Issaquah School Board to decide Liberty High School schedule
November 20, 2012
By Lillian O'Rorke
As the 17-year-old block schedule at Liberty High School faces a possible ax at a Dec. 12 Issaquah School Board meeting, people on both sides of the issue are not taking the looming decision lightly.
That includes the school board, which plans a policy change to ensure that it has the final say. Typically, it is up to the superintendent to set schedules, but the board is making sure it will have to approve any change.
“When it comes down to it, it’s an important aspect of our schools and as important as other things that we have said we want the board to have a role in,” board President Brian Deagle said in a phone interview.
After two months of looking at test scores, gathering input from the community and researching schedule options, the Liberty Schedule Committee unanimously recommended a seven-period schedule for the high school Oct. 30. In a letter sent to Issaquah School District Superintendent Steve Rasmussen Nov. 6, the committee stated several reasons for its decision, including that the change would increase Liberty’s student-teacher contact time by 24 hours per class while still allowing enough room for extra opportunities, like electives and support classes for struggling students.
On the Web
The final report from the Liberty Schedule Committee, as well as Associate Superintendent Ron Thiele’s presentation and accompanying podcast from Nov. 7, can be found at www.issaquah.wednet.edu. Under the ‘What’s Happening’ section on the homepage click on ‘High School Schedule Committee.’
But there is a hitch, and it’s a big one. The district estimates additional staffing for a seven-period schedule at Liberty would cost $800,000 to $900,000 per year. If that schedule were to be extended to Issaquah and Skyline high schools — so that all three would be the same — the annual additional cost could jump to as much as $4.2 million.
The district is already collecting its maximum permitted amount of property tax levy dollars and maintains that it cannot afford seven periods.
In its recommendation, the schedule committee asked that if seven periods is too expensive to consider that Liberty keep its current eight-period block schedule.
But others in the district’s administration think that six periods, used by the other two high schools, is the better option.
“It’s the idea of more opportunities versus having more time in a specific class,” Associate Superintendent Ron Thiele said during a Nov. 7 school board study session. “My hypothesis is that less instructional time leads to less student achievement.”
During his presentation about the district’s high school schedules, Thiele explained that Liberty students get 34 hours less instruction in each class than Issaquah students, and 38 hours less than Skyline students.
“That’s like saying to a teacher, ‘Your class is going to end around the first of May while the rest of the school year runs till the middle of June,’” he said. “Whether you have 165 hours to teach chemistry or 127 hours to teach chemistry, our expectation is those students will learn just as much chemistry. And my concern is that puts kids and teachers at a disadvantage.”
He also presented SAT test scores from all three high schools. Over the past five years, Liberty has averaged an SAT score of 1634; Issaquah and Skyline both averaged 1719.
But considering that the national average SAT score is 1500, not everyone sees Liberty as struggling.
“Overall our test scores at Liberty are pretty high so I go back to, what is the problem we are trying to resolve?” Julie Colehour-Mitchell said at the Nov. 7 meeting.
Colehour-Mitchell a parent representative on the Liberty Schedule Committee, presented the board with 630 signatures of community members that support the committee’s recommendation. She also cited a recent PTSA survey conducted by the high school student paper, The Patriot Press, where 87 percent of parents that responded, and 95 percent of students, said they did not want to change to a six-period day.
“We had an election last night, is there anything that came even close to 87 or 95 percent of people feeling a certain way?” she said. “If that’s not a mandate then I don’t know what is.”
But not all Liberty parents like the current schedule.
“There is not enough time to cover material in class, so students must try and figure it out on their own. And I’ve had that happen to my children. And I’m sorry I can’t help them in algebra or chemistry or any of that stuff that I had over 20 years ago,” parent Nenita Ching said at the Nov. 7 meeting. “It’s frustrating for students and especially for a parent like me.”
Even though the seven-period recommendation is not cost neutral, Rasmussen said he would review it and present his own recommendation to the board during its 7 p.m. Nov. 28 meeting.
The board is set to make its final decision at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Administration Building in Issaquah.