Officials say a new middle school a must for district
January 13, 2011
If the $56.2-million school bond passes Feb. 8, a new middle school will be built, although calling it new won’t tell the whole story.
It would be a new building, complete with that fresh-paint smell, but much of it would have a familiar look.
First, the building would retain the name, colors and mascot of the one it would replace: Snoqualmie Middle School, home of the Eagles.
Second, the new middle school would be on property the school district purchased years ago, under the administration of former Valley schools superintendent Rich McCullough.
Third, the building would be very similar in design and construction to what today is newest school in the Valley, Twin Falls Middle School.
This measure, current superintendent Joel Aune said, saved the district $400,000, which would otherwise have gone to designing a new building from scratch.
With the vote three weeks away, members past and present of the Snoqualmie Valley School District insist that what hangs in the balance is not just the whim of a few but the future of many.
“People will realize we definitely need three middle schools,” said Jim Reitz, member of Valley Voters for Education.
The alternative, Reitz and others said, is far from palatable.
“I hear the idea of going back to two middle schools and my heart sinks,” Snoqualmie Middle School counselor Heather Kern said last December.
In the last two years prior to the opening of Twin Falls Middle School, both Chief Kanim Middle School and Snoqualmie Middle School had become crowded, Aune said.
Karen Deichman teaches at Twin Falls Middle School but prior to the construction of the North Bend facility, she taught at Snoqualmie Middle School, back when it was one of two middle schools in the Valley.
“We had a commons area that was where the children gathered before and after school and it was obviously crowded,” she said. “We also had crowded hallways, students had to share lockers and when the lockers were stacked, we had four kids to the same space.“
Since classrooms were scarce, teachers sometimes had to carry their supplies around in a cart, she added, hampering the teachers’ ability to create a positive learning environment.
Language arts teachers had to carry around dictionaries, thesauri and novels. Teachers’ planning time sometimes happened with another professional teaching a class in the same classroom.
The real problem, Aune said, happened outside of a classroom. “When there’s excess of capacity, the common areas don’t function properly,” Aune said. “And it becomes more of a challenge to sustain the relationship between a middle-schooler and an adult.”
A loss at the ballot box means the district goes back to having two middle schools. Snoqualmie Middle School will become an annex for Mount Si High School ninth-graders regardless of the vote.
By 2013, there will be about 1,400 Valley students of middle school age, Aune said.
“We’re talking two middle schools of 700 students each,” he said. “We’re right back where we were, and that doesn’t even begin to talk about 2014, 2015 or 2016.”
Aune said it’s easy to tell when a school is crowded. Just wait for a midday bell to ring and go stand in its library, in its lunchroom, in its restrooms. Classroom space can be solved with portables, not so a place for students to eat or wash their hands.
Deichman wonders how having two schools will affect the quality of education. Identifying students with special needs would become more difficult in a crowded school, she said.
If the bond passes and a new school opens in 2013, the work will not stop, Deichman said. Starting a new building takes hard work, she said.
“Physically opening a new building is wonderful,” she said. “But it doesn’t go without a lot of planning and work for staff and teachers.”
The bond needs 60 percent plus one vote to pass. Aune has called the 60-percent plateau “a challenge, even on a good day.”
The changes in the population of the Valley have made reaching that mark trickier than it used to be, said Rudy Edwards, a former school board member.
“We had a small, tight-knit community, now we have people from all over the world,” he said, “with different education levels. Some you can satisfy, some you can’t.”
In the first part of this series, former board members criticized the McCullough administration for playing catch-up with the crowding of schools. McCullough refutes the charge.
“It’s Public Administration 101,” he said from his office at Seattle University, where he teaches educational administration. “You don’t build facilities until the need exists.”
It’s not playing catch-up if a school will open three years from now on land purchased more than five years ago, noted McCullough, who retired from the district in 2005.
“The idea that we played catch-up is contradicted by good public policy,” he said.
Difficulties aside, supporters like Edwards even refuse to consider the bond not passing next month.
“The bond will pass,” he said.
Other supporters consider the possibility but hate it.
“If the bond were not to pass,” said Cliff Brown, of Valley Voters For Education, “I’ve lost most of my hair thinking about that.”
Sebastian Moraga: 392-6434, ext. 221, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.snovalleystar.com.