Marysville School District is On The Move

by Larry Nyland
Marysville School District

Marysville School District is on the move. Literacy scores are up. Three new school designs are nearing completion and construction will begin soon. Set aside is $400,000 for the mathematics work that must be done, and we are moving toward needed changes at the secondary level. Starting next fall we plan to have all 6th through 8th students in a consistent middle school format. Also starting next fall, MPHS will initiate an educational model of smaller learning communities an educational design that will partner all of the 9th through 12th grade students with their teachers through a common interest base thereby challenging all students to learn more rigorously and build stronger relationships with their peers and teachers.

Why Move to Small Learning
Our current system is overwhelming.
Hard working teachers struggle in large, complex system that no longer works well. Teachers see up to 300 students a year (150 each semester) 1,200 over four years. With 127 educators at M-PHS it is not possible to meet together and collaborate in a meaningful way around student success. Our teachers care about kids and do their best to reach each student but the current system makes it nearly impossible to do.
An urgent need to create success
for every student
Marysville is doing far less well than we would like in nearly every indicator WASL scores, college application/acceptance rates, advanced placement participation, discipline, attendance, and dropouts. More than 50 percent of our freshmen fail one or more class a high predictor of dropping out before graduation.
Traditional American high schools no longer meet todays needs.
In the past, students did not need a high school degree to make a living wage. Today, the quality of life for those without high school diplomas or even college diplomas has declined dramatically.
The research shows a better way.
Nationwide there are more than 2,000 large, comprehensive high schools converting to some model of smaller learning communities. The research making the case for effective small schools is compelling. Student achievement (ie; meeting state standards and meeting college entrance requirements) increases for virtually all levels of students. The narrowing of the gap between student demographic groups makes the development of small schools a social justice issue as well as an educational one. Higher achievement is the most compelling benefit, but good small schools provide other benefits as well. Discipline problems and dropout rates go down, while attendance goes up. College going rates increase, as do student, parent, and teacher satisfaction.

Planning for Implementation in Fall, 2007
For the last three years, an implementation grant from the U.S. Office of Education has enabled M-PHS staff to visit small schools, form study groups of interested staff members and initiate pilot programs of teacher/student teams to see how they can make a difference for students. Over the last few weeks, staff developed and presented nine proposals for a variety of thematically and/or pathways based smaller learning communities. On Oct. 11 staff selected six SLCs and the board approved planning for:
n M-P Pathways.
n M-P Tech Academy.
n School for Entrepreneurs.
n Bio-Med Academy.
n School of International Communications.
n The Global Connections School.
These smaller schools provide a wide range of choices for students and families.
Each of the smaller learning communities will:
n Be designed around the Secondary Guiding Principles approved by the board;
n Provide for a 6.5 student hour student day;
n Meet the current district established staff/student ratio;
n Meet all state and district graduation requirements;
n Provide Advanced Placement options for students;
n Provide for the needs of all students and be representative of the Marysville community.
In addition:
n A comprehensive high school model of athletics and activities will be maintained;
n Some of the small schools will be relocated to the new high school site upon its completion.
M-PHS staff members will continue to develop and refine the work of SLCs over the coming months. To keep you informed about this work, continuing information will be provided through the M-PHS monthly newsletter (delivered by mail to school parents and posted to the web site for other interested parties) and informational nights provided by the high school. Students will be asked to indicate their small school choices in May allowing placement assignments to be completed before the end of the school year.

Key Questions
Making a change of this magnitude is challenging work but we will learn from the successes and mistakes of others who have been through this process. In a public meeting at M-PHS on Oct. 12 we heard many concerns primarily from the seniors, Advanced Placement students, and their parents. Here are a few responses. More can be found on the district web site.
Advanced Placement AP courses will be available in every small learning community. Todd Beamer, an SLC in Federal Way, offers 50 percent more courses than we do currently.
Band will continue. Enumclaw, an SLC in the south sound area, recently won a band award.
Seniors will get all the courses they need for graduation and for college. We will work towards added flexibility for our seniors during this year of transition.

Building a Better System
Marysville has been a leader in options schools for the past 15 years. For the last three years M-PHS, MJHS, and Heritage have had implementation grants from various sources. We have an urgent need to do differently to do better. As superintendent, I made the recommendation to the board that we proceed with the design and implementation of smaller learning communities by picking from options that we believe best fit the design principles that have created success in other schools. Staff is now in the process of developing SLC options that match their level of expertise. Parents and students will select from those options in the spring. SLCs not selected will gradually be transitioned based on student interests.
Our goal is to create a system of smaller learning communities that will allow staff members to know each student better, provide opportunity to actively engage students in their learning, provide a more rigorous course of study with greater depth of support, greater rigor and success for every student. When teachers are able to work together with greater flexibility and in smaller learning communities, they are able to build stronger relationships, know student interests and abilities, and can encourage each student at higher levels.

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