Campus of change: Once a middle school, Mount Si’s new freshman campus readies for a pioneer year | Photo gallery

Science teacher Kevin Knowles starts settling into his new classroom, Dave Cruz’s former room, at the new Freshman Campus. Knowles, who is excited about the new opportunities here, gets wider tables, behind him, and new chairs to accommodate older students.  - Seth Truscott/Staff Photo
Science teacher Kevin Knowles starts settling into his new classroom, Dave Cruz’s former room, at the new Freshman Campus. Knowles, who is excited about the new opportunities here, gets wider tables, behind him, and new chairs to accommodate older students.
— image credit: Seth Truscott/Staff Photo

Lava lamps and cushy chairs began appearing in classrooms last week, but Animal, the drummer in “The Muppet Show” band, looked like he’d always been at the new freshman campus of Mount Si High School. Perched on a wall-mounted projector in one of the science rooms, the stuffed toy, looked ready to welcome the district’s largest freshman class in years, maybe ever.

About 475 students start their freshman year September 4 in the Snoqualmie Valley School District’s first freshman-only high school campus. That’s roughly the same number of students who were in the building last year, but then, it was a three-grade middle school, and one of three in the district.

For the 2013-2014 year, the former Snoqualmie Middle School is the new Mount Si High School Freshman Campus, the product of three years of research and ongoing discussions.

The district created a committee to explore anything that could be considered an education issue—class sizes, dropout rates, teaching methods, engaging students at all levels of achievement, theme schools, magnet schools and STEM schools.

“The question was, ‘How do you carve out a cohesive chunk of 600 kids from the high school, and do something fantastic for them?’” said Rich Gieseke, a parent and member of the High School Education Program Committee that, in the fall of 2010, advised the school district to create a freshman campus at SMS.

In 2010, the district was projecting that Mount Si High School, with a permanent capacity of about 1,200 students, would need room for 1,700 by the start of this school year. A Long-Term Facilities Planning Committee of staff and administration had recommended taking over the nearby SMS as a high school building to serve up to 600 students, along with floating a bond proposal to build a third middle school. Gieseke’s group was tapped next to advise the district on how to use that new facility.

The committee’s proposal won board approval, but since early 2011 has been battling stiff resistance. The proposed bond to build a new middle school failed twice, and some residents assumed the district would be forced to give up on the freshman campus and save the middle school. Instead, the board renewed its commitment to the freshman campus, and community members began packing the district meeting room to have their say on the issue.

Those opposed feared the effects of middle-school crowding. Those in favor called for new and better high school offerings, which turned out to be the next point of contention.

Parents were outspoken in their concerns about individual attention for students, sufficient academic rigor for college applications, and proposed STEM implementations. John Belcher, the new Mount Si High School principal hired in 2011 with specific instructions to make the freshman campus happen, and Vernie Newell, the principal of the freshman campus, along with other staff, also worked on how to keep students from dropping out of high school.

“We really looked at it as an opportunity to enhance our program,” said Snoqualmie Valley School District Superintendent Joel Aune. “Mount Si High School is a high-performing school… we just think that we can do better. We’re not at all happy with our current graduation rates (83 to 85 percent), and we really think this freshman campus will help address that.”

One reason for thinking that is student testimony.  During the mid-August “Insiders” workshop, Newell and Belcher saw students getting excited about having their own campus.

Belcher has gotten poignant feedback from older, former students, too. He said he’d recently been talking with some students who’d dropped out, and was describing the freshman campus program to them, including things like the biweekly advisory sessions to help kids with study skills and goal setting. “One of them said ‘oh, that would have saved me,’” he recalled.

One of the final touches added to the freshman campus were red stars, each with a student’s name, taped to the courtyard windows. Along one wall, the stars are clustered to spell out “MSHS 2017,” which could be the largest class to graduate from Mount Si, ever.

Part 2: The future

In next week’s edition, take a closer look at how the freshman campus works in conjunction with the main campus, and its future.


Staff Photos

Greg Prentice and Dan Soderberg measure a hood for the former computer lab turned culinary classroom at the campus.

Carol Ladwig/Staff Photos

Among many tweaks to this former middle school are red-accents on the building entrance, new commons and a modified front sign, putting the emphasis on its new high-school role.


Painter Richard Jandrick puts a fresh coat of red on the door frame of a campus classroom. "It catches the eye," he says.


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