Superintendent plans no prompt changes to high school schedules

January 31, 2012

By Tom Corrigan

No major changes, at least not immediately.

Steve Rasmussen

That was essentially the recommendation of Issaquah School Superintendent Steve Rasmussen regarding possible adjustments to the schedules at the district’s four high schools.

But at the same time he made that recommendation to what proved to be a somewhat dissatisfied school board, Rasmussen did lay down several action steps he expects high school principals to take in the coming months.

District officials have been studying common schedules at the high schools in part in order to make better use of resources, including teachers. A schedule committee failed to come up with any final recommendation for a unified schedule, though they shared numerous findings on the overall issue.

“With the committee’s report in hand, I am announcing there will be no significant changes to the schedules at any of our high schools for 2012-2013,” Rasmussen told the school board at its regular meeting Jan. 25.

Currently, Liberty High School operates on an eight-class schedule. Issaquah and Skyline high schools have six classes a day. One argument has been that the eight-class schedule allows students more opportunity to take elective classes. A counter argument runs that Liberty’s schedule does not allow enough contact time between teachers and students, especially in core classes.

In the case of Liberty, Rasmussen said he wants the school to seek an exemption to state rules requiring each class offered consist of 150 hours of contact time. Presently, Liberty classes fall short of the 150 mark by roughly 24 hours and are approximately 36 hours behind the total contact time contained in classes offered at Issaquah and Skyline.

Additionally, Rasmussen instructed Liberty officials to come up with a plan to increase contact time to 150 hours per class by the start of the 2013-2014 school year. That plan might include some creative contact time, especially making use of online learning, Patrick Murphy, district director of secondary education, said.

“The quantity of time that our students spend with their teachers should not be inequitable based on a student’s ZIP code,” Rasmussen said.

Liberty last received an exemption for its schedule eight years ago, according to Murphy. In comments made after the school board meeting, Murphy said state law requires the school apply for the exemption. Liberty first received an exemption when the school switched to its current eight-period schedule. Somewhere along the line, possibly due to a change in principals, Liberty and district officials never applied for an additional exemption. Officials may have thought the exemption was permanent once granted, Murphy added.

During the time since the last exemption was granted, the state has conducted two program reviews of the district without noting any problems with the schedule exemption, Associate Superintendent Ron Thiele said.

Regarding Issaquah and Skyline, there have been steps taken in the past three years to increase student accessibility to a variety of courses, Rasmussen said. He wants a survey done to assess the effectiveness of those steps. Secondly, Rasmussen wants to know what future steps can be taken to increase student choice at the schools without classes falling below the 150 hour mark in terms of contact time.

In his recommendations, Rasmussen did not ignore Tiger Mountain Community High School, the district’s alternative high school. He wants officials there to come up with ideas for new class and program offerings, some of which may be based on the rebuilding of the school if voters pass a construction bond issue that will be on the ballot in April. Answering a question from the school board, Murphy said Tiger Mountain plans could include new science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, programs.

School board President Chad Magendanz said he couldn’t help but feeling somewhat disappointed with Rasmussen’s proposals. Other boards members questioned whether the plans mean officials are abandoning the idea of common schedules at district schools.

“I think these steps are moving the schools towards a more common schedule,” Murphy said, adding the schools will end up with more similar schedules than they have had in the past. For his part, Rasmussen insisted he is not necessarily scrapping the idea of a common schedule nor is he satisfied with the status quo.

“We have work to do,” he said. “We know we have work to do.”

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

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