Tiger Mountain community speaks out on school’s possible closure

March 18, 2014

By Neil Pierson

Last month’s news that Tiger Mountain Community High School could be closed has sparked sadness, anger and shock among students and parents at the Issaquah School District’s alternative high school.

The Issaquah School Board began publicly discussing a possible closure Feb. 12, and droves of Tiger Mountain community members showed up for that meeting. Several people returned to speak to the board at its March 12 meeting.

Neil Schmidt, who graduated from Tiger Mountain last year, said he was “dumbfounded” and “appalled” the district would consider closing the school, which has provided a nontraditional learning environment for high-school students since 1991. The school currently has an enrollment of about 100.

Schmidt told the board that many Tiger Mountain students go home daily to one-parent or no-parent families. Others have been bullied at previous schools, but at Tiger Mountain, they defend each other and seek out connections.

He said he believed the district is considering shutting the school because it isn’t graduating enough students, which reflects poorly on Issaquah’s otherwise high graduation rate of nearly 92 percent.

“This district, without a doubt, is one of the nicest in the state,” Schmidt said. “Tiger Mountain is tarnishing that image.”

District officials previously announced a plan seeking to close the school for the 2015-16 school year. That would give the district time to construct a new building, which would house an alternative school with a different instructional model starting in the 2016-17 year.

Lorraine Michelle, the district’s executive director of communications, said last week that current Tiger Mountain students would be welcome to return to the new school, but their spots wouldn’t be guaranteed.

Because the district doesn’t plan to enroll new students during the 2014-15 year, enrollment will shrink before the closure happens the following year.

“Our hope and goal is that most of the students currently attending at Tiger will graduate before the new school opens,” Michelle said.

Any Tiger Mountain students who haven’t graduated by spring 2015 would return to a comprehensive high school — Liberty, Skyline or Issaquah — and be taught using an individualized education plan.

That plan has come under fire. Students said Tiger Mountain has been a safe haven for them.

Megan Vaught, a sophomore who transferred from the Tahoma School District this year, said she was into drugs and was bullied at her former school. That quickly changed at Tiger Mountain, where she said she wakes up every day excited to attend classes.

“My first day at Tiger, I felt so welcome,” Vaught said. “The teachers made me feel I was worth something and I could go somewhere in life, and I never thought that was possible.”

Tru Catlin, who has one child attending Tiger Mountain and another who graduated last year, said the monetary costs of keeping the school open are worth it. Students who are forced to return to a comprehensive high school may “fall through the cracks” because they aren’t diagnosed with behavioral or psychological problems and will struggle with any individualized education plan.

“Life is messy, and the messy kids won’t stop coming in this lifetime,” Catlin said to the school board.

Michelle said the district is working with a consultant from the Puget Sound Consortium for School Innovation to help develop a model for a new alternative school.

“We are exploring a learning model based on individual student interest, leaving to learn, and partnering with community members,” she said. “Leaving to learn means that students spend a portion of their week out of the classroom doing an internship or apprenticeship at an organization or business.”

The state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has a process for closing schools, Michelle said, and the district must solicit more public input before that could happen. A final decision may not be reached until this fall.

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One Response to “Tiger Mountain community speaks out on school’s possible closure”

  1. Adrian Edwins on March 23rd, 2014 5:01 pm

    I attended Tiger after failing repeatedly at Skyline High School. I was threatened by many students, and was told by my former princable from Pine Lake Middle School (Mrs. Bailey) I should attend Tiger.. The assistant principle at Skyline told me and my mother during a meeting it looked bad on Skyline for kids to transfer to Tiger. My mom finally agreed with the idea and let me attend Skyline. I tried so hard, and finally after two years of receiving no credit at all, with out any one on one help from Skyline I dropped out and turned to violence, crimes, and drugs, feeling as if I would ever go anywhere in life, I accepted what I thought was my fate and didn’t care. I was then told by one of my friends who started attending Tiger it was a whole different kind of school that no one really knows about, and there was hope for a future. I was then on a short waiting list to get in and within the first quarter I receive my very first credits ever after 2 1/2 years of failure, and was seems like torture. Without Tiger I would have never seen any kind of success in myself, and finally I got sober. Within the next 3 years I watched my credits sore. The one on one from every teacher, and Ed (princable) , Bradley (counselor) was the most amazing and caring feeling I have EVER received from any school. Without them and Tiger I would be a drop out and have no High School Diploma. I was so proud of myself, and so was my family. I took leadership/marketing class, and ran the cafeteria, town meetings (assemblies), and organized all gatherings, yearbooks, and 4 proms!
    I learned so much from Tiger Mountain. I feel without it I would be no where. It has taught me more than just responsibility, it has taught me about respect for others, and that kids can get help when needed the most. I’m was outraged the first time I heard of Tiger possibly closing. Not only for me, but for the future kids who end up in my situation. It’s scary to think that if I didn’t have Tiger where I would be. I am proud to say it has helped me in every way possible, and I am now the banquet manager of Parlor Entertainment, and I don’t believe I’d be here if it wasn’t for the alternative schools. Please reconsider the closing of Tiger, it has success stories that people just don’t care to share. Please give hope to kids of the future.
    Thank you,
    Adrian Edwins

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