The East Valley School Board presented two community meetings earlier this week to brainstorm ideas about its revisioning plan, and to hear from residents.
After a presentation by Victoria Bergsagel from Architects of Achievement, parents and teachers had a chance to ask Superintendent John Glenewinkel questions about the district’s plan to reconfigure the way it houses and teaches students, from pre-kindergarten through high school.
Not only will the schools be reconfigured – some schools will be pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, some will be pre-kindergarten through the third grade with fourth- through eighth-grade schools and a middle school enrichment program – but Glenewinkel and the school board want to shake up the way the students learn, making sure they display mastery of a subject at their level before moving forward.
At Tuesday’s meeting, about 50 parents, staff and board members worked in groups, and some expressed frustration with the district’s plans.
At the end of the presentation, the audience watched a slide show of what new schools are starting to do – buildings that incorporate outdoor and indoor learning, buildings with 95 percent natural lighting, some with movable walls and some with cyber cafes.
Glenewinkle spent the last hour of the meeting answering questions. Here are some highlights:
• Because a bond will need to be passed for this plan in the district – early estimates are around $30 million – one attendee asked if the district would get those pretty buildings they saw in the presentation for their money.
Glenewinkel said the buildings probably wouldn’t be as nice as those examples of learning spaces, but if the bond is passed the district would spend a year deciding the educational specifications for each building and incorporate some of those ideas.
• Another attendee asked how much it would cost the district to just refurbish the existing middle schools. Glenewinkel said that the last bond the district floated to the voters was for about $33 million, just to refurbish the middle schools, and would receive state matching funds to help with the projects. That bond initiative was rejected by voters.
• “Why should we give the district that money?” a parent asked.
“The reality is that our schools are failing,” Glenewinkel said. He said the district is spending about $500,000 of capital levy funds just fixing things in the buildings. The windows at the high school are leaking and broken, there is insufficient lighting and other problems. One audience member asked when the high school was remodeled. Glenewinkel said it was 1989.
• A parent asked Glenewinkel about graduation rates. Glenewinkel said there is a 70 percent graduation rate in East Valley, which is about on par with the national average. The parent asked what Glenewinkel thought was the acceptable graduation rate.
Glenewinkel said he thought 85 to 90 percent was an attainable number. He added currently 17 eighth-graders have self-reported that they don’t expect to graduate. Other middle school students self-reported that they need help in reading.
One parent said she knows of a child at risk at the high school who has been in foster homes and has suffered abuse, but is a great kid. She said it wasn’t fair of Glenewinkel to meet with just the Advanced Placement kids to discuss changes in the school, but not the at-risk students as well to discuss their needs.
“I know why they are failing,” the parent said. “You don’t.”
Glenewinkel agreed that he did meet with the Advanced Placement kids, but disagreed that he wasn’t listening to the other students. He said he has lunch with a group of students that probably aren’t at the top of their class. He spends time at the district’s alternative Harmony High School and the Teen Parent program. He added that he has a background in alternative education.
• Another parent asked if the district was going to offer open enrollment to students throughout the area. Glenewinkel said it does now and will continue in the future.
• A parent asked if Glenewinkel was moving East Valley High School into an alternative school.
“I don’t know what an alternative school is anymore,” he said. He added that in 10 years about half of the students will be taking online courses.
He then asked if the Aviation High School in Des Moines, Wash., which teaches students how to fly, was an alternative school. He asked if High Tech High School, a number of high schools throughout the country that teach intensive technology classes to its students was an alternative school. “I don’t know how that’s defined,” he said.
He said two years ago, the district only had eight students who displayed mastery in an Advanced Placement class. Last year, there were 42.
He said three of EV’s math teachers have been certified by Central Washington University to teach math at the college level so the students can earn college credit.
• Another parent said that he felt the district is only highlighting the positive aspects of this plan. He asked Glenewinkel if he has thought about the negative impacts of this plan and how he plans to deal with that.
Glenewinkel said that anytime the district engages in change this big there will be problems. He imagines there will be an imbalance in the demographics in many of the schools, the boundaries will have to be shifted and students probably won’t be attending their community schools. He said the district will have to do a lot of planning to align the curriculum so students don’t stall in their grade levels or accelerate so fast through the school that they don’t develop socially.
• One parent asked Glenewinkel why the school board has not officially voted on this plan. Glenewinkel said the board hasn’t voted since nothing is set in stone at this point. “Is there still room in this discussion? Absolutely,” Glenewinkel said.
Some of the discussion at the meeting became contentious, and Glenewinkel said he was willing to meet with anyone to discuss these plans, as long as the conversation remains civil.
“Calling me names, the board names, questioning our values and morals, stymies the conversation,” he said. Although the conversation was fairly heated at points, he said he understood why.
“I appreciate your passion and commitment, and I want you involved,” he said.