Snoqualmie Valley, Do We Help High School Programming By Negatively Impacting Middle School Education?

If SVSD annexes Snoqualmie Middle School to Mount Si before we have a replacement middle school, are there negative impacts for our middle school students?  Yes, Snoqualmie students will have long bus routes, some to the eastern edge of North Bend and some to Fall City.  That’s a given.  There is immediate over-crowding at the middle school level solved by adding 14 portable classrooms to CKMS and TFMS.  Because Twin Falls is near capacity, it stands to see the most portables on its grounds.  There are concessions to make; more lunch periods, busier hallways, more lockers to add, more students filling after school sports teams and limited practice space.

Administration says there could be some benefits, though.  Larger middle schools might mean increased and more flexible exploratory classes, maybe foreign language again.  Some CKMS parents say their school won’t feel like a ghost town anymore; dances will be more fun with more kids.  The teacher to student ratio would remain intact so learning won’t suffer.

There is an important consideration, though.  Do we know the educational impacts of going back to a two middle school model?  Should we research this?  There are over 1,400 middle school students impacted; roughly the same number helped at the high school level by annexing SMS.  SVSD moved to a three middle model in 2008 as a solution for overcrowding in its two middle schools and future growth.  At the peak, in 2007/08, Chief Kanim Middle School had 710 students.  Snoqualmie Middle School had about 650.  Larger  classes  were on the way.  Twin Falls Middle School was the solution.

Yet, Mount Si High School is growing too.  The portables installed in 2009 can help at most until 2014 – 2015.  Enrollment projections show the added capacity of a Freshman Learning Center provides space after that time.

Enter the problem.  Without a replacement middle school for SMS, your capacity problems are not solved.  They are only band-aided with portables and increased busing at the middle school level.  How do you decide who you help first?  Who is more important?  That’s ultimately what this school board is deciding.

There was a missing component in last week’s “Two Middle School Model” presentation given to the school board.  Missing was research on what might happen to middle school education if we go backwards, back to two middle schools.  Some of that research is available via the WA State OSPI School Report website.  Here is a comparison of the average middle school (combined 6th, 7th, 8th) test scores from 2007/08, the last year with two crowded middle schools, to test scores from the 2010/11 school year, three years into the new three middle school model and the latest results available.   The results are pretty dramatic. 

The average middle school student’s test scores (percentage of students exceeding state standards) increased as follows:  reading up from 79.8% to 82%;  math scores up from 64.95% to 78.3%; writing went from 84.7% to 91.37%; and science went from 75.5% to 87%. 

There are many factors surrounding schools’ test performances, but the results are a big part of judging if our educational programming is working.  Is the smaller middle school size a factor in these increasing test scores?  I would wager that in some way, yes, it is.  Cliff Brown, Valley Voters For Education President, agrees and does not support the annexation without a replacement middle school.  He states, “That’s why I campaigned so hard to provide a third middle school if SMS was to be annexed for MSHS – to keep that new mojo found in a three middle school model.”

This is important data.  In 2013 I will have a 9th grader and a 6th grader.  Am I willing to jeopardize one child’s education for the others?  Or do I want equal?   The only way to stay equal is to replace SMS before annexing it to the high school.  That is what’s best for ALL students and the solution recommended by the SVSD Long Term Facilities Planning Committee.  Their recommendation, or what they determined best for all students, was to annex SMS to the high school AND build a replacement middle school; not house displaced students in portables.  It was a two-part recommendation. Ask yourself, is taking one without the other putting the education of some students in front of others?  Is there time for one more bond try next year?

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  • There is a mountain of research confirming that students do better in smaller schools, such as three middle schools, compared to two larger middle schools. It is not merely that students have higher test scores, but equally important, students in smaller schools have a better attitude toward school, have fewer behavioral problems and are more likely to engage in after school activities. So going back to a two middle school model would be extremely harmful to our children.

    However, I disagree that the only solution to the eventual over-crowding of Mount Si High School is building another middle school. Thus far, what has been tried is three school bond failures to build an extremely expensive second high school (in 2007 and 2008) – followed by two school bond failures to build an extremely expensive fourth middle school (both in 2011). While all five bonds failed by very narrow margins, they were all failures.

    What has not been tried is an incremental approach of building a moderately priced second high school that is not only fair to our children – but fair to the tax payers – and then adding to this high school in future years. I worked hard to pass the high school bonds in 2007 and 2008. They only failed by a couple hundred votes. What my neighbors who voted against these bonds told me is that they were in favor of building a second high school, but they were not in favor of spending $100 million on the most expensive high school in the history of our State!

    Just as the research supports the idea that three smaller middle schools have better results than two larger middle schools, that same research supports the idea that two average size high schools are better for our kids than one mega high school. That is why the plan to annex Snoqualmie Middle School was defeated in the first place. It is because turning Mount Si High School into a mega high school would be harmful to our children.

    The annexation question is now a dead issue. Those of us who are opposed to annexation have defeated two school bonds and replaced two pro-annexation school board members with two -anti-annexation school board members in the past year. We will continue to defeat school bonds and replace school board members until sanity, and a concern for the wellbeing of our children is restored in our school district. Wouldn’t it be better for all of us to sit down and start listening to each other instead of continuing this senseless conflict in which one side simply refuses to listen to the concerns of the other? How many more school bonds and how many more school board members do we have to defeat until we can begin to work towards a more balanced, fair and responsible solution to the problems at Mount Si High School?

    The time has come for all sides to go back to the bargaining table and come up with a solution that works for all of us. I urge the school board to establish a committee of concerned parents to fairly examine the pros and cons of all options – based on responsible enrollment projections and NOT the nonsense put out by Calm River Demographics. If some people really feel our children would be better served by a mega high school sitting in the middle of the flood plain rather than two normal high schools – one of which is not in the flood plan, then let us have that debate. But let’s make it a fair and honest debate where both sides are given equal time and an equal opportunity to make their case. I am confident that when parents truly understand the advantages and drawbacks of both options, they will overwhelmingly support building a moderately priced second high school over annexing SMS to turn Mount Si High School into a mega high school.

    We can pass a school bond in this school district if we come up with a proposal that has more support from more parents. The way to get more support is to create a proposal that treats all of our tax payers fairly and is actually in the best long term interests of all of our children.
    Regards, David Spring, North Bend
    Parent of a Middle Schooler at Twin Falls Middle School

    1. The annexation question is a dead issue, and you and the rest of the minority will continue to shape the board at will and defeat bonds, you say? We’ll see. I guess for now you have the right to throw out these smug statements, you did win on the last bond by the NARROWEST of margins thanks to the crazy super-majority rule. But I agree with Mark Hawkins, the demographic trend is against you, and it’s only a matter of time before we defeat you. I look forward to that day. It will be glorious.

      1. For the record, I was not a no voter. Just submitting food for thought. Trying to look at data and suggest alternate ideas, maybe try again to get the replacement middle school you wanted last year, Doug.

  • Based on the above information, I find it difficult to understand how annexing SMS without a replacement middle school benefits ALL students. It may serve to benefit high school level students by adding extra classroom space, however, it does not appear to benefit middle school aged kids–both in space and now, based on the above information, educationally. When TFMS was voted on, it was evident that the voters throughout the Snoqualmie Valley wanted three middle schools. Based on the above information, it is evident the three middel school concept works! Although some may feel programming options are lessened by a three middle schools model, it is obvious the education of our students has actually gotten alot better. Isn’t that what we send our kids to school for and isn’t that the overall mission of the District? Why then, do we want to disrupt this and move back to a two middle school model? It does not make logical sense to me.

    Even the task force responsible for making a recommendation to the District as to how to accommodate overcrowding at the high school level recommended annexation WITH a replacement middle school. The committee also based their recommendations on survey results that clearly showed the voters wanted three middle schools. This type of recommendation was, and continues to be, beneficial to ALL kids. To take away the only centrally located middle school in the entire District, displace and bus middle school aged kids to outlying areas, house them in portables, displace middle school staff, etc., all for the sake of providing additional space at the high school that noone appears to be 100% confident will be needed right away, seems premature. Even more telling, is the lack of a comprehensive plan or information as to how all this is going to be done. I am more than happy to vote on something or to “buy-into” a new concept, provided I know what the plan is going to be. To date, I have not seen a solid, bonifide plan for annexation, bussing, staff displacement, student displacement, educational benefits, etc. I have always thought this may have been one of the reasons for the failure of the last two bonds too. Voters are getting more and more educated and concerned about what their tax dollars are being spent. Many voters wanted to know what the plan for annexation and replacement was going to be.

    My vote: It is time to go back to the drawing board and make sure this is the right decision for ALL kids. As it stands, I am not convinced. I would like to see better projection data, more thoughtful ideas for the use of existing MSHS classroom space, and more cost information before I am willing to move forward with a decision that may, in the long run, serve to set some of our students back. For me, I would much rather see my kid PREPARED for high school, than worry about where they may be eating their lunch.

  • Alternatively – Put another bond issue up for a replacement middle school and perform community turn out drive on Snoqualmie Ridge. Material costs and interest rates are still favorable and potentially additional cost savings can be achieved by deleting improvements unrelated to core educational functions. Residents of SnoRidge voted 81%-19% in favor of the new neighborhood middle school in 2011. If residents of the neighborhood can drive additional turn-out, that may be sufficient to push the measure over the state’s odious 60% super-majority requirement for bonds. Additionally, with the on-going development in Eagle Pointe – the population base for SnoRidge is increasing as it relates to the rest of the District. If the increased population base can maintain similar “yes” voting percentages, then the district can have its 3 middle schools, plus 25% additional capacity at MSHS.

    1. Just an FYI, material costs are up but labor is down. Mainly due to metals and diesel prices of moving goods.

  • This may not be a very popular comment after all the work that has gone into planning a ninth grade campus, but having kids sprinkled among high school, middle school, and elementary makes me wonder about pulling 9th graders out of high school, and so I just have to ask.

    Putting middle school aside for the moment, I’m still stuck back a few steps and would like to understand if the benefits of separating the 9th graders from the high school outweigh the drawbacks — from a 9th grader’s perspective. From what I am hearing, it seems as though there is a segment of the freshman population that would thrive at a campus for 9th graders only, but what about the rest of the freshman class that seem to blend in fine at MSHS and take advantage of all the opportunities available to them, such as French, Japanese, German, Spanish, Drivers Ed, Photography, Ceramics, Culinary Arts, Web Production, Video Production, Health Science Careers, and the remarkable fields, track, courts and weight room they use during P.E. class daily.

    It can be exciting and motivating for kids to move to a school with these facilities and opportunities, especially while we’re dropping an important piece of information onto them that year, and that is: your grades now count on your high school transcript, and will be used and calculated into a GPA for whatever it is you choose to do after high school. With those newly acquired obligations for our youngest high school students, also comes the reward of new opportunities, choices, and variety that today’s freshman can participate in at MSHS.

    If enrollment numbers are driving this change, the above implications probably don’t much matter, however, if we’re deciding that a ninth grade campus is a good idea because today’s 9th graders need it to best succeed then I’m wondering if there are there are other perspectives we should consider to make sure that we don’t fix one thing but accidentally break another?

  • As an FYI, the last census data shows the population of the “Ridge” was not larger than the combined populations of North Bend and Fall City. In fact, there is a pretty large spread. What would be nice is to have a plan that over 60% of the entire district favors, and not just a segment of the district. Perhaps if a good, solid plan were presented, this could happen. As it stands, there is too many questions, and alot of differing answers.

  • .Thanks for your comment Laurie. According to the 2010 US Census – The City of North Bend has a population of 5731. Fall City has a population of 1993, for a total of 7724. Snoqualmie has a population of 10670. Since all of the population growth of Snoqualmie occurred outside of old-town Snoqualmie, we can subtract Snoqualmie’s 2000 Census population of 1631 to get a good idea of the population of Snoqualmie Ridge – which would be 9039. However, even if we were to add outlying areas to the Fall City and North Bend numbers, my point remains the same. If the anti-school voting percentages of North Bend and Fall City remain the same, while the Ridge continues to run 80%-pro, then the natural population growth of the Ridge (evidenced by the on-going construction at Eagle Pointe) will be sufficient to get over the 60% hump in the future. It only failed by one vote last time, so turnout at the Ridge could, by itself, be a sufficient driver. Finally, in the wake of the Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary decision – maybe the Legislature will revisit the 60% bond majority requirement which gives undue power to the minority at the expense of children’s education. The 60% super-majority requirement for school levies was repealed in the late 1990’s – so it could happen to the bond passage requirements as well.

    1. I would also like to touch on High School capacity for a minute. I’ve spent hours pouring over high school enrollment numbers – acutal and predicted – back to 2001. While I am not a demographer it seems there is a missing piece… i.e. why the demographer’s enrollment numbers have been higher than actual enrollment. If you go back to the 2009 bond literature you can see it in black and white – a prediction of 1900 HS students in 2013. Where we actually are is 30 students higher now than in 2008. What I found and hope to detail in a new story is a difference in the class attrition rate from the demographer and what actually happens. The last 8 graduating classes averaged a 13.7% attrition rate – meaning they lost 13.7% of their class size between freshman and senior year. The demographer averages about 4-5% for the same time period. I think this is the key. My daughter is a junior. Her class has already lost 17% of its students since freshman year. This is NOT the dropout rate. It’s a combination of kids moving, doing running start, transferring to private schools AND dropping out. Based on the actual attrition rate I do not believe MSHS will be over capacity in 2013. I think there is time to delay the annexation and attempt another bond. Look for a new story and charts soon.

  • Danna – I haven’t looked at when the demographic data for MSHS was published, my guess is that the demographic firm published its findings prior to the huge disruption in home construction that began in 2008 and that continues today. And that disruption has had a corresponding effect on the number of students coming into the district. I moved to Snoqualmie in 2010, so I was not around to witness the rapid pace in which Phase 1 and much of Phase 2 were constructed. Given that SnoRidge is a great community with easy access to I-90 and the employment centers of Bellevue & Seattle, when housing does eventually recover – builders will again be putting in houses as fast as possible up here like they did before 2008. With the economic downturn, construction costs and interest rates being really low – it’s going to less costly now to build something we will need in the near future rather than later. So I agree with you – we should put another bond issue up for a vote and organize a massive turnout effort in the neighborhood to get 60% plus 1. If new school bond issues continue to fail, it is likely that the district attrition rate will increase as more parents, who can afford to, pull their kids out of SVSD and place them in private school.

    1. These are attrition rates dating back to the freshman class of 2001 and ending with this Year’s senior class. Pretty solid data through the calm, boom and recession years. The demographer does new enrollment numbers every year for SVSD’s capital facilities plan.

    2. Mark, I would like to see another bond too. I think the evidence is compelling that moving to a two middle school model is not the best for our middle school kids, both educationally and from a facilities standpoint. I am also curious to know what students think about a Freshman Learning Center. The research appears to show a 50-50 split as to the success of such a learning environment; however, in most of these cases, freshman only campuses were utilized as a temporary measure to place kids while a school was either being built or renovated. So, in my mind, the evidence is still out on whether there is a long-term value.

      It may also be time to consider another, independent evaluation of our projection data. It appears that most of the projections we have been getting are “off.” Sometimes by a large amount. There is alot of uncertainity out there regarding the need to annex by 2013, given how “off” the projection data is right now, and the slow rate of growth throughout the Valley.

      Perhaps we may need to hold off for a year or two and assess our situation more realistically. During this time, we can try another bond. My only hope is the next time around, a solid plan is also provided the public as to how all this is going to be done/accomplished. I have yet to see one.

      Just my 2 cents.

  • Regarding census numbers by community: I did an analysis of the 2010 Census and divided up the population (not just voters) by communities from which people generally say they live (pretty close to zip code). The actual city of North Bend is quite small, but its unincorporated areas are quite large. My results: of the 35,000 population in the SVSD, approximately 14,000 lived in the “North Bend area”, 12,000 lived in the “Snoqualmie area” and 9,000 live in the “Fall City area”. There are about 22,000 voters in the SVSD, and you can roughly divide the voters the same way, although I think that the Snoqualmie area might have a slightly higher rate of children than the other areas.

    1. Thank you for clarifying my statement about population, above. I appreciate it. I was just going through some numbers to respond to Mark and then I read your post! You saved me some time!

  • Agree! Build another middle school before creating a 9th grade campus. However, the test scores compairison broken down by individual middle schools would likely give more info on why the scores increased.

    1. SMS: Reading down 1.4%, math up 10.3%, writing up 8%, science up 9.6%. CKMS: reading up 7%, math up 16.1%, writing up 7%, science 12.9%. Twin Falls you don’t have the same comparison for because the school didn’t exist in 2007/08. North Bend students attended CKMS and SMS at that time. TFMS test scores were higher than SMS, but not quite as high as CKMS in 2010/11. Hope this helps.

      1. Not disputing that scores are better now, but you really shouldn’t be comparing these test scores directly. In 2007/2008 we had a different test than the MSP, while the MSP was designed to be comparable, it is not directly comparable. What is more meaningful is to look at how the schools did compared to the state average for each of these years (I believe we are still doing better now, just not as well as your data would show – state average scores are up). Another set of data to look at is how the elementary schools and high school did compared to state averages for those years (we may be making more of an effort district wide).

        That said, I agree that pushing the high school overcrowding down to the middle schools is not the answer. Would much rather see them put off the 9th grade campus until another middle school is approved. I do believe that the ninth grade campus is a good idea, just not at this time.


  • I don’t dispute that, if we include the populations of the outlying areas of North Bend and Fall City – not just the city limits, there are more people living in these areas combined than Snoqualmie. But we are close to the 60% super-majority already and since Snoqualmie’s population is growing much faster than the rest of the district, it is only a matter of time (soon I hope) that the increased population of Snoqualmie will be sufficient to swing the vote in favor of new schools. I have thought the 9th grade campus is an imperfect solution to the overcrowding at MSHS. But with repeated new high school bonds failing, the overcrowding problem was not going to solve itself. Adding 25% capacity by creating the freshman campus and going for a smaller bond package for a middle school seemed to be a reasonable way to address the overcrowding issue at MSHS if the district could not get a more expensive high school bond passed.

  • Other than “True School Supporter” everyone’s comments are helpful. My two cents are that we cannot predict demographics in today’s climate. There are those that say Sno Ridge could have another 15% drop in home prices due to the large number of distressed homes. We also do not know what will happen to interest rates when we ever start to creep out of this recession. We may be in zero growth mode. Maybe talking to the builders who are still in business to find out their thoughts may be a good start. The other thing that the residents of SVSD need to look at are what building costs are in other districts. Many of of are burnt out on bonds with the grandiose numbers of the first bonds that Aune tried to pass. We need to be given the exact numbers so that we can understand them and getting rid of all the extras.

  • Living Snoqualmie