Snoqualmie Valley School Board To Decide Fate Of Snoqualmie Middle School By Mid March

At Thursday night’s school board meeting, two new Snoqualmie Valley School Board Members, Carolyn Simpson and Geoff Doy, took the Oath of Office.  Five minutes later, it was business as usual.  The fate of Snoqualmie Middle School, home to roughly 500 students, is up to this new school board to decide.

The 2013 Snoqualmie Middle School annexation to Mount Si High School as a Freshman Learning Center (FLC) consumed a majority of Thursday’s meeting and was included in the agenda under the ambiguous title, “Educational Programs and Facilities Planning.”  Superintendent Aune stated that due to the addition of new board members,  the annexation timeline needed revisiting; forcing the new board to decide to continue with the planned 2013 annexation or delay it.  The past board prolonged the decision due to flat/declining high school enrollment; saying a decision wasn’t imminent last year.  SVSD administration, though, wants a board decision by mid March, stating if the annexation proceeds in 2013, there are important details to finalize.  New board members Simpson and Doy both stated during their campaigns that they did not support the annexation without a replacement middle school, which SVSD will not have in 2013 due to bond failures last year.

District administration asked the board to base its decision on three main criteria:  1) Facility capacity at high school and middle school levels;  2) Delivery of education at middle and high school levels;  3) Mount Si High School – what its future looks like with and without a Freshman Learning Center.   Other considerations to weigh include how the board’s decision impacts future school bonds, the economic climate, state matching funds and if they delay, how long will it be?

During the high school capacity presentation, a new phrase, “programming determines capacity,” came up.  Capacity is the term for how many students fit in a building.  In recent years total high school capacity (Mount Si and Two Rivers) has fluctuated.  The 2011 Capital Facilities Plan (CFP) decreased that capacity by about 100 students compared to the 2010 CFP.  At the same time, 2011 CFP increased middle school capacity by about 200 students.   The reasons?  High school capacity changes depending on what programs are offered in specific classrooms and/or how classrooms are being used.  Special Ed classrooms, for example, don’t usually house 27 students; the number of students per classroom the administration uses when calculating high school capacity.  The same is true of Two River’s classrooms. Computer classrooms offer less student capacity.  A portable classroom currently used for storage and copying is not included in building capacity because it’s not used for teaching.

In contrast, 2011 middle school capacity increased due to changing its important capacity formula from 25 students per classroom  to 27.  The district says higher middle school class size is a state-wide reality so this increase makes sense.  The high school capacity formula, however, was not similarly increased, which would have grown its class size from 27 to 29.  As a result, administrators say based on high school capacity (i.e. how all rooms are used)  and enrollment predictions from Calm River Demography, MSHS will be at capacity in 2013 and exceed it by 260 students in 2015.

Calm River Demography’s numbers are not used to estimate district enrollment for budgetary purposes, but they are used for long-term capacity planning and Capital Facility Plans that determine impact fees and timing of school construction bonds – rationale for this being it’s easier to hire more teachers at the last minute than it is to build schools.  For budgetary purposes, very conservative numbers are used, “not Calm River numbers,” according to district Business Director Ryan Stokes.  In SVSD’s  2010 Capital Facility Plan, Calm River estimated high school FTE (full-time equivalent) enrollment to be 1,830 in October 2011.  Enrollment was actually 1,565.  The 2011 Capital Facility Plan (approved by the school board in June 2011) used Calm River’s estimate of 1,626 high school students in October 2011.  This time the estimate was closer, but again, enrollment was 1565.  Current January 2012 high school enrollment is 1540.

The district is in a tough spot.  Converting SMS to a high school FLC and condensing three middle schools into two is a huge decision impacting its tight budget and over 500 Snoqualmie middle schoolers who will require busing to the eastern edge of North Bend or down to Fall City; and hinges on demography estimates.  Currently there are very few middle school portables.  Roughly 16 are needed to downsize students into two middle schools.  Funding for the portables wasn’t discussed.  Ryan Stokes said with the addition of these portables, Twin Falls and Chief Kanim would have the same percentage of students housed in portables as the high school and elementary schools do; concluding that middle school common areas should be sufficient.

At the next two school board meetings SVSD administration will give presentations on the remaining two SMS annexation decision criteria – the delivery of education in a two and three middle school model and the future of Mount Si High School with or without a FLC.  Board members set an extra work session date to discuss and analyze pertinent data.  Geoff Doy commented that many hours of discussion could be needed.  Scott Hodgins stated that his most important decision criteria was the educational programming – that it should determine building capacity.  Carolyn Simpson asked if the annexation discussion should be delayed another year since they have capacity “wiggle room” at Mount Si.  The rest of the board declined, pushing for a mid March decision.

The long meeting adjourned at 10:45PM.  Important district decisions will occur in the next two months and board members encourage residents to get involved.  In growing school districts, school board decisions are never easy; especially one that might take a middle school away from 500 students.  The economic climate makes passing school construction bonds difficult.  Board members have important data to analyze and serious pros and cons to weigh.

There are School Board Meetings at 7:30PM on January 26 and February 9th.  An additional School Board Work Session happens Saturday, February 2nd, from 8AM – 12PM.   All happen at the District Office and are open to the public.  No Public Meeting has been scheduled on the SMS Annexation timeline.

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  • As far as I know, only one Yakima school is experimenting with a Freshman Campus in our state. There are stories around the country of where this experiment has not worked. Here is a link to one of these:
    I would also bring to everyone’s attention that the money to be used for this came from our bond that actually passed. Please see the attached (and go to bond mailer) on how this bond was advertised to voters: Based upon this document, I am not sure how the district can use this money to convert SMS to a Freshman Campus.

  • Good information, Michelle. The next couple school board meetings should be interesting and informational. I am hoping they include a public meeting in this whole process as well.

  • The article Michelle offers a link to above has some interesting insights on what a student misses by attending an all-freshman campus that seem notable. If we have a space issue, then we have a space issue — but if not then there are other things to consider like spirit, school pride, and high energy that today’s freshman at MSHS benefit from. Here are some excerpts from Michelle’s article along those lines:

    Sheffield and her leadership team say the separate Auburn campus isn’t helping students’ transition to sophomore year.

    “One of the key factors: The kids really end up being ninth-graders twice,” said Earl Hernandez, executive director of schools.

    “That’s [being mentored by Seniors] is not happening, and they’re disconnected,” Sheffield said.

    Auburn senior Patrick Schiller was a freshman in the first year of the freshman campus.

    “We felt cheated a little bit from a true freshman high school experience,” he said.

    Transitioning as a sophomore felt more like freshman year, being the youngest students in the building and not knowing any teachers or administrators, he said.


    If SMS is transformed into a 9th grade campus, will our two remaining middle schools be able to transition a greater number of students from elementary school into pre-algebra in 6th and 7th grade?

    Twin Falls Middle School is our only middle school that has defined math paths. Perhaps our school board needs to address some of the issues that Twin Falls Middle School is battling with algebra-ready 6th graders. How many students from OES and NBE enter Twin Falls Middle School proficient in 5th grade math? How can we improve those numbers so that a greater number of 6th and 7th graders are pre-algebra ready?

    If we eliminate one of our middle school campuses will the 2 remaining campuses be able to prepare a greater number of high school students to succeed in algebra-based physics and chemistry, technology, as well as calculus?

    Perhaps our school board should look at the issue from kindergarten up instead of 12th grade down.

    What is our plan to prepare a greater number of 6th and 7th graders for pre-algebra?
    What is our plan to prepare a greater number of 7th and 8th graders for algebra I?
    What is our plan to prepare a greater number of 9th and 10th graders for Algebra II, trigonometry, or even geometry?
    What is our plan to prepare a greater number of 11th graders for pre-calculus?
    What is our plan to prepare a greater numbers of 12th graders for a second year of calculus?

    Will a 9th grade campus be able to offer pre-algebra, algebra I, and algebra II? Or will it offer only pre-algebra and algebra I? Do we have enough students exiting middle school ready for algebra II?

    Sixth grade math class offerings should include remedial math, grade level math, plus advanced math. Advanced math in 6th grade is pre-algebra.

    How can we ever hope to offer more students advanced placement in 6th grade if we do not offer advanced placement in 5th grade and on down. We need to look at the 9th grade campus question from kindergarten up rather than 6th grade up or 12th grade down.

    I have faith in the intelligence of our school board members, administrators, and teachers who are making these decisions for our children. But couldn’t they please make public the basis for their decision and guide the debate in terms of sequential course offerings in math? Math reform is the #1 issue confronting our children in the United States.

    The question is whether or not a freshman campus would allow more students to take advanced math classes in middle school and high school. Are we addressing this issue?


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