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Marysville students and parents warming to smaller schools idea

Several hundred parents attended the first of three open houses at Marysville-Pilchuck High School on -
Several hundred parents attended the first of three open houses at Marysville-Pilchuck High School on
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MARYSVILLE Parents are warming to the idea of smaller school environments for their children next year as decision time looms for 3,100 high school students in the Marysville School District.
Marysville-Pilchuck High School is now the states second-largest by population and administrators are finalizing plans to create nine smaller learning communities from M-P and three other high schools. The Marysville Art & Technology, Tulalip Heritage and Marysville Mountain View high schools will all be configured into the mix of the districts smaller school program starting next year. Students will have until March 12 to decide which SLC they want to attend.
Most of those new schools will have student bodies of about 400 kids, with Heritage expanding to a possible 100 students as the smallest. The largest learning center will be the Pathways of Choice at M-PHS with 1,200 students. The other six academies will allow students to focus on subjects that pique their interests and hopefully reduce a 32 percent drop out rate. The idea met stiff opposition from many parents during an October 2006 roll-out, but some of those are getting to like the idea, with reservations.
The Skeptic:
Deirdre Thomason was one of the angry parents at the previous meeting who stopped by an open house in the M-P library on Feb. 13. Each SLC had a table set up and teachers were pitching their wares like salesmen at a county fair. Thomason stopped by the Bio-Med Academy booth where Dave James and Bruce Brown were trying to entice students to join their school.
Ive got hope for it, Thomason said. I think theyve got to figure some things out.
Her junior son Collin will join the Pathways school, but eighth-grader Kiley has his mind set on Bio-Med because he wants to be a veterinarian someday. Thomason thinks 3,000 students is way too many for a single campus and said she knows something had to be done to keep students from getting lost in the mix.
I wish they would have taken a little bit more time with it to bring parents along, Thomason said.
In addition to having more information in hand, Thomason wanted things to be set in stone before any changes were made. She felt most kids will want to get into Pathways, the most conventional school with the largest student body by far, but flipping through a 100-page booklet describing the course offerings and mission of each SLC, Thomason just shrugged.
My son doesnt have all his teachers on board, we dont have all the parents on board and the kids dont know for sure what theyre going to do, Thomason said, pointing to the district administrators chatting with parents nearby. Its just these guys, who are very nice people, telling you its going to work. They dont know if it going to work for sure that way.
The Optimist:
Mary Jeffrey has two kids in the Marysville system and another who recently graduated after a good experience in the A&T high school. Eric was a charter member at the districts newest school and arguably the first small learning community in the district. It started four years ago with very few students, sending off an initial crop of only 14 grads during ceremonies last June with 70 students expected in this years graduating class. It now has 230 students but will move into a brand new campus next to Quil Ceda Elementary School next fall. With the extra room A&T will be able to hold 400 students, the same size as the other SLCs.
He was there from the start; there were some growing pains, Jeffrey admitted. He loved it. He loved the smallness. He loved knowing the teachers. You cant get away with much when the teachers know you well. So that aspect I liked about the small learning [community]. The scary part is, your choices are limited. And so I think one of the great things this high school has is so many things for kids and thats what we may lose in the bargain.
Jeffrey was listening to language arts teacher Janis Uilenberg explain how the Global Connections School will work. Her sophomore Jessica Jeffrey is involved in the TV3 program and so will enter the International School of Communications next fall; Alex is a junior and will sign on for Pathways. The kids are alright; its mom that has the butterflies.
I know we need to do something with the high school but Im a little nervous because my kids are on their way out of high school and I feel like they are kind of guinea pigs, because of the learning curve and its going to be better when they are gone. But somebodys kids have to be there and thats just how we fell in the line of things, Jeffrey said. I know Marysville needs something and its probably going to be a good idea, we just have to get through the growing pains. And we have to support it.
She and Thomason represent differing ideas on how the program should, or should have been, implemented. Some parents wanted more input and involvement and said flat out that the district was hiding something and keeping them in the dark on purpose. Thomason represented many parents who have asked whats the rush? and suggested the district was moving too fast. A consultant with experience in similar moves to smaller schools told the school board that its better to do it all at once than to drag things out, and his comments were echoed by Jeffrey. Her main concerns were how the M-P locker rooms could be converted to classrooms and other logistic tangles.
I wish they would have made all that clear at the same time, Jeffrey said. One big change would have probably been easier.
At the Bio-Med booth a skeleton kept watch over a table full of pamphlets while teachers Dave James and Bruce Brown pressed the flesh and answered questions. Not to be outdone, the International School of Communications had a Roman centurion on guard, but James was pitching the future to the students and parents. He picked up a sheet listing jobs that need the math and science preparation the Bio-Med Academy offers.
Theres a lot of these terrific professions out there and all these kids arent getting the preparation they need. These are great jobs, said James, a history teacher who explained how his SLC will fill the gap. Its awesome: lots of math, lots of science.
The Student:
Maddy Schoonover listened to the spiel with her mother, Sherry. She and her twin Loren are in eighth-grade and sister Aimee is a sophomore. Despite the sales pitch Maddy gave a typical response; she just wanted to go where her friends will be. Her career choices are to be a psychologist or to work in sports medicine, because it pays a lot, she said.
Her mother was onboard but had reservations, mostly about navigating the gauntlet of options for her three daughters.
I am feeling a little overwhelmed with it, said Sherry Schoonover. I think theres a whole lot of choices for parents to make. I think over all for the whole community its a good thing, because it gives everyone a little bit better choices. I think it will create a lot of interest in some kids. Its probably not the be-all and end-all for the higher level kids who dont have a problem.
The Fence-sitter:
That would be Danny. Danny Ekdahl is a four-pointer who dreams of being a CEO someday and is therefore bound for college and a university business school. He echoed the concern of most parents, the fear that students are being forced to declare a major too early in their young lives. M-P principal Tracy Suchan Toothaker has pointed out that 90 percent of a students course load is mandated by the state and all of the new SLCs will have to meet those requirements. The SLCs are trying to lure students into subjects that interest them to help them succeed.
Ekdahl seems to have bought into the idea, albeit reluctantly.
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. Right now, I dont really care either way. Im interested in my future and I think that some of these small learning communities can offer it.

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