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Poor, 'hick' school no longer: Principal, PTSA want to transform bad perceptions of Mount Si High
There are two different versions of Mount Si High School in the Valley. There’s the “phenomenal school” that Mount Si Principal John Belcher describes, with steady growth and ever-improving student test scores.Then there’s the academically lax, racist ‘hick’ school that seems to persist in common memory.
The latter Mount Si doesn’t really exist any more, Belcher said at a March 27 meeting of the Mount Si High School PTSA. The purpose of his presentation there was to start putting an end to that image.
“On all measures, Mount Si is really growing,” Belcher said. “We have the expectation of our student body that they can achieve at much, much higher levels.”
To make that happen, though, the school needs to combat some lingering perceptions, Belcher told the group of about 40 parents, and he needed to confirm with them that he understood those perceptions. He also needed to increase parental involvement, which is very low for a school the size of Mount Si.
“We know students’ attitudes at school will change if the dinner table conversation is different,” Belcher said.
He then asked meeting participants to list what they’ve heard about Mount Si, while students Ethan Waud and Kelly Barry wrote them down under the appropriate headings, academics, culture, climate or other. He got an extensive list:
• “The hick-outs (create) a negative connotation for Mount Si.”
• “I have heard that the teachers here don’t care.”
• “On the academic side, if you’re in the mainstream, classes are really big, and it’s challenging for teachers to address the diversity of students.”
• “Our transcripts don’t compare to other schools transcripts.”
• “Theft. Student possessions aren’t safe.”
• “Our boys sports teams are racist.”
• “Students have to take AP classes to avoid the students who just don’t care.”
• “Freshmen are being scared away from taking the challenging classes.”
• “The kids that aren’t in the advanced classes, that aren’t in the remedial classes, they’re kind of left there, in the middle… they’re not as valued.”
• “Students don’t feel trusted.”
• “There’s no money here and we can’t pass a bond.”
• “I’m hearing a lot about marijuana in the school.”
• “Teachers don’t effectively engage students.”
• “We’re known as a ski town, and a farm community, and we have some big boys who can play football.”
Belcher then asked parents what evidence of change they would need to see for these perceptions. He specifically commented on evidence that already refutes the rumors of poor academics and drug use, including the results of the latest Healthy Youth Survey. However, he said, people aren’t talking about this data.
Evidence that parents suggested included: outreach to the entire community, not just the school staff and parents who already visit the school’s Web page; presenting more of the school’s and students’ accomplishments, such as the upcoming art show April 18 to the public, including hosting school events in other public venues; a comparison of Mount Si High School’s course offerings, class sizes and infrastructure with other area high schools’; and more information about the numbers of students going on to four-year schools, graduation rates, and so on.
A follow-up discussion is set for 6:30 p.m. May 13, as part of the PTSA meeting. The discussion will be the last portion of the meeting, following the regular PTSA business, and a presentation of the Healthy Youth Survey results.