Committee sifts through criteria for uniform high school schedule

November 22, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

It’s a complex subject with a lot of variables and one that has ignited plenty of outspoken opinions.

But Patrick Murphy, executive director of secondary education for the Issaquah School District, said he believes a volunteer committee will meet a seemingly ambitious deadline and come up with a uniform schedule to be implemented at all four district high schools.

“That’s the goal,” Murphy said, noting the committee has two meetings and plenty of issues remaining.

In the meantime, many parents, especially those from Liberty High School, haven’t been shy about expressing their thoughts regarding the current high school schedules. Liberty operates on a different pattern than the other district high schools and many parents and students alike are defensive of the flexibility they believe that unique schedule allows.

One figure thrown out had Liberty students spending 38 percent of their time in electives. The same figure was given as 27 percent at Issaquah and Skyline high schools. In some minds, added elective time is a big plus to be protected. For others, electives are seen as digging into time for core classes, such as math and language arts.

“I’m still being open-minded about the whole process,” said Karen Odegard, president of the Liberty PTSA.

But Odegard also said she hopes whatever new schedule emerges doesn’t cut the access of Liberty students to elective classes, arguing other schedules somewhat limit students to core courses. Like others, Odegard also doesn’t want to see class times sliced. Some Liberty classes run as long as 90 minutes, while she maintained classes at other schools run only 38 minutes.

“That’s not enough time to take attendance,” she said.

Jody Mull, a former PTSA president at Issaquah High School, took almost the exact opposite tack than Odegard. Mull said Liberty students don’t score as well as others on standardized math tests. She said she feels the reason is students at Liberty don’t spend enough time studying core subjects.

“The math scores are a big red flag for me,” Mull said.

A member of Liberty’s Associated Student Body, sophomore Neil Chakravarty, is also a student representative to the high school schedule committee.

“It’s a big subject at Liberty right now,” he said of the schedule question, adding that the majority of his classmates are taking a defensive stance hoping to protect their current schedule. He also said he knows change is likely inevitable.

“There might be some tension at first,” Chakravarty said if the Liberty schedule is changed, “but given time, people will get used to it.”

Various district officials have said there are advantages to having uniform high school schedules. In an email distributed around the district, Superintendent Steve Rasmussen said uniform schedules would allow the district to better share resources and consolidate professional support for staff. He also talked about the change allowing the entire district to take full advantage of what’s known in the district as the “optimal high school experience,” an ongoing attempt by local officials to outline best high school practices.

Murphy said providing students sufficient contact time with teachers and plenty of access to electives are the key factors in designing a new schedule. But judging from a meeting of the schedule committee Nov. 16, there are a lot of different ideas on how to make those two things happen.

During the two-hour plus session, Murphy’s repeated goal was to come up with quantifiable factors under numerous headings such as teacher planning, college preparation and financial considerations. Those were in addition to the two central questions. Committee members voiced plenty of different ideas.

For example, Liberty science teacher Mark Buchli hoped contact time, or class lengths, would be uniform for any given class.

“Certain things need certain blocks of time,” he said.

Another committee member said teachers were asking her to ensure they received at least 20 minutes of planning time daily. One recommendation called for at least one 80-minute lab period for each science class weekly. That comment quickly was modified into perhaps ensuring every subject had at least one longer class period per week to allow for in-depth projects or study.

The committee consists of the principals of all four high schools, along with teacher, parent and student representatives. The group has met five times so far. Public comment is invited at each session. No members of the public were in the audience for the Nov. 16 meeting and Murphy said public attendance at committee sessions has been sparse. He estimated the largest number of speakers at seven or eight.

The committee also is accepting email comments, with the total submitted so far at about 40.

Despite what seemed to be a lot of issues still being debated, Murphy said he believes the committee can complete its work by its last meeting Dec. 14.

“We have a very thoughtful, committed committee … one dedicated to meeting the needs of students,” he said.

Once the committee has completed its work, Murphy will present any recommendations to Rasmussen. The school board has the final word.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

Get involved

The remaining high school schedule committee meetings are slated for Nov. 30 at the school administration building, 565 N.W. Holly St., and Dec. 14 in the Issaquah High School library, 700 Second Ave. S.E. Both meetings are from 6-8:30 p.m.

Email comments to the committee at hssc@issaquah.wednet.edu. Meeting agendas, research articles and other information is online at www.issaquah.wednet.edu.

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