Liberty High School community speaks out against schedule change

October 16, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

It’s a little after 9 o’clock on a Thursday morning at Liberty High School and Marcus Milyko is working on his short video “Hidden Places,” which airs on the monthly broadcast show that is written, filmed and edited by the TV and Video Production class.

“I want to do video in my life,” he said. “I love all parts of it.”

But film wasn’t always Marcus’s passion. He hadn’t thought too much about it until Liberty’s film production course caught his eye last year when he was searching for a class. It’s this sort of chance to find a passion that Marcus, and many others in the Liberty community, are concerned will be lost if the district goes through with a proposal to change the high school’s schedule.

“Because of the eight-period schedule, I found this and without it I never would have,” Marcus said to members of the Issaquah School Board during its Oct. 10 meeting.

Changing the way Liberty functions would establish a common schedule for all the district’s high schools, which Superintendent Steve Rasmussen said he believes will allow the district to make better use of its resources. However, many at Liberty, and some members of the school board, are opposed to the change.

Different systems

Right now things aren’t the same across the district.

Get involved

The Liberty Schedule Committee has been charged by the superintendent to study and design a schedule for Liberty High School that is cost-neutral, gives students at least 150 hours of contact time and fits within the terms of contracts with the teacher union.

Made up of administrators, staff, parent and student representatives, the 13-member committee began meeting in September and is set to submit its proposal Nov. 7. The next meeting is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at Liberty.

Learn more about the committee and contact members at www.liberty.issaquah.wednet.edu. Click on “Liberty HS Schedule Information” under “Recent News and Information.”

Skyline and Issaquah high schools, as well as the district’s alternative high school, Tiger Mountain Community High School, have six periods a day. Those classes are about an hour long, except on Wednesday when they drop down to about 40 minutes.

Liberty has an eight-period block schedule, meaning that students take eight classes. Instead of going to the same classes every day, the schedule alternates so students attend four 90-minute classes each day.

Each schedule has its benefits and drawbacks. According to the final report submitted Jan. 9 by the High School Schedule Committee, Skyline and Issaquah students get 17-20 hours more instruction time per semester in their classes but don’t get to take as many electives. Over the course of four years in high school, Liberty students have room for 32 electives. Skyline’s and Issaquah’s students have 24.

At the Oct. 10 board meeting, groups disagreed over whether it was more important to allow for more instructional time per class or to allow students to take more classes. About 150 parents and students attended the meeting.

“Instructional time in the core area is critical. In this area, less is not more,” Rasmussen said at the meeting, explaining his rationale for why he is asking the Liberty Schedule Committee, which was formed this summer, to come up with a recommendation that will give Liberty students at least 150 hours of instruction per credit. “I value electives, but not at the expense of core.”

But student Nate Turtel said he gets a better core education at Liberty and that the longer periods are crucial for his learning.

“I used to go to Skyline just for math and we would get to the part of whatever lesson we were doing that was really critical and then we would just have to go because we didn’t have the time to finish it,” he said.

Nate would have normally fed into Skyline, but he explained that he chose to attend Liberty for its block schedule.

“At Liberty, we have all the time we need and more in all our periods,” he said.

Rasmussen, though, worries that there isn’t enough time to cover all the material.

“It’s time for me, as the leader of the Issaquah School District, to ensure that Liberty students do not begin one more year — with current End of Course assessments and Common Core Standards on the horizon — spending significantly less time in front of teachers for each class,” Rasmussen wrote in a Oct. 3 memo to the Liberty Schedule committee.

Others question why Rasmussen feels he needs to make these changes.

“He does have to meet standards, I get all that,” said Gary McIntosh, who teaches electives like construction tech and metal fabrication at Liberty and also is a member of the Liberty Schedule Committee. “What I don’t understand is, our test scores are going up, our kids are doing really well in this school, nothing is broke … I don’t understand why we need to change.”

All three of the district’s traditional high schools did well on the most recent (2011-2012) state assessments of common core. Skyline averaged the highest grade at 94 percent, Issaquah came in at 92.1 percent and Liberty came in at 90.6 percent. In 10th-grade reading and writing, Liberty, at 94 and 96.1 percent, did better than Issaquah, which scored 93.4 percent and 95.5 percent. But Issaquah outdid the other two schools in the Math Year 2 end-of-course exam with a score of 97.9 percent. Skyline had 95.8 percent and Liberty earned 90.2 percent. All three earned their lowest score in the biology exam with Skyline at 88.1 percent, Issaquah at 83.4 percent and Liberty at 82.4 percent.

“Are we creating a problem that doesn’t exist?” Chad Magendanz, a school board member and Liberty parent, asked. “Liberty outperforms its demographics while Skyline and Issaquah underperform … this is by no means conclusive, but I offer it as an alternative data.”

As an alumna of Northwestern University, Susan Cohodes often interviews applicants for the college and said universities want well-rounded students that demonstrate a passion. Cohodes is also a Liberty mom. Her daughter is a junior there and her son graduated in June and is now going to school for journalism.

“Michael was editor of the newspaper, in a band and a National Merit finalist. He took half a dozen AP classes and took Spanish, and would not have been able to do that under a different schedule,” she said. “Certainly, the Liberty parents never asked for this and we don’t know why this is happening … The Liberty community is not going to go quietly into the night on this one.”

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