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.