What size high school is best?

Guest Columnist

  • Friday, October 3, 2008 5:40am
  • Opinion

During our weekly meetings over the last four months, we have analyzed student enrollment projections, listened to various speakers on education, considered public comments received through forums and our Web site and brainstormed numerous solutions to accommodate student growth. Our goal is to develop recommendations for the school board to consider in early fall.

Although we are comprised of a wide variety of Valley residents and district personnel with various backgrounds and viewpoints, public input is vital in this process and we cannot proceed without it.

As the growth tide of elementary- and middle-school students flows toward the high school, we are faced with some very critical decisions. One big question has developed from our work: Can we absorb this growth in only one high school?

We currently have about 1,400 high-school students, most of whom attend Mount Si and are filling it to capacity. Our current enrollment projections show that high-school enrollment could grow to 1,800 within four years, and to 3,000 by the year 2017. What size high school is best for our students? How much growth can we absorb at Mount Si?

We are exploring the idea of breaking out the freshman class into a separate campus. But with the freshman off the main campus, we could still have a senior high-school student population that could grow to over 1,700 students within eight years and possibly to 2,500 after that. Would we want the freshmen to still be part of the main high school to access certain classes, sports, performing arts, etc.? Could this all fit in one high school? Should we explore other ways of creating satellite campuses of a larger school? What is your opinion?

There are certain advantages of larger high schools. Larger schools can offer more class choices like “Advanced Placement,” vocational courses and foreign languages. Sports programs certainly benefit from selecting out of a larger pool of athletes. But is there a point at which a large school size limits an athlete’s ability to make the cut to play on the high-school teams? Do students get lost academically in very large schools?

How big is too big? Is a 2,000-student high school too large for this Valley? How about 3,000? There are only about 15 high schools (out of over 300) in the state with over 2,000 students. How would we compare to our neighbors? Bellevue, Issaquah and Redmond have high schools with student populations ranging from 1,400 to 1,700 students.

Would more than one high school divide our community? How have our neighbors and other communities handled more than one high school?

As the Facilities Task Force explores alternatives, we frequently stop and ask ourselves, “What is best for the education of the students in the Snoqualmie Valley?” Now we are asking you to do the same.

Take some time and explore the research on high-school size. Look at other high schools in the state and how other communities have handled growth. The next public forums are perfect opportunities for you to be a part of this process; to see the information we have been working with, study some proposed alternatives and share your opinions.

During the last public forums, we broke out into small groups and received some very positive feedback about how this format allowed everyone the opportunity to ask questions and voice opinions. Please come to a public meeting so we can hear from you:

Monday, June 19 – 7-8:30 p.m. at Mount Si High School

Tuesday, June 20 – 10-11:30 a.m. at Si View Community Center

Tuesday, June 27 – 10-11:30 a.m. at Fall City Elementary School

Tuesday, June 27 – 7-8:30 p.m. at Chief Kanim Middle School

This is the fourth in a 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, visit www.snoqualmie.k12.wa.us and click on “Facilities Task Force Information.”

Carolyn Simpson has an eighth- and a 10th-grader and is an active volunteer in the schools.

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