District may close alternative high school for one year

February 18, 2014

By Neil Pierson

Tiger Mountain students would go to the nearest high school

The Issaquah School District is considering a plan to close Tiger Mountain Community High School for one year while the school is moved to a different location, and then reopen the alternative school with a revamped educational model.

Issaquah Superintendent Ron Thiele spoke about the plan with school board members at a work study session prior to the board’s Feb. 12 meeting. The audience included about two dozen Tiger Mountain staff members, parents and students.

The plan to shutter Tiger Mountain during the 2015-16 school year has met resistance. Students have spoken out publicly against the idea, and Issaquah resident Garth Anton, who doesn’t have a child attending the school, said it’s not the way to go.

“These kids are having a hard time, and Tiger is really the place they need to be,” Anton said. “The school should stay open.”

Anton also said he opposes the plan because district voters passed a bond measure in April 2012, to allocate $3.9 million for relocating Tiger Mountain to the nearby Issaquah Middle School campus.

District officials, including Thiele, said nothing is changing in terms of voter-approved dollars, because the money will still be used to construct a new alternative school. The bond wasn’t meant to pay for any classroom-related costs.

Tiger Mountain’s student enrollment is small — 105 students as of last May — compared to Issaquah’s three comprehensive high schools. Administrators believe a new “choice school,” which would open in the 2016-17 year, could have a similar curriculum model but possibly serve more students who currently attend Skyline, Issaquah and Liberty high schools.

“Our primary goal for this place is about kids who have not connected with school,” said Paula Phelps, the district’s executive director of high schools.

Administrators are still working out the details of what the new alternative school would look like in terms of programs and enrollment numbers. Thiele said he hasn’t made a final recommendation to the school board, although he expects a decision to be made in the next few months so the district could acquire permits, design the new school and build it on time.

While the school is closed, Tiger Mountain students would return to the comprehensive high school closest to their home. Teachers and administrators would develop an individual plan for each student to address the “emotional and social support as well as the academic support they need to graduate,” said Lorraine Michelle, the district’s executive director of communications.

Tiger Mountain, adjacent to Issaquah High School near downtown Issaquah, was built in 1991. The school offers required courses for graduation, including math, English and science, as well as several electives, although not on the same scope as Issaquah’s comprehensive high schools.

Students in grades nine through 12 are admitted through an application process. The application asks for statements from students and their parents or guardians about why they wish to attend. It also asks things such as whether students have engaged in drug and alcohol usage, dealt with a pregnancy, or had conflicts with students or staff in a previous school.

The district hasn’t yet decided whether current Tiger Mountain students would be guaranteed a spot in the new alternative school or if they’d have to reapply, Michelle said.

Thiele said he believes Tiger Mountain is an important place for students who don’t feel engaged with a traditional school, even though they might be getting good grades and passing standardized tests. But he also thinks the district could design a better alternative-school model, and officials are studying similar schools that have opened recently in the Bellevue, Highline and Federal Way districts.

“We believe we can do more and better for that segment of our population,” he said.

Anton said he doesn’t think administrators are being truthful.

“I feel like they’re blowing everybody off and closing the school because they’re not graduating enough students,” he said.

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Comments

5 Responses to “District may close alternative high school for one year”

  1. Barbara de Michele on February 18th, 2014 7:01 pm

    You need to interview the students at Tiger Mountain. Their stories are sometimes heartbreaking. They are so grateful to their teachers and the school. Their voices need to be heard.

  2. Joshua Schaier on February 19th, 2014 11:28 am

    It would be a mistake to close Tiger Mountain for a year. These students need an environment like Tiger Mountain and a regular high school just isn’t the right option for them. They’re at Tiger Mountain because they don’t work well in a regular high school in the first place.

    High school is a very turbulent and difficult time for everyone. Some people just aren’t suited to the regular high school experience. That’s not a failure. It’s not a weakness. It’s just the way it is. Tiger Mountain may only have a small number of students comparatively, but each and every student is important.

    I was on the committee that decided the contents of the bond in 2012. I voted to accept the contents of the final version of the bond.

    If I had known then that the school district would close Tiger Mountain while constructing the new building, I would not have done that.

    I implore the Issaquah School District to do what is right. The students of Tiger Mountain are just as exceptional as their peers. They may learn in a different way, but that does not mean that their rights can be blithely trampled upon.

    Do not close Tiger Mountain!

  3. JO on February 19th, 2014 11:43 am

    Initially it was all hesitancy, but after a much thought out and collaborative conversation with home school staff, Tiger staff, and our family, we decided to transfer our student to Tiger in January. She is scheduled to graduate in 2015. My only hope and goal in life right now has been that my daughter will successfully, and confidently graduate on schedule. I fear that this change and the possibility of moving her back to her home school will result in her NOT graduating. Closing Tiger will be a poor move for Issaquah students. Do I really need to go back to literally worrying myself sick about my daughter’s academic career and graduating AGAIN when we all finally feel so positive and confident? My student’s grades have improved since starting Tiger and her comfort level, attitude, focus, and esteem has improved, which significantly affects her involvement, interest, motivation, and grades. She has a brighter outlook on a lot of things, now, which was missing while at her home school. Please take into consideration what the students, parents and staff have to say. Thank you.

  4. MIchelle on February 19th, 2014 3:28 pm

    If they close tiger for a year they need to allow the same classes with the same staff have temporary residency at another school. My daughter was expelled from her home school and we had planned on her attending Tiger next year. Now what will she do? This was her only option. This whole thing is ridiculous. Where will the special needs work training program go? If the child’s home school was an option, they wouldn’t be at Tiger in the first place.

    But of course the decision has already been made and the people who actually need the school have no input.

  5. Kathy on February 25th, 2014 12:39 pm

    It would be such a mistake to close this school for any length of time. My son attended and graduated from Tiger Mountain a few years ago. The school was a perfect fit for the issues he was dealing with. He had quality one-on-one with teachers and some of those teachers still are in touch with him today through Facebook. The school was a blessing beyond measure. He went on to graduate from a 4-year college with a marketing degree because of the love and care through the tough times. One year off for any of the students there today could make a difference in their future. Increasing the size of the school doesn’t always work for the kids. Some of them do better in a “smaller” environment. My son wouldn’t have survived a larger high school environment.

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