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Future of Getchell's SLCs to be studied further

 

Christopher Andersson

The Academy of Construction and Engineering, one of Marysville Getchell High School's small learning communities.

The status quo will remain for Marysville Getchell High School's small learning communities for now, although a new committee is looking at district-wide issues relating to the SLCs.

The Marysville School District board of directors approved a decision to look at some broader issues relating to the SLCs during their June 19 meeting.

The Getchell SLCs, such as the Academy of Construction and Engineering or the International School of Communications, are smaller schools within the high school, meant to be largely autonomous.

The idea behind them was to engender a sense of community and connection within students.

However, over time, changes have tended to "dilute some of that small learning community philosophy," said Pete Lundberg, president of the Marysville School District board of directors.

Parents requested a band at Getchell, and because all four schools were needed to make one, a crossover class was introduced. More crossovers followed.

"Parents would say 'well, my child needs this class and they're offering it at a school 50 yards away, so why can't they just go over there and take it,'" said Lundberg.

These changes tied the schedules of the four SLCs together and erased some of their original boundaries.

This ambiguous state between a full high school and four separate schools has caused staff to question where the school is headed.

The Marysville School District started looking at the issue last year and commissioned a study from the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) with the end goal of determining a clear direction for the school.

"It's become obvious through this year and people talking to us that there are elements of Getchell that people have really come to like," said Lundberg.

Many parents and students enjoy the small schools within a large school structure, he said.

District officials originally hoped to create a proposal by June 19, however as they looked they saw the SLC issue intersected with a lot of other issues around the district, according to Becky Berg, district superintendent.

"This started out about Getchell, but we realized that there were ramifications for the entire school district," said Lundberg.

By having open choice high schools the district takes on hundreds of thousands of dollars in transportation costs each year, which is related to having SLCs at Getchell.

"Do we want to maintain open choice high schools and the transportation costs that come along with that?" said Berg.

Another issue is that the district's enrollment has declined for nearly a decade straight.

"We're trying to get a better handle on declining enrollment," said Berg.

"Are people leaving at the middle school level because our middle schools are too big?" she proposed as one possible explanation that needs to be looked at.

That enrollment problem has caused the district to reduce spending many years in a row.

"So even in the good years we've had to cut back," said Lundberg.

How do other small schools, such as Arts & Technology High School, fit into the next plan as well, asked Berg.

The WASA study also brought up questions of equity across all the schools at Getchell, and the district, showing differences in free/reduced lunch rates and special needs students.

"And if those things are important at Getchell, they have to important at Marysville-Pilchuck High School and Arts & Technology High School as well," said Lundberg.

The Marysville School District board of directors authorized a new committee to look at Getchell's SLCs and the best solution district-wide.

"The idea is to get this committee together and they will spend the first half of this next year and make a recommendation," said Lundberg, although he added that it may take longer than that and the board is open to taking the process slowly.

"This is no small task," said Lundberg. "We don't want to rush it."

The plan is to include all the stakeholders of the community in the planning committee as well.

Berg hopes that the district will come out of the process with a strong sense of direction for their high schools.

"It's time to create a new vision for our secondary schools," she said.

Lundberg said he hopes to come to a solution that finds the best use of taxpayer dollars and allows students the Getchell experience they want.

"We want to help students get the classes they need and the classes they want in that small school environment," he said.

The full WASA report is available at the Marysville School District's website at msd25.org/slcs.

 

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