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East Valley revamps programs to keep students on track

Change is in the wind at East Valley as the district launches a full menu of new initiatives and programs despite being in the midst of a lean budget year.

A new alternative middle school and teen parent program are taking shape in a converted church on Harvard Road called the Community Connections Center. High school teachers have completely revamped how they teach freshman math. A new pre-AP track for freshmen has been started at the high school for a pilot group of 30 students. The high school is also moving away from assigning detention and instead allowing students to perform community service.

The district is committed to offering everything from a standard education to homeschooling support. “Our goal is to fill in every point in that continuum,” said Superintendent John Glenewinkel, the architect of many of the changes.

The new teen parent program started with a handful of students at the beginning of the school year and recently hit 14. The program is designed for pregnant teens and teens who are already parents. Several students are from East Valley, but others were enrolled in Spokane Public Schools, Mead, West Valley and Central Valley districts before dropping out or transferring. The program supports the teens by providing free transportation and free baby-sitting while they’re in class.

Joslin McNeece, 17, is eight months pregnant. She was a student at East Valley High School before she dropped out and tried an online school. “It didn’t work out,” she said. “You don’t get any interaction.”

The teen parent program includes three online classes in the morning and students come to the Community Connections Center every afternoon for classes in parenting, child care, life school and child development. McNeece plans to graduate this year and attend Eastern Washington University. “I think I can do it,” she said. “I have enough support.”

The biggest benefit of the program for Haley Lloyd, 18, is the free baby-sitting for her 3-year-old daughter Tatum while she attends classes. She dropped out of school her freshman year and then tried East Valley’s GED program last year without much success. She likes the new program, where staff monitors her progress and pushes her. “I get more help one on one,” she said. “I don’t have to stress about what to do with Tatum.”

Many districts have some form of alternative high school, but not many take that effort down to the middle school level. The district’s new alternative middle school program has only six students enrolled so far and is very selective. Most middle school students do fine with the traditional model but not all do, said Glenewinkel.

“A certain percentage of those kids, even though they have the ability, don’t perform,” he said. “If you follow those kids, you’ll find that those students are the ones who don’t succeed in high school.”

The high school is also making several changes in an effort to serve students’ needs. Recent poor performance on the math WASL has led to revamping freshman math. Usually, freshmen are enrolled in algebra and more advanced students can take geometry.

Now the high school is evaluating everything from middle school math grades to previous WASL scores to reading scores to determine whether a student should be enrolled in pre-algebra, algebra or geometry. Students in algebra and pre-algebra also have the option of enrolling in a math support class that essentially pre-teaches the material a day in advance so students have more time to grasp concepts.

“We had a goal of getting kids in the right seat in the right course,” said Principal Jeff Miller.

The two freshman math teachers now collaborate daily, teach the same lessons and have changed their grading scale so that 80 percent of each student’s grade is based on tests and quizzes. The goal is to make sure students have true mastery of the math concepts, Miller said.

Some freshman students in a pilot group also are seeing changes in their classes. Previously there weren’t any honors classes for freshman, but students could choose to do extra work in class to receive an honors grade. “It was difficult for our teachers to do,” Miller said. “We were holding some kids back.”

Sixty students said they were interested in pre-AP classes, but the pilot group for freshman only had room for half that. Miller said he wishes he could accommodate all of them. “We don’t want to lock any students in or out of a track,” he said. “Kids should be able to pick their level.”

Miller is hopeful that the AP program will be able to expand in the future.

Another important change at the high school involves discipline. The school is moving away from detention and toward community service. “You can’t punish kids into good behavior,” Miller said. “We’re trying to model it kind of like the court system and allow community service.”

There are a few rules. Students can’t claim community service by helping out a family member, friends or a church. They can, however, pick up litter, volunteer at an animal shelter or help the school custodians. “We’re wide open to those options,” he said. “Kids have gotten pretty inventive.”

So far parents and students seem to like the plan, which equates one hour of community service for two hours of detention. “We have fewer kids in detention,” he said.

The new discipline plan also involved reorganization of the district’s security guards and school resource deputy. They’re mixing among students more and trying to be proactive, Glenewinkel said. “They’re less about finding kids doing things wrong and trying to work with kids to do the right thing,” Glenewinkel said. “They’re really there more as a resource for kids rather than policing.”

Glenewinkel said he made so many additions and changes “because it’s what is right for kids. We will serve every child that comes through the door. This is what we have to do.”

Making the changes has so far been fairly revenue neutral, Glenewinkel said. While the district is paying to lease the former church on Harvard Road, it has also stopped renting an apartment for the district’s program for disabled students ages 18-21. Those students now use the Community Connections Building for their life skills classes.

The baby-sitting provided in the teen parent program uses community volunteers and the buses used by those students are ones who go to the Skills Center in Spokane anyway and would otherwise be returning to the district empty.

The programs also are helping retain and attract students, which provides income for the district. “We’ve really looked at where we want to dedicate our resources,” Glenewinkel said.