Future of ninth-graders does not hinge on bond vote

January 19, 2011

By Staff

It’s not a matter of if, but of when.

Regardless of the Feb. 8 outcome of the vote on the school bond, Snoqualmie Middle School will become an annex for ninth-graders.

More freshmen than the district would like struggle with the transition to high school, Snoqualmie Valley Schools Superintendent Joel Aune said.

A freshmen-only building would allow more thorough peer-to-peer monitoring and strengthen the connection between teacher and student, while preserving the variety of program options of a regular high school.

At the same time, Aune said, educators will also pay special attention to science, technology, engineering and math, known for its STEM acronym.

“It will be an integrated approach to the teaching of STEM,” Aune said. “It will be relevant to the real world and to their future education.”

The solution will not just help struggling children.

“Kids who are doing really well at the middle-school level, we think will do even better with this solution,” Aune said in December.

Not a new idea.

On the Eastside, at least one district has tried setting freshmen apart from their older classmates.

The Issaquah School District had a freshmen-only building until 2009 at what now is Pacific Cascade Middle School.

Dana Bailey, principal of that middle school, was not available for comment.

Jim Reitz, of Valley Voters for Education, said the Issaquah annex had dealt with harder problems than those facing Snoqualmie.

Aune agreed, adding that the creation of Issaquah’s annex had to do more with enrollment management than with academic issues.

Besides, Issaquah’s ninth-grade annex fed students into two high schools and it was far from the schools, as opposed to Snoqualmie’s annex, which will be a block away from the district’s one senior high school.

“Our situation is more desirable,” he said.

At first, the new annex will look like a middle school, but by the end of the year it should have the look of a high school.

How this “desirable” situation will turn out for the freshmen of 2013 is still unknown. The district has predicted that by 2013, crowding at Mount Si High School will have reached a critical stage.

With approximately 350 to 400 freshmen moving to the annex, expanding the high school should not be a concern at least until 2024, Aune said. In turn, Mount Si High will become more student-friendly with 1,100 students instead of 1,500.

The new annex, tentatively dubbed the Freshman Learning Center, will be away from the high school but still be part of it.

“It will not be a separate entity. It will be a branch of the high school,” Aune said.

Nevertheless, there won’t be a physical connection between the two buildings. Wetlands between the two schools prohibit building a trail.

An acephalous building?

“We will have a lead administrator on campus who will answer to the high school principal, who will maybe receive higher pay than an assistant principal,” Aune added.

Aune said running the ninth-grade building will cost between $400,000 and a half-million dollars, a plus, he said, when considering the cost of other options for solving crowding at Mount Si High.

“Tearing down Mount Si and rebuilding is as expensive as building a new high school and much more disruptive. This annex is the best use of our facility,” Reitz said. “It’s the simplest and most affordable way to expand Mount Si.”

The building that will house the annex won’t need much work, as the 2009 bond had $3.5 million in improvements for Snoqualmie Middle School.

“Three million dollars don’t go very far,” Aune told the Si View Metropolitan Park board, “but it will be sufficient.”

The issue of cost takes a back seat, Cliff Brown, of Valley Voters for Education, said, to offering the best high-school experience possible.

“This is too unique of an opportunity not to do things differently for kids,” he said.

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