Sparks fly over duo’s school fix plan | Pathways proposal eyed for future meeting

Nothing could move school board members Geoffrey Doy and Carolyn Simpson from the basic idea that the Snoqualmie Valley School District should do better, despite a flurry of arguments in opposition.

“Why wouldn’t we want a policy like this?” asked Simpson, toward the end of an hours-long discussion on a policy the two board members had proposed.

Their policy would establish educational pathways, starting in sixth grade, for students planning to pursue a post-secondary education at a sample list of four-year institutions including the University of Washington, Washington State University, Oregon State University University of Oregon, Cornell University and University of California - Los Angeles.

“It really just took that math pathways concept, and expanded it,” said Doy.

Simpson’s position, and Doy’s, was that Mount Si High School graduates didn’t get into the “top-notch schools” as often as graduates from neighboring districts, and that needs to change.

“Our kids here are capable. They have the skill. So why aren’t we seeing it on this end?” she said.

In examining several college’s admissions data, and speaking with admissions staff at the UW, Doy said they found that about half of Bellevue High School graduates apply to the UW, and that 70 percent of them are accepted, but in this district, only about 10 percent of Mount Si graduates apply, and half of them are accepted.

Also, admissions staff said that since Mount Si students’ GPAs, state assessment scores, SAT and ACT scores were all comparable to Bellevue’s, the difference was likely in the curriculum.

“We’re not saying no one from Mount Si makes it to the top-tier schools, because they do,” said Doy. “It’s about how do we broaden that? It’s about leaving the door open.”

High-level curriculum offerings, such as Advanced Placement (AP) classes, are one way the district can become more competitive, Doy said. In a comparison with Bellevue, Issaquah, Kent, Seattle, Tahoma, Bainbridge Island, Yakima, Spokane and Federal Way school districts, Snoqualmie Valley offered almost none of the advanced options — 9th grade biology, 10th grade chemistry, 8th grade algebra and geometry — that most of the other districts did.

Many of those options were included in the policy, as proposed benchmarks for the district to measure its progress.

Several parents and teachers were opposed to the idea, saying that Mount Si already offered plenty of AP classes.

Teacher Toni Canady said “All those opportunities are available to our students,” and the proposal’s apparent calling for “dozens more AP classes will mean cutting programs to the majority of students… Dozens of students need support so they can graduate.”

However, one parent, and newly appointed student board representative Duncan Deutsch, both pointed out that it was not always easy for students to get the advanced classes that they wanted.

Mount Si Principal John Belcher was concerned with how the proposed policy would affect his teaching staff, and said the district offerings comparison was “not exactly factual.” He added that this was the first year of a new registration process for students and told the board “You’re going to get better results, without policy, by guiding the students.”

Belcher added that the high school is in the midst of several significant initiatives, including respect and anti-bullying campaigns, and the creation of the freshman campus, set to open in less than a year.

Superintendent Joel Aune was also concerned about teachers’ response, saying he foresaw the need for “damage control” with staff following the meeting.

“Our culture here is different. We’re collaborative,” he said. “We don’t direct our teachers… we don’t have an autocratic, top-down approach, because we don’t think that would work.”

Simpson and Doy stressed that the policy was not intended as a directive, but as a beginning point for the district to begin its improvement. The proposed benchmarks, strongly criticized by several audience members, were simply place-holders that staff would determine the final measurements of.

Nor were the benchmarks arbitrarily chosen. “They’re common measures of success across districts,” Simpson said.

Board members also debated whether the proposal needed to be a policy, or, as Marci Busby suggested, a board statement.

Busby was firmly opposed to the policy, on the grounds that none of the teaching staff or administration had been involved in developing it. Board members Scott Hodgins and Dan Popp supported the idea, at least partially, although Popp also questioned the need for it to be set down as board policy.

Doy had suggested during his presentation on the policy that the board could have a second reading of the proposal at its Sept. 27 meeting, but this idea was discarded. Instead, Doy and Simpson were asked to rewrite the policy in consideration of the feedback from both the board and the audience, and to make it clear that the benchmarks proposed were just proposals, and open to change.

The new draft could be reviewed at the Sept. 27 meeting.


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