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M-P staff considers smaller academy options

MARYSVILLE By this time next year the states second largest high school will likely be broken into about seven or eight different schools as Marysville-Pilchuck High School initiates a move toward smaller learning communities of about 400 students each. A new high school planned for Getchell Hill will adopt these same models, and some could potentially transfer there when it is built by 2010 or 2011.
This week parents and students will get a look at ideas being pitched by teachers for the smaller academies. Any teacher from the high school can propose a theme or path-based school, and nine proposals are on the table. One was formulated by teachers from Marysville Junior High School, as the ninth-graders there will be incorporated into the high schools by next year. Teachers will vote on the proposals later this month and teaching teams might start to come together shortly after that. The look-see for parents and students will be held Oct. 12 in the M-P auditorium at 6:30 p.m.
Teachers formulated the proposals and spent much of this month convincing their peers to sign on to teach or simply vote for their idea. The school board voted for the move to smaller schools this summer and tasked M-P principal Tracy Suchan Toothaker with the details. She delegated to her staff, and nine proposals resulted.
The offerings proposed include an M-P Technical Academy centered around the auto shop and Computer Aided Design and manufacturing courses. A sub-set of this is already under way and this school seems assured of continuing as there are about 170 students already participating.
A School of Civic and Global Studies is another proposal, and a similar deal is already underway with the Connect and Discover project now starting this school year. The prospectus floated by staff envisions a school where students must demonstrate and defend their learning. They must complete a project involving service linked to some aspect of their curriculum. The pitch written by teachers Melissa Marzolf and Dean Lambert calls for 15 classes on the trimester model instead of 12 in the semester system now used at M-P.
The Bio-Med Academy is focused around a science core and aims to team with area employers to help students gain an early foothold in the job market in the science and health care fields. Its not medical school, yet, but the prospectus makes it clear that many students will be headed there or another rigorous college track.
The School for the Entrepreneur will partner with Everett Community College to help students partner with the School for Business Design. Budding business founders, start here.
The Global Connections School seeks to make world citizens out of their cohort. College-ready graduates will be versed in the humanities and sciences and their interdependency. Art, music, foreign languages and will complement core courses such as math, history and geography taught on a theme.
The M-P Academy of Classical Liberal Arts is an academic boot camp based on college-track program. Four years of each major core helpings would stiffen the education and preparation for this college-bound student body. It is not for the faint of heart.
One smaller school is called Make a Difference Through Service and Leadership. Students would demonstrate their learning with a service projects in school or out in the community. It would be based on service towards others.
The International School of Communications would take the expansive M-P television studios and cable TV operations and meld them into four vertically-integrated houses where upperclassmen mentor freshman and sophomores. An overseas semester might be included and students would be self-motivated, using the world as their classroom.
The schools are still be sold to teachers; last week the Tomahawk Activity Center was filled with tables staffed by enthusiastic teachers pitching their academy proposals to their peers, complete with brochures and arm twisting.
Dick Walsh is a veteran kibitzer who has talked numerous television stations out of thousands of dollars worth of electronic gear for the M-PHS television studios; he was listening to Bridget Shee and Doug Tuckman from the junior high pitch their proposal. Pointing out the similarities of their Global Connections School to his International School of Communications, Walsh pointed out the similarities and suggested a merger. According to Walsh, he and teacher Eric Lefstad have been working on their proposal for eight years.
I worked with all these people, Walsh said, tapping a list of stakeholders i.e., teachers who have signed on. They are first round draft choices.
For all that his partners wife Emily Lefstad is a math teacher who was pitching the Civic and Global Studies School to Keri Austin, a ten-year veteran who has taught math at the high school for seven years. Melissa Marzolf explained how the trimester system would pack three more classes into the environment-focused schools syllabus. Students would apply things they have learned from volunteering out in the community, Marzolf said, adding that her idea allows for tailoring the pace to match a students capabilities. It would also incorporate special needs and advanced placement classes.
Assistant Superintendent Gail Miller briefed the Marysville School Board about the plans on Oct. 2 after an all-day meeting with the would-be founders.
It was very heartening to listen to a group of teachers who had the opportunity to dream together, Miller said. The passion was really strong.
She noted the efforts of staff to be inclusive and to make room in the academy proposals for students new to the English language, as well as allow for students to have a voice. Board members peppered Miller with questions, revealing a mix of excitement and dread. Board president Michael Kundu noted the short time for the proposals to be accepted and then perfected; he wanted to ensure that ideas were wicking up from the bottom instead of being forced from the top down.
How do we know that were going in the right direction? asked director Don Hatch. I think we can be successful but I want to make sure that we are on the right path.
Kundu seconded his concerns.
We are going in a pretty interesting direction and we need to have our wits about us, Kundu said.

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