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Annual sukiyaki dinner in Wapato won't happen this year because of pandemic
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WAPATO — This time of year, the Bussei Kaikan usually features festive decorations and increasing activity that peaks on the first Sunday in March, at the annual sukiyaki dinner held by the Yakima Buddhist Church.

That isn’t happening this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Church members have canceled the popular event, which is its biggest fundraiser and usually draws more than 1,500 people from as far as Seattle, Spokane and the Tri-Cities. Many enjoy the chance to gather with friends and catch up over a traditional meal made with love.

It’s a celebration and reunion not only for members and friends of the Buddhist Church, but for the Japanese communities that thrived in Wapato, Toppenish and Yakima before Yakima County residents of Japanese descent were forced into concentration camps during World War II. The communities in Toppenish and Yakima never recovered; the approximately 10% of those who returned after the war ended came back mostly to the Wapato area.

“We’ve canceled all of our fundraising activities — pretty much all of our activities, regrettably,” said Lon Inaba, president of the church. “Our volunteers are so elderly. We’re very cautious; we don’t want to expose people to the virus unnecessarily.”

Offering carryout only was discussed, but dozens of people get together to chop the vegetables and prepare the cucumber salad and sukiyaki sauce. It takes hours.

Church members did have the dinner in early March 2020, right before the pandemic started and shutdown orders took effect. The number of attendees was down.

Though there’s been a little talk that the church might hold the dinner in the fall, “I think we’re probably going to postpone it until next year,” Inaba said of what would have been the 60th annual event.

“Most of the activities have been postponed and we’re very fortunate to have volunteers who are shoveling the show and trimming the trees. ... We don’t have any employees,” he added.

The church is holding live services on Zoom at 10 a.m. every Sunday, as noted on its Facebook page. That’s been a bright spot in the pandemic, Inaba said. Because its services are live instead of prerecorded, other ministers and guests are logging in, he said.

“We’re actually capturing people who are no longer in the area,” he said, to the point that the number of participants equals or surpasses the number who have attended in-person services. Those who want to participate should go to the Facebook page and put in a request.

The Yakima Buddhist Church is closely connected to the Buddhist churches in Moses Lake and Spokane and has historic ties to Buddhist churches in Seattle.

“We would only see our Moses Lake folks at most every other month. Now we see them almost every week,” Inaba said. “And then we have ministers and other people calling in from Spokane, from Seattle. We had a person from San Francisco, from San Jose, others from the Tri-Cities.”

“It’s a great way to bring in members who have moved away, and new members. It’s kind of cool in that respect and I think what we could probably end up doing is try to figure out, how do we continue to do a livestream once we actually go back” for in-person services, Inaba said, “to retain the people we’ve actually gained.”

East Valley Superintendent John Schieche to retire after 40-plus years in education
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During John Schieche’s high school years in Eastern Washington, neither he nor any of his classmates would have ever imagined that he would become a school superintendent one day.

The student from the small rural farming community of Spangle finished school with a 1.9 GPA, 42nd in his class of 43, as he recalls.

But Schieche would go on to create a nontraditional path to school leadership, from working as a mechanic and farmer, then teacher, administrator and eventually filling out a 19-year tenure as East Valley School District superintendent before stepping down from his role and into retirement this spring. Mentors along the way saw a leader in Schieche, and helped him to see that in himself.

“What that tells you — and what that told me when I became an educator — is that you can’t judge kids by what they do in high school,” he said, pointing to one of his key philosophies as an educator. “We don’t know the potential that kids have until we tap into it, and that’s one of the things that I tried to do as a teacher is to tap into every individual kid’s interests, abilities, and get them channeled in the right direction to set goals and do something.”

As Schieche steps away from his official role with the district at age 70 after a roughly 40-year career in education, he’s lauded as a collaborator and change-maker who was invested first and foremost in student success.

Schieche’s early career

When Schieche graduated from high school, he worked as a mechanic for a year before getting a two-year degree in law enforcement at what is now Green River College. After completing the degree, he began managing a 1,500-acre wheat farm on the Idaho border. It was here that Schieche began mentoring high school students he hired as farmhands over the summer, teaching them how to operate machinery like tractors and trucks.

“What I discovered is I was getting more satisfaction out of kids and teaching them how to do things than I was with farming,” he said.

After about five years, Schieche returned to school at Eastern Washington University, earning first a bachelor’s degree in industrial education and then a master’s in education. Unlike in high school, he excelled in this area of study, finishing his master’s program with a 3.8 GPA, he said.

“That has driven me in education to make sure we work with all children to be sure they meet their potential,” he said. “Because grades alone do not indicate potential.”

His superiors seemed to agree: Schieche had the potential to be a leader.

He took his first job at Lake Washington High School, teaching auto mechanics and shop for a year before a three-year stint teaching at a school outside of Bremerton.

“Everything I taught I tried to teach in a realistic world,” Schieche said. “Even though I taught auto mechanics, I taught life skills. I spent time teaching students how much money they needed to make in order to live, what an apartment costs. They’d go through exercises so that they knew coming out of high school the advantages of going on to school, and making a career choice that they can raise a family on.”

In Bremerton, his vocational director pulled him aside and encouraged him to explore school administration and educational leadership. Schieche worked on credentials both to become a principal and vocational director during that time, and then returned to the Lake Washington School District, working as an administrator at a technical college for the next 10 years.

There, the school served adults looking for a career change or those fresh out of high school who wanted skills in areas like dental assisting, diesel mechanics or business marketing. He built relationships with local companies like Boeing, creating a deeper understanding of industry needs and how schools, the community and businesses could partner together for students’ success.

Becoming superintendent

In the early 1990s, Schieche was hired by the Yakima School District as director of the Yakima Valley Technical Skills Center. Larry Petry, a long-time superintendent in the school district, was another mentor who encouraged Schieche to “step up to the plate and go further.” He pursued his superintendent credentials at Washington State University while leading the technical school for 10 years before being hired on as East Valley’s superintendent in 2002.

Former board members who hired Schieche remember choosing him specifically because he was nontraditional and thought outside of the box.

Then-board president Jim Penning remembers being impressed by the work Schieche had done to improve learning at the technical school. He also was a good communicator, something that carried into his tenure. Schieche enjoyed debate, but had a skill for getting people with diverging opinions to share a goal and approach. He was also willing to try new things and to find ways to provide teachers with data to guide their work with students, he said.

Bruce Smith, publisher of the Yakima Valley Business Times, was on the board at the time. He recalled improving third-grade reading standards as a key focus of the board.

“If you can get students to read proficiently by third grade … they don’t need to be lectured at anymore. They can take over their learning,” he said. Schieche seemed excited for the challenge and was data-oriented.

Today, Schieche proudly points to student assessments to measure district progress. There’s a long way for the district to go, he said, but a lot of progress has been made.

Between 2014 and 2019, students who met standards in English language arts in the district grew from 47.6% to 60.3%, according to data from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. In math, they grew from 41.2% to 52.9%. Three of the district’s five schools have been recognized by the state as distinguished schools for their approach to teaching and learning.

Schieche said this change is due to collaboration and dedication to students throughout the district’s schools and larger community. Professional Learning Communities within the district are a product of his leadership, but have created their own powerful results, he said.

What made Schieche such a great leader was his ability to hire people equipped for their jobs and to trust them to execute, while also being available to help them grow as they needed it, said Brittany Kaple, the district’s communication’s director.

One of his biggest disappointments is that the district was on track to see “tremendous student success data” at the end of last year, said Schieche, but the pandemic meant students weren’t able to participate in annual assessments.

Schieche also made it a point to improve the buildings that the students learned in and the community funded. He formed committees to outline long-term building plans for the district, created bond committees and had great community buy-in for passing bonds, he said. Part of that was because of his understanding of the importance of community and business partnership with schools, he said.

The first development he oversaw was the replacement of the former 1930s Moxee Elementary building, followed by East Valley Central middle school, a new transportation and maintenance center, Terrace Heights Elementary and, finally, East Valley High School’s new building, soon to be completed.

Passing the torch

Going into retirement at the end of June, Schieche plans to continue tending to his 23-acre hay farm east of Moxee, to build a shop and barn, and to continue riding and competing on horses with his wife, Beverley. While he said he hasn’t taken off more than five consecutive days in his career, he’s looking forward to taking long-term trips into the mountains with her and his horses.

Schieche said school leaders at all levels of the district will carry on the important work of showing kids the value of the lessons they learn in the classroom to everyday life, and helping more students meet standards. He hopes students at East Valley will learn the lesson that he did: Even if you don’t know your end-plan, you can create goals and reach them, proving to yourself your own potential.

He thanked the school board members who took a risk on him as a nontraditional superintendent.

“This has been a tremendous ride with our community and our educational leaders and teachers to continue to make a … greater difference for kids every day,” he said.

Some Washington state providers to get ‘double delivery’ of COVID-19 vaccine after last week’s storm delays

Some providers in Washington state are slated to receive twice as much vaccine this week, after ice and snow delayed last week’s shipments across the nation.

For some hospitals, “there is essentially going to be a double delivery,” said Cassie Sauer of the Washington State Hospital Association, adding that many facilities had already received delivery confirmations.

Sauer said hospitals were not slated for a large proportion of the overall state allocation for first doses this week or last and should be able to manage the influx.

“We’re confident, on the hospital side, we’re going to be able to work through our doses quite quickly,” Sauer said.

Darin Goss, chief executive for Providence Health and Services Southwest, said about 7,000 of the health organizations’ patients had to be rescheduled last week due to shipping delays. The organization serves Lewis and Thurston counties.

“Not a crowd-pleaser,” Goss said during a news briefing hosted by the hospital association on Monday. Those appointments will be rescheduled for this week, Goss said.

The organization has received a shipment from Pfizer this week and a shipment from Moderna already has been confirmed, Goss added.

Shipping delays closed the four state-operated mass vaccination sites over the weekend, with most slated to open early this week, contingent on supply. Washington health officials told vaccine providers on Friday that it expected shipping backlogs to be resolved by this Wednesday. Some 6 million doses were delayed nationwide, according to a state update to providers.

Many vaccine providers across the state are focused on providing second doses this week. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said people should try to get their second dose as close to the recommended interval as possible, but that a six-week interval is acceptable for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Also new this week: Shipments of Pfizer vaccine trays will be represented as 1,170 doses rather than 975 in Washington state, according to Sauer.

Just days into the vaccine rollout, pharmacists recognized they could draw a sixth or seventh dose from vials of Pfizer’s vaccine. The amount of vaccine able to be drawn depended on the types of needles and syringes used and the volume of dead space in those systems.

The revelation shifted public attention earlier this winter toward production and distribution of syringes with low dead space. Pfizer also lobbied for federal regulators to count the extra doses as part of its supply commitment to the U.S. government.

Trays of Pfizer vaccine contain 195 vials, and this week each vial will be assumed to contain six doses rather than five, Sauer said.

It was not immediately clear how that change would affect vaccination data being kept by the Washington State Department of Health. The department did not respond to a request for comment.

• Seattle Times archives and national wire reports contributed to this story.

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Biden boosts pandemic lending to smallest businesses
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced changes Monday to target more federal pandemic assistance to the nation’s smallest businesses and ventures owned by women and people of color.

Biden says a lot of these mom-and-pop businesses “got muscled out of the way” by larger businesses seeking federal money in the early days of the pandemic. He said changes taking effect Wednesday will provide long-overdue aid to these smaller enterprises that he says are being “crushed” by the pandemic-driven economic downturn.

“America’s small businesses are hurting, hurting badly and they need help now,” Biden said.

Under the pandemic-era Paycheck Protection Program, the administration is establishing a two-week window, starting Wednesday, in which only businesses with fewer than 20 employees — the overwhelming majority of small businesses — can apply for the forgivable loans.

Biden’s team is also carving out $1 billion to direct toward sole proprietors, such as home contractors and beauticians, the majority of which are owned by women and people of color.

Other efforts will remove a prohibition on lending to a company with at least 20% ownership by a person arrested or convicted for a nonfraud felony in the prior year, as well as allowing those behind on their federal student loans to seek relief through the program. The administration is also clarifying that noncitizen legal residents can apply to the program.

First rolled out in the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic and renewed in December, the program was meant to help keep Americans employed during the economic downturn. It allows small and mid-size businesses suffering loss of revenue to access federal loans, which are forgivable if 60% of the loan is spent on payroll and the balance on other qualified expenses.

The Biden effort is aimed at correcting disparities in how the program was administered by the Trump administration.

Data from the Paycheck Protection Program released Dec. 1 and analyzed by The Associated Press show that many minority owners desperate for a relief loan didn’t receive one until the PPP’s last few weeks, while many more white business owners were able to get loans earlier in the program.

That program, which began April 3 and ended Aug. 8 and handed out 5.2 million loans worth $525 billion, helped many businesses stay afloat when government measures to control the coronavirus forced many to shut down or operate at a diminished capacity.

The latest PPP, which began Jan. 11 and runs through the end of March, has already paid out $133.5 billion in loans — about half of the $284 billion allocated by Congress — with an average loan under $74,000.

A further renewal of the program is not included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” which he hopes Congress will pass in the coming weeks.