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Compelling reasons prompt switch to smaller schools while the time is right

M-P frosh Danny Ekdahl is a college-bound future CEO who is ambivalent about splitting the 2,700-student high school into smaller schools-within-a-school.  At first I wasnt too enthusiastic about it because I felt that it really limited our future.  I thought that college is really the time for specializing in what you want to do, and high school is to open as many doors as you can. -
M-P frosh Danny Ekdahl is a college-bound future CEO who is ambivalent about splitting the 2,700-student high school into smaller schools-within-a-school. At first I wasnt too enthusiastic about it because I felt that it really limited our future. I thought that college is really the time for specializing in what you want to do, and high school is to open as many doors as you can.
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MARYSVILLE The most frequent question parents have had on the subject of switching from a large comprehensive high school to smaller schools has been the why now? variety.
Most dont question the need to plug an annual leak of 32 percent of students who fail to graduate in four years, and its nearly unanimous among parents that a high school should not have 3,000 students on one campus.
For Marysville School District Superintendent Larry Nyland the timing was right for several reasons, despite many changes to a district still recovering from a state-record 49-day long strike. In a nutshell, the district needed to strike while the iron was hot.
A grant from the Gates Foundation studying smaller schools had just ended last year, and the district had hired a new principal who had ushered her former school through the same process. And with voter approval a new $79 million campus was on the drawing boards and could be cut from whole cloth to fit the smaller student bodies.
For Nyland the track records of smaller schools was without question; bearing fruit in higher academic achievement and lower discipline problems in a very short time after schools had made the switch. With the recent Gates-funded study completed, it seemed to him to be the time to move.
Some parents and teachers have clung to the large high school model with many options and class choices, and administrators say there will still be a campus community, just more personal attention.
Some teachers felt the move came out of nowhere. They remember another switch when Cedarcrest Middle School opened in 1990 in which, due to space limitations, the campus was configured for grades six through nine. That didnt work, according to M-P teacher Liz Vandaveer, who has taught family and consumer science for 34 years. Her classes are not called Home Economics anymore, and will be paired with the technology-heavy Tomahawk Tech Academy next year.
Im not convinced, Vandaveer said last month as her peers readied their class offerings. While she had her doubts, the Ph.D., said the switch had people thinking. Im excited.
The next question parents usually have is how does the district plan to allocate its 3,100 high school students into the nine smaller learning environments. Four of those 400-student schools will migrate to the new Getchell Hill facility when it is completed in 2010 or 2011 and until then the bulk of the students will be housed at M-PHS. Staff are preparing to remodel any available space to hold students for the next few years when the 1,600-student high school is completed.
Nyland said he has gotten about 100 emails after the first public meeting in October, and has put 13 pages of questions and answers on the district Web site, www.msvl.k12.wa.us. Most students (or parents) start out with the conception that they must have one particular school, and after meeting with Nyland, assistant superintendent Gail Miller or M-PHS principal Tracy Suchan Toothaker they understand that despite the different names and aims, the other smaller schools can usually meet the same needs.
A computer programmer has been hired to devise a method to sift through the students choices and administrators are working to ensure that there is an even spread of grade point averages and special needs throughout the distribution. Next years seniors will not be part of the new SLCs, by and large, and they will get priority treatment in class assignments, according to Nyland. Any senior who doesnt get his or her first choice will have an in-person meeting so staff can learn their graduation needs. They can then be hand scheduled, Nyland said.

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