North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

MSD discusses future of SLCs

 

Christopher Andersson

Local parent Jane Downey speaks to the Marysville School District board of directors on May 25 in support of keeping Marysville Getchell High School small learning communities intact.

Marysville Getchell High School was designed as four smaller schools, or Small Learning Communities, but the future of those SLCs is now uncertain.

The Marysville School District's board of directors commissioned a study from the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) to look at the effectiveness of Getchell's model, and heard the report during a public meeting on May 25.

Their report concludes a hybrid model between SLCs and more traditional high schools would likely work best.

SLCs were an idea popular in the early 2000s, meant to increase student engagement and community spirit by having smaller, more intimate school settings.

Marysville Getchell High School opened in 2010 with the new model, and was specifically built for four SLCs.

While the four SLCs were relatively autonomous at the beginning, the addition of athletics, band, 43 crossover classes and the reduction of some staff have eroded that autonomy.

"The SLCs have slowly moved toward a comprehensive model. It's not completely there, but the trend is certainly moving there," said Alan Burke, WASA official and former superintendent of the Yelm School District.

Burke said that Getchell staff are concerned about the in-between state.

"And this was pretty consistent: staff members are pretty frustrated with what they consider limbo status," and they would prefer a clear, consistent direction, said Burke.

WASA officials did more than 50 interviews with staff, counselors, administration and district-level administration for their study.

"To get perspectives on how the system works from all different levels," said Douglas Kernutt, WASA official and former school superintendent of Centralia School District.

They also looked at data including failure rates, graduation rates, test scores, suspension and discipline data and two surveys.

In terms of budget, Marysville staff estimated that they could save about $880,000 per year if Getchell was a traditional comprehensive high school.

WASA officials said that estimate was conservative, and their prediction was closer to just over a million.

Local parents said that budget shouldn't necessarily be the only deciding factor.

"Just because a particular change would save money in the overall budget, that doesn't mean it is the best decision to make," said parent Jane Downey.

Pete Lundberg, School Board president, agreed that the bottom line is not necessarily the end goal.

"Money is not the only factor in deciding what we do. We truly have to decide what is best for all the kids in the district," he said.

WASA officials said that there are some inequity problems as well.

There are gender imbalances between the schools, as well as differences between the free and reduced lunch rates between Getchell's SLCs and between Getchell and other schools.

ISC and the Bio-Med Academy in particular "have fewer students in poverty, with IEPs [a plan written for a student eligible for special education], with a significant number of disciplinary referrals, who earn D and F grades, do not attend college, score poorly on standardized test scores and record high rates of absenteeism," said WASA's report.

Those are also the SLCs that reported the highest satisfaction with the current model, according to the report.

Burke said staff were largely divided on SLCs.

"You'll see many staff feel strongly in the philosophy and what goes on. Others are less supportive, and they're pretty clear in that," he said.

In total, Getchell's students haven't scored better than expected on test scores.

"We haven't had significant improvements in achievement between MG and M-P if you measure that in standardized test scores," said Burke.

"A couple of the schools do well, but if you look at the whole school together, there's issues," he said.

Downey, who has had two kids graduate from Getchell, said that the SLC model has helped them though.

"They would not have had the level of success they did if they had attended a more traditional comprehensive high school," she said.

An educator herself, Downey said she is familiar with studies that show district's have little control over many factors which correlate with success, such as economic status, but they can make the structures of their school help students feel connected.

"Many studies have concluded that when students are connected to their schools at various levels, student success goes up," she said.

WASA officials also note that students in Getchell probably need a bigger diversity of class selection and that the building was simply not built to be a comprehensive school. It would likely require bond funding to change into one, they said.

The school board plans to discuss the study during their May 30 meeting and superintendent Becky Berg plans to submit a recommendation by June 19 to the board.

On June 19 the board plans to take action (either approving or rejecting) that recommendation.

WASA's full report and more information about this discussion is available at msd25.org/slcs.

 

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