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Twin Falls lessons go into new Snoqualmie Valley middle school bond

From a visual sweet spot directly in front of the commons stage, Twin Falls Middle School Assistant Principal Marty Barber looked straight down the Middle Fork sixth grade hallway. With a turn of his head, his view shifted to the seventh and eighth grade wings.

In an era when bullying and school safety are at the forefront of many parents' minds, Barber or any other administrator can be aware of most of what's going on in the school at a glance.

"That's the design brilliance," said Barber, who led a group of parents on a tour of middle school features meant to be incorporated into a planned new Snoqualmie Ridge Middle School.

The tour, held Wednesday, Dec. 8, was part of a series of informative meetings on bond concepts being held by the Snoqualmie Valley School District.

Barber showcased team planning rooms, multipurpose facilities and an abundance of natural light at the 2008-built Twin Falls, the Valley's newest school. Twin Falls is the basis of the proposed new middle school, in part to save time and money, in part because of lessons learned from the building.

Bond plans

Starting in the fall of 2013, Snoqualmie Middle School will no longer exist. Instead, the building will become the freshman campus of Mount Si High School. What happens to the students who would have gone to that middle school is up to the voters.

Property owners in the Snoqualmie Valley School District will vote Feb. 8 on a $56.2 million bond, mainly for the construction of a replacement middle school. If the bond is approved by a super majority of voters (60 percent plus 1), the new school will be built on Snoqualmie Ridge, and the freshman campus will open on schedule. If the bond fails, the district's other two middle schools will absorb the 450-500 students that would have gone to SMS, and the freshman campus will open on schedule.

"We really believe in the concept of the freshman campus," Superintendent Joel Aune told a small group of parents at last week's gathering

Mount Si High School will be at capacity, 1,500 students by the 2013-14 school year, with nowhere to grow if enrollment estimates were too low. A successful bond would mean about 1,100 students at Mount Si High School, and between 400 and 500 students at each of the three middle schools. If Snoqualmie Middle School is not replaced, the current crowding problem at the high school would simply trickle down to Twin Falls and Chief Kanim Middle Schools, where enrollment numbers would exceed 700 students.

Almost all of the bond funding, 86 percent, would go toward the construction of a new middle school. The remainder would be allocated to repairs and improvements at many of the district school buildings. Proposed projects include new boilers at Fall City and North Bend Elementary Schools, a new roof on the Two Rivers School, installing all-weather fields at Chief Kanim and Twin Falls Middle Schools, and painting the school buildings.

The bond is primarily, but not only about facilities. Aune noted that the district will be able to make important programmatic changes to benefit the students.

"We see this as an opportunity to really change the way we educate," he said.

Aune emphasized the benefit to students of offering a dedicated campus for the roughly 400 ninth graders expected in 2013. Surrounded by their peers instead of being the smallest and youngest, freshmen students can make a smoother transition to the high school environment. The first semester of school in the freshman campus would be similar to the middle school environment, he explained with a transition to a high school environment in the second semester.

"We don't know what that's going to look like, but we have the next three years to figure that out," he said.

School design lessons

The new middle school would be based on the Twin Falls Middle School design, saving the district an estimated $400,000 in design costs.

It's not just about saving money, though. Snoqualmie Valley Schools Superintendent Joel Aune said the three year-old building has been "extremely well-received by students, parents and staff."

Barber highlighted collaborative teaching opportunities, creative challenges and safe environment for the students.

"This is a fabulous building for learning," he said. "The magic of this building is how happy the kids are."

In each hallway, a team room allow for teachers of all grade levels to plan their year, lining up themes and topics for maximum student impact.

"It's a beautiful building," said seventh grade Judy Beale, who gathered around a white board with fellow English instructors in their team room during a Wednesday prep period. She and her fellow instructors remarked on the natural light, the graceful commons, and an emphasis on grade-level-wide approaches.

"Everybody is very comfortable with their teaming," Beale said.

However, the teachers suggested more inter-classroom connections and more whole-building team-teaching environments.

Twin Falls art teacher Jim Ullman shared lessons from his classroom. Well lit with natural light and equipped with a glass garage door, the room is just too small.

"This is a ridiculously small classroom for art, but I can handle up to 30 kids," he said. "They give me thousands of dollars of technology, but no shade to block that light." He fixes it by taping paper art projects to the wall.

Barber said that on paper, designs look great. It's not until students are actually in the building that realities are known.

"That's the advantage of building another school of the same model," Ullman said. "You can fix all the little tweaks that you need to make it a perfect building, versus a great building."

Parent reaction

Following the tour, Snoqualmie Ridge parent Ron Sykurski left impressed with Twin Falls.

"As far as learning, it's more than the books and teachers, but the kids' attitude, and the building that they're in," he said. "Bonds have been hard to pass around here, and it's unfortunate for the students and parents. From what I've heard, they've put together a good argument for building that school."

"As a community, we would make a huge mistake if we did not pass this bond," said Snoqualmie Pass parent and Snoqualmie Middle School counselor Heather Kern, who took part in the tour. "We're not adding a solution, we're taking a problem at the high school and shifting it down to the middle level."

Barber cautioned that a bond failure would dramatically change his school. Even an extra 50 students would change the dynamic at 662-student Twin Falls, which currently has 10 unused lockers.

"It becomes just more opportunities for things to go unnoticed," he said. "The kids that fall through the cracks.. the kids that come and go... those are the kids that we would lose if we get bigger."

• An online e-meeting on the middle school bond proposition is 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 15. To attend the online meeting, visit the school district's website (www.svsd410.org) and then click the E-meeting icon. Log in a few minutes before the presentation starts.

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