Officials say a new middle school a must for district

January 13, 2011

By Sebastian Moraga

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 smoraga@snovalleystar.com. Comment at www.snovalleystar.com.

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Comments

5 Responses to “Officials say a new middle school a must for district”

  1. Fall City Resident on January 13th, 2011 11:52 am

    Well I wonder if they are going to educate the voters or just hope that we vote for this. Turns out they were wrong on the high school, same admins, same error filled decision making maybe?? Or could this be necessary. Give the electorate the tools and information to decide.

    I do like how they are saving 400k by reusing the other schools design.

  2. Tweets that mention Officials say a new middle school a must for district : Snoqualmie, WA – SnoValley Star – News, Sports, Classifieds -- Topsy.com on January 14th, 2011 1:39 am

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  3. K Brown on January 14th, 2011 3:06 pm

    I’m very confused. They decided to use the existing Snoqulamie Middle School for a 9th grade extension campus. Are they saying that it’s less expensive to build a whole new middle school than it is to expand the existing high school?

    I’m also curious where all the new kids are coming from that is making this all such a problem in the first place? My understanding was that when the Ridge was built that they were including fees for additional schools that would be required by the additional population coming into the valley. I don’t understand why we are losing a perfectly good middle school in Snoqualmie, to build a brand new one up on the Ridge?

    Why do we think it’s okay to have a two campus high school? I don’t think I’m the only one who is confused, if they want this bond to pass they should answer these questions and make it clear why they’ve made the series of decisions that have been made already.

    I truly do hope the bond passes as I have a daughter in elementary school and it’s important to me. That’s why I urge you to convince the voters that you have made the proper decisions leading up to this, and why. I would also advise staying away from phrases such as “public administration 101″ because most people don’t have much faith left in public administration in the first place.

    Let us know where all this new population is coming from so we don’t feel like the Ridge is getting us, to pay for a school for them.

    Explain why it’s a done deal that the existing middle school is going to be a high school annex even if this bond doesn’t pass, please.

  4. Jim Reitz on January 14th, 2011 3:10 pm

    @Fall City Resident – there’s lots of detailed information! Go to the District web site (www.svsd410.org) and click on 2011 SCHOOL BOND FACTS. You’ll find:

    - a copy of the 4-page fact sheet that was mailed to all households just over a month ago
    - a very detailed FAQ document, and all the background research that led to this decision.
    - If you weren’t able to attend any of the public meetings, one was recorded and posted online which you can listen to/view any time. Go to http://www.svsd410.org and click on E-MEETINGS, then click on WEBCASTS.

    I hope you find the information you’re looking for!

  5. Jim Reitz on January 14th, 2011 4:38 pm

    @K. Brown – yes, it’s a LOT cheaper to build a whole middle school than to expand Mount Si High School. Like $48 million vs. $100 million. Mount Si’s footprint has expanded as far as allowed on its current property in the flood zone. The ONLY way it can be expanded further is UP, which means demolishing portions of the existing school and re-building them as two stories – all while kids are trying to attend high school during construction! Too expensive, and way too disruptive.

    Taking over the middle school across the street is really the ONLY affordable way to expand Mount Si. See the district web site http://www.svsd410.org and click on 2011 SCHOOL BOND FACTS for tons of detailed background information on this.

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