From the beginning, we determined that public input would be critical to the work of the task force. If we’ve been asked to assess future school needs for our kids, then you deserve to be informed. That’s why there has been much effort through this series of columns, several public meetings and our Web site aimed to keep the public engaged and aware of our activities.
Public input proved to be so informative that our final list of recommendations changed as a result of the public meetings held in late June. Up until that point, there were three solutions under consideration:
1. An additional high school
2. A freshman campus
3. Expansion of the existing high school
(Note: Each of these include more schools than the title would suggest. Visit our Web site for more information.)
During the public meetings, the expansion of the high-school concept received little support. Available research shows that when it comes to schools, “smaller is better” and there was virtually no support for an expensive remodel and conversion of other buildings for a single 3,000 student high-school campus. The task force is no longer considering this concept as a solution.
The freshman campus concept received mixed reviews from the public. There are many good arguments for this approach, but not surprisingly, those arguments center on a single grade level. There are significant costs associated with this approach and while it does offer a short-term benefit to the high-school situation by removing a full grade level, it does not address the long-term over-crowding at the high school. The Issaquah School District is roughly three-times larger and recently wrestled with keeping its freshman campus open. It is now slated to eventually convert to a middle school. The freshman campus remains one of the final three solutions being evaluated.
During the public meetings a few parents encouraged the task force to reconsider the grade level reconfiguration concept. This concept takes the ninth graders out of the high school and places them within the middle-school structure. This would be possible once the new middle school at Exit 34 comes on line in the fall of 2008. There is an immediate benefit to the high school and, through 2010, there is capacity within the middle-school system to house fourth-grade levels. After 2010, the sixth graders would need to move back to the elementary-school level, which would be possible if two new elementary schools were built.
This concept did raise some concerns, including the higher achieving freshmen not having ready access to more challenging academic and sports programs as they do now. In the long term, a 25-percent reduction does not address the near doubling in high-school enrollment over the next 20 years. As the result of public input, the task force gave this option new life and included it as one of the final three solutions.
The remaining concept being considered is to build an additional high school. This concept received the most favorable feedback during the public forums and words such as “simplicity” and “clarity” were often used to describe the plan. It directly addresses high-school overcrowding for a longer term, although it does not have the short-term impact of the other two plans.
There were concerns regarding land availability as well as cost, and while land is certainly an issue, each of the other solutions appear to be equal or more in terms of capital and operating cost long term.
Each of these “final three” solutions will be evaluated through several filters. The first two being, “What is best for kids at all grade levels?” and, “What fits within the financial realities of the district?”
Our final recommendations to the Snoqualmie Valley School District Board of Directors are due in early September.
I urge you to visit our Web site to get far more information than this brief article can provide. Get informed on this important step into the future of the Snoqualmie Valley School District.
Mark Aberle is a member of the Snoqualmie Valley School District Facilities Task Force. This is part of a biweekly series of guest columns written by task force members. For more details, visit www.snoqualmie.kl2.wa.us and click on “Facilities Task Force Information.”