lawsuit, Yakima County Superior Court ruled in January that Plath should receive nearly $3.5 million from the Liberty Bottle Co. Plath is unlikely to get that money, said Roger Bailey, a Yakima attorney who represented Plath in the case.

Plath’s focus was to ensure that the company would continue operating, Bailey said. At the time of the lawsuit, Liberty Bottle Co. had liens from the Internal Revenue Service. The lawsuit, which was filed as a foreclosure, wiped out those liens.

Plath ended up acquiring Liberty Bottle Co.’s assets, including intellectual property, for $300,000 during a sheriff’s sale in June. The proceeds went toward Plath’s nearly $3.5 million award. Plath then turned around and sold the assets to Liberty Works LLC, the new owner, for an undisclosed sum, Bailey said.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to correct Kari Eagle's job title and to clarify that the bottles are made with recyclable aluminum. 

Yakima city officials expect few changes from Keep Washington Working Act
 Lex Talamo  / 

Yakima will review federal funding obligations and may have to make minor adjustments to its law enforcement policies based on a new Washington civil rights law.

The Keep Washington Working Act, signed May 21 by Gov. Jay Inslee, emphasizes that the state will not play an active role in helping government officials remove immigrants from the United States.

The act prohibits state agencies from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement efforts. State and local agents will not be able to ask anyone about their immigration status unless the inquiry is directly tied to a criminal investigation.

The act notes that one of every seven people in Washington is an immigrant, that immigrants make up 16 percent of the state’s workforce and that 15 percent of the state’s business owners were born outside the United States.

“Immigrants make a significant contribution to the economic vitality of this state, and it is essential that the state have policies that recognize their importance to Washington’s economy,” the act notes.

The act also has several dictates for local law enforcement, noting that local officers are not responsible for enforcing federal immigration law:

  • It stops the spread of local jails holding immigrant detainees for federal immigration agents.
  • It says federal agents can’t interview detainees held on noncriminal matters unless detainees sign a consent form.
  • It prohibits local law enforcement from transferring individuals for federal immigration authorities.
  • It prohibits local law enforcement agents from detaining, arresting or denying services to individuals based solely on their immigration status.

The state attorney general must publish model policies for limiting immigration enforcement at state facilities within the next year.

City Manager Cliff Moore said in a memo to the Yakima City Council that city staff will have time to watch the requirements progress and evaluate potential impacts on the local policies.

“Once the model rules have been prepared by the attorney general, we will have a better idea of more specific requirements the city may need to address,” Moore said.

“The greatest effects the act would appear to have for the city pertain to the city’s ability to apply for and receive federal grant funds and to enter federal contracts that benefit the city, the latter primarily as they apply to cooperative law enforcement efforts,” he added.

Yakima’s sanctuary city history

In March 2017, Councilwomen Carmen Mendez and Dulce Gutierrez proposed a public safety policy in which local police would not ask people about their immigration status. The council ultimately rejected the proposal.

The council previously considered becoming a sanctuary city, but discussions ended with a 4-2 vote against doing so in April 2017. Holly Cousens, Kathy Coffey, Bill Lover and Maureen Adkison cast the four deciding votes.

Lover and Adkison are no longer on the council.

The Yakima County jail has a longstanding contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to detain individuals in federal custody. But in February, Yakima County stopped holding inmates for immigration authorities after they became eligible for release.

The change was part of a settlement negotiated by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Columbia Legal Services.

McCormick Air Center at the Yakima airport agreed to service ICE charter flights to transport undocumented immigrants beginning May 7. The City Council voted not to adopt a resolution similar to the one adopted by King County, which prohibited the flights.

Moore referenced about $19 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants, to be used for airport improvements, during council discussions about the ICE-chartered flights. He noted that not servicing federally chartered flights could result in the loss of that funding or the need to pay it back.


Moore said the city will be assessing all existing federal grants and contracts to determine if the Keep Washington Working Act’s requirements conflict with them, including transit grants, federal highway grants, housing grants and law enforcement grants.

The city already is complying with most of the requirements for local law enforcement identified in the act, Moore said, but would likely have to create some new paperwork.

“The city will need to create a consent form consistent with the act’s direction that will advise prospective interviewees of their right to refuse the interview if they do not consent to an interview taking place,” he said.

Moore wrote that he does not anticipate any significant impacts on city operations.

“We shall continue to investigate the impact potentials and monitor the contracts, grants and agreements the city has with federal agencies to identify and address any issues that may become relevant,” he said.

The Yakima Immigrant Response Network released the following statement upon passage of the act:

“All in all, the law works to make sure that the state of Washington plays no role in federal immigration enforcement, which will likely reduce the amount of people who are deported every year, among those who are not convicted of any crimes,” the network noted on its website.

ICE spokeswoman Tanya Roman noted that federal immigration agents are following the law when they do their jobs.

“We as federal employees, we’ve taken an oath as well. We are only doing the duty that we swore to do,” she said. “These laws are made and upheld by Congress, so I would say to the public that if you don’t agree with the laws, then you need to change them.”

Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont also have in place policies against collaboration with local and federal law enforcement for noncriminal immigration investigations.