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Principals’ principle pitch

Interested in bio-medicine? Art? Athletics?

Whatever it is, the state’s second-largest school district, Spokane Public Schools, likely has it. Each of Spokane’s six high schools excels at something different. And, each school has a distinct culture.

So, we asked Spokane’s high school principals what they think makes their school special.

*all information as of May 2017 from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Community School

Enrollment: 157

4-year graduation rate: 95.7 percent

Number of teachers: 7

Percentage of teachers with at least a master’s degree: 42.9 percent

Free and reduced lunch rate: 50 percent

A project-based school, the Community School puts the impetus for learning on the students.

“We attract families who are interested in something that is different than the traditional high school,” said Principal Cindy McMahon.

Project-based learning, which melds traditional subjects to real-world ideas, “empowers students,” she said. Instead of teachers, the school has “facilitators of learning.”

The self-motivation required to be successful at the school can be a challenge, McMahon said.

“The biggest challenge is transferring the locus of control for learning to students,” she said. “They really have to unlearn habits.”

But the rewards are well worth it.

“Our kids really want to be here,” she said. “They build strong relationships. And part of that is through our advisory system.”

Ferris High School

Enrollment: 1,706

4-year graduation rate: 87.9 percent

Number of teachers: 92

Percentage of teachers with at least a master’s degree: 77.2 percent

Free and reduced lunch rate: 40.2 percent

The community at Ferris High School, both for students and parents, is so strong that Principal Ken Schutz said many parents don’t want their children to graduate.

“Some of these parents are bummed when their kids leave school,” he said.

Beloved programs like Ham on Regal have created a tight-knit culture. On top of that the school has a strong music and arts program – frequently winning state, regional and national awards. Students can also choose from more than 30 clubs and activities – including bicycle club, stage crew and robotics, among others.

Finally, Schutz said teachers at Ferris High School stick around.

“Our teachers stay,” he said. “That gives us some consistency.”

The school hopes to improve on student engagement.

“We’re making sure that our kids that are in trauma and in poverty can make it through the system,” Schutz said.

Lewis and Clark High School

Enrollment: 1,805

4-year graduation rate: 87.4 percent

Number of classroom teachers: 103

Percentage of teachers with at least a master’s degree: 73.8 percent

Free and reduced lunch rate: 34.2 percent

With a big-city, urban feel the Lewis and Clark High School campus is unique in Spokane. In addition to the ambiance, Principal Marybeth Smith said Lewis and Clark High School has a particularly strong arts and musical theater program.

Additionally, the school offers a number of STEM programs – including robotics.

The school also has a robust world language and English Language Development programs, she said in an email.

“I’m very proud of all Lewis and Clark teachers,” Smith wrote in an email. “Kids leave here as exceptional writers, close readers, critical thinkers, and valued problem solvers.”

North Central High School

Enrollment: 1,424

4-year graduation rate: 86.6 percent

Number of classroom teachers: 84

Percentage of teachers with at least a master’s degree: 77.4 percent

Free and reduced lunch rate: 52.7 percent

While North Central High School might be best known for its science program, Principal Steve Fisk said that is a manifestation of something bigger.

“One of the things that has maybe really separated North Central from many others is our desire and passion to innovate,” he said.

That included adding middle school programs geared toward STEM studies. As Spokane Public Schools moves to change grade configurations, Fisk said North Central will also add a sixth-grade class to their middle school science program.

One area that Fisk said needs improvement is student attendance.

“How can we continue to work fervently with our families and our community to always emphasize the importance of daily attendance at school?” he said.

Rogers High School

Enrollment: 1,482

4-year graduation rate: 82 percent

Number of classroom teachers: 104

Percentage of teachers with at least a master’s degree: 66.3 percent

Free and reduced lunch rate: 78.3 percent

Rogers High School is a generational place, said Principal Lori Wyborney.

“Kids and families are really attached to neighborhood schools,” she said. And while that’s not totally unique to Rogers it has created a strong school culture.

Rogers also offers a variety of specialized academic programs – including biomedical STEM. That’s made possible through a partnership with HollisterStier Laboratories.

“You know in Spokane medicine is a big deal, so a lot of our kids are interested,” she said.

The school has also expanded its advanced placement programs and AP enrollment. That effort was featured in the New York Times earlier this year. The school has also doubled down on the Advancement Via Individual Determination program, which helps students figure out what they want to do after high school.

Those initiatives are particularly important for students at Rogers because of the school’s poverty. Eighty-one percent of students come from low-income homes, Wyborney said.

That’s one of the school’s unique challenges. But, it also is a testament to the school’s growth. Graduation rates have climbed steadily over the past 10 years.

“My kids are amazing tolerant and accepting,” Wyborney said. “I think kids that walk into my school for the first time can almost always find a place to fit in.”

Shadle Park High School

Enrollment: 1,303

4-year graduation rate: 88.6 percent

Number of classroom teachers: 82

Percentage of teachers with at least a master’s degree: 78 percent

Free and reduced lunch rate: 48 percent

At Shadle High School, about 20 of the teachers graduated from the school. There are multi-generational families there, said Principal Julie Lee. Those deep roots give the place a “family feeling.”

“I think one of the things that we’re really working toward is having those deep roots be available to all students. Because not everyone has grown up in Spokane,” she said. “We want that family feeling to be felt throughout our school.”

Shadle Park has a strong business and marketing program, one that goes to state competitions regularly. Additionally, the high school has a preschool on campus. That allows Shadle Park students to learn about early childhood education and helps them make career choices.

“We pride ourselves on being a comprehensive high school,” Lee said. “There is something for everyone here.”


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