Superintendent has next say in high school schedule debate

January 17, 2012

By Tom Corrigan

Even though a district committee failed to come to any agreement on a uniform schedule for the Issaquah School District’s three mainstream high schools, officials and the public should soon have a good idea of where the schedule debate is headed.

Steve Rasmussen

District Superintendent Steve Rasmussen said he would make his recommendation on what happens next at a district school board meeting Jan. 25. In the meantime, Rasmussen said he would study the conclusions of a special schedule committee, which concluded its work Dec. 14. Rasmussen promised he would present an action plan on the schedule question.

“We are not going to keep kicking the can down the road,” he said.

Consisting of the district’s high school principals along with teacher, parent and student representatives, the schedule committee was charged with making a recommendation to Rasmussen regarding high school scheduling. However, the committee was unable to come to a final decision.

District Director of Secondary Education Patrick Murphy served as facilitator for the schedule committee. At a Jan. 11 meeting of the school board, Murphy admitted that he initially was disappointed by the schedule committee’s failure to reach a final recommendation. He said he later came to believe the group had done plenty of research and laid the foundation for a final decision.

“I think we cultivated the ground,” Murphy said, adding two issues became easily the most important to the committee.

One is the amount of contact time between students and teachers while the second is to increase or maintain student access to a variety of classes.

Currently, Issaquah and Skyline high schools operate on a different schedule than Liberty High School. Issaquah and Skyline have fewer, longer periods that result in increased contact time between students and instructors. Liberty’s schedule features shorter periods that lessen contact times but allows the school to offer more elective courses. Both approaches have their supporters and critics among school officials, parents and students. Some Liberty parents and students have been especially vocal in expressing their wishes to maintain the school’s current number of elective offerings.

The schedule committee came up with 11 criteria through which they filtered any proposed schedule changes. Those criteria included calling for a minimum of 250 minutes of contact time per week for any one class. At the same time, they want most students to have more course options than are currently available to them.

Other points address such issues as teacher planning time. Murphy said that with their criteria in mind, a seven-period schedule came to be favored by much of the committee, but part of the group’s charge was to come up with a schedule recommendation that was cost-neutral. At one point in its discussions, the committee estimated a change to a seven-period day would cost approximately $3 million.

In addition to the 11 filter criteria, the schedule committee came up with about 20 so-called bullet points that were agreed upon by at least 15 members of the group. The first states that the schools can do better than the current high school schedules. Another point argues that some changes can be made at the individual building level if districtwide changes prove too expensive.

For the most part, school board members seemed to feel a seven-period day might be the direction for the district to take if finances were not a concern. School officials have been looking at uniform high school schedules for three basic reasons, including making it easier to share resources, such as teachers. Changes might also allow for better professional development, Murphy has said.

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

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