Is a ninth-grade campus the answer?

My name is Don Oster and I have been a Valley resident for the last 40-plus years. Over that time, I have seen many changes in our beautiful Valley. Some changes have been good and some not so good. During this time I have been involved in many local fact-finding committees. Some information gathered by the committees was used and some of the information was not used.

When superintendent Joel Aune contacted me about being a part of the Snoqualmie Valley School District Facilities Task Force, I was a little reluctant. But when he explained the charge of the task force, and assured me that our efforts would not be in vain, I accepted.

What will our beautiful Valley look like in 10, 15, 20 years? Are our present school facilities adequate to meet the changes and growth? I think not. How will our schools look in 20 years? How do we transition our facilities to meet what those needs will be in 20 or more years? This is what the Facilities Task Force have been charged with - identifying options to answer these questions and presenting them to the school board. All the while keeping in mind that we don't want to be in the position of the Seattle School District; closing down schools in future years as growth levels stabilize. The Facilities Task Force has a difficult and tough job, but not an impossible one.

One of the options being discussed is a ninth-grade campus. Under this scenario, the district would take over Snoqualmie Middle School (SMS) and convert it to the needs of the ninth graders when the new middle school opens in the Fall of 2008. Will this work? We don't know yet. One thing that has become apparent is that our most pressing need for facility space is at Mount Si High School. By converting SMS to a ninth-grade campus, it could help alleviate pressure on the high school.

Research recently presented to the task force suggests that ninth grade is a critical developmental year for kids. Across the nation, school districts have been opening ninth-grade schools and the early results are positive. For parents, one strength of the ninth-grade campus model is that it gives kids an extra year to develop and mature before entering the high-school environment.

Other positive results reported by districts operating a ninth-grade campus are increased academic success along with overall declines in drop-out and disciplinary action rates. Having teachers in the same grade level in one building is advantageous for in-service activities and also allows faculty to plan jointly. Additionally, students retain their full status in high-school activities, sports and so forth. Transportation costs for our district would be minimal since the ninth graders need to be transported somewhere anyway.

So, will a ninth-grade campus work? It's certainly an option worth considering. In doing so, we look at what is best for the program and the facility. Having said all this, I look forward to seeing many new faces at our upcoming task force public meetings. We need and encourage the input from parents and the population at large. Don't wait until it's too late to express your opinion - join us now while our ideas are still taking shape.

Upcoming public meetings are scheduled for the following dates, times and locations:

Monday, June 19 - 7 p.m. at Mount Si High School

Tuesday, June 20 - 10 a.m. at Si View Community Center

Tuesday, June 27 - 10 a.m. at Fall City Elementary School

Tuesday, June 27 - 7 p.m. at Chief Kanim Middle School

Child care will be offered at both our evening sessions. We will also be trying a new way of reaching the public by video taping the first session and making it available on the district's Web site. This option will allow community members an opportunity to offer their input even though they may not have attended a meeting in person.

This is part of a bi-weekly series of guest columns written by members of the Snoqualmie Valley School District Facilities Task Force. These columns are part of a comprehensive communication effort to inform and engage the community throughout the course of our work. The charge of the Facilities Task Force is to submit a list of prioritized recommendations to the Snoqualmie Valley School District Board of Directors for new construction projects, modernization projects and maintenance and repair of existing school district facilities. For more details, please visit our Web site at www.snoqualmie.k12.wa.us and click on Facilities Task Force Information.

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