Superintendent presents formal plan to close Tiger Mountain Community High School

July 1, 2014

By Neil Pierson

Superintendent presents formal plan to close school permanently

The Issaquah School District has started a 90-day process that could result in the permanent closure of Tiger Mountain Community High School.

Superintendent Ron Thiele presented his rationale for the closure at the Issaquah School Board’s June 26 meeting. Several Tiger Mountain students and parents were in attendance, and some provided their reasons for keeping the alternative school open.

The idea to close Tiger Mountain first began circulating in February, and the board adopted an official school closure policy in April.

District administrators have cited the school’s declining enrollment numbers, low test scores and low attendance figures as factors behind the closure plan.

They’ve been working to design a new alternative high school, which would open in a new location, and likely under a different name, at the start of the 2016-17 school year.

Tiger Mountain, which currently houses about 100 students in grades nine through 12, would close at the end of the 2014-15 year. What will happen to the students who don’t graduate by then is a major source of disagreement between administrators and community members.

Thiele said district officials plan to bolster support staff next year at its three comprehensive high schools — Issaquah, Liberty and Skyline. Each building will add a full-time educational assistant and a half-time “graduation specialist” to help students who are struggling with family issues, behavioral problems or motivation in class.

Administrators are looking into other ways of helping Tiger Mountain students transition to a new place. It may not be as simple as sending them back to their neighborhood schools, Thiele acknowledged, and there are options such as Running Start or online courses that could be utilized.

“To put it bluntly, I want kids to graduate from high school,” Thiele said.

Figures show Tiger Mountain’s enrollment has dropped significantly in the past 15 years. In 1996, the school represented 3.12 percent of Issaquah’s total high-school enrollment; today it’s 1.63 percent.

Average daily attendance numbers at Issaquah, Liberty and Skyline high schools were all above 95 percent this year. At Tiger Mountain, it was 79.7 percent.

Graduation rates have also declined there, while remaining steady at other schools. Nine years ago, Tiger Mountain saw 77.2 percent of its students graduate within four years. The figure dropped to 30.5 percent in the 2011-12 year.

Opponents of the closure said those numbers are skewed. Tiger Mountain’s enrollment is roughly 95 percent smaller than Skyline’s, for example, so one student’s data represents a much bigger slice of the pie.

There are more personal reasons, too, for keeping the school open.

Ivy Catlin, who will start her senior year at Tiger Mountain in the fall, said she “would not have survived at a comprehensive high school.” She was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and cannot touch paper. At other schools, she said, she couldn’t use her cellphone to take notes in class, but it’s an accepted practice at Tiger Mountain.

Catlin said she liked the idea to increase support for students who are at risk of not graduating on time, but disagreed with the closure.

“I don’t see why you have to close Tiger to make these changes at comprehensive high schools,” she said.

In planning a new alternative school, board member Lisa Callan said the district needs to look closely at students transitioning from Tiger Mountain and give them individual education programs, or IEPs, tailored to their specific needs.

“It is still our obligation … to make sure we give those kids all that we can give them,” Callan said.

The district is working with the Puget Sound Consortium for School Innovation to design the framework of a new alternative high school. Paula Phelps, the district’s executive director of high schools, said the group has helped Issaquah recognize there are “students with much more challenging demographics than we have that are doing very, very well.”

Jeff Petty, the consortium’s regional director, attended the meeting and acknowledged concerns about shifting Tiger Mountain’s remaining population to other schools.

“My experience suggests that there are a number of students for whom no array of interventions would make it OK for them to be in a comprehensive high school,” Petty said, “just because, for some students, the size, the culture, everything about it, is terrifying.”

The school board plans to continue discussing the proposal over the summer, and will hold two public hearings in September before making a final decision.

 

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Comments

3 Responses to “Superintendent presents formal plan to close Tiger Mountain Community High School”

  1. tom megow on July 5th, 2014 8:59 pm

    The closing of Tiger Mountain High is premature. The district appears to have a number of options but not a definitive plan. Jeff Petty states that placing these students in a comprehensive high school doesn’t work for all of them. I understand Mr. Petty. My niece and nephew both graduated from Tiger Mountain High and are living productive lives. This despite the premature death of their father and being raised by their disabled mother. The district should evaluate this program based on the achievements of past students, not on the numbers quoted in the article. Lisa Callan, school district board member is quoted ” it is still our obligation…to make sure we give those kids all we can give them” Give them Tiger Mountain High until the district can give them something better.

  2. Mitchell Reed on July 23rd, 2014 7:20 pm

    In the past year, Tiger Mountain turned our daughter from a failing Skyline student in to a straight “A” student. Neither her mother or I believed it would have happened at Skyline. A 180 degree turnaround is not uncommon at Tiger Mountain.
    She will receive her diploma from Tiger Mountain in 2015 and will not be affected by the closure academically. She, too, worries about the kids left in this uncertain situation. Many are troubled, poor and come from disadvantaged homes.

    Before the School Board closes Tiger Mountain, they and the community should know precisely what will replace it. Not generalizations, but a highly specific plan that the board and the community can support. This proposed closure is truly putting “the cart before the horse.”

    As for the statistics quoted in the Issaquah Press story, there are lies, damn lies and statistics. It is unreasonable to expect Tiger Mountain students to perform as well academically as their peers in a comprehensive high school as many Tiger Mountain students were sent there because they were not achieving academic success in their comprehensive high school.

    “Figures show Tiger Mountain’s enrollment has dropped significantly in the past 15 years. In 1996, the school represented 3.12 percent of Issaquah’s total high-school enrollment; today it’s 1.63 percent.” However, the population of the Issaquah School District has expanded exponentially over the past 15 years. The budget for staff and physical plant has not kept pace with the vast amount of funds allocated for new High Schools at Skyline or Issaquah High Schools.

    As a fact, I applaud the dedication of the staff at Tiger Mountain. They nourish their students academically and actually feed many of them with funds from their own pockets. Granted, comprehensive high schools with a rigorous academic program are right for the vast majority of our community’s students, but not for all. If the high school population in Issaquah is over 6,000 students is it wrong to support about 100 kids who for whatever reason don’t fit in that environment with a school that can save many of them from dropping out and even turn many of their lives around for the better?

    Also, I think the school board should study via in-depth research surveys and take a careful look at the number of actual suicides and attempted suicides in both our middle and high schools. We need to shed more light on this taboo subject. I , through my children, know of 4 or more over the past two years. They may or may not be connected to the high stress enviornment of rigorous comprehensive high schools.

    Not only should Tiger Mountain High School be closed, likely it should be expanded and better funded as a needed resource for our community. This year, the district is taking needed classrooms, computer centers and the library away from Tiger Mountains staff and students. That should not be happening.

    Do not base the closure of Tiger Mountain High on a vague, unsettled and unvetted plan for the future. Both myself, my daughter and her mother will be forever grateful to Tiger Mountain High School for inspiring my daughter to become a better student.

  3. Mitchell Reed on July 23rd, 2014 7:55 pm

    Correction:
    In the second to last paragraph, it reads,’”Not only should Tiger Mountain High School be closed, likely it should be expanded and better funded as a needed resource for our community..”

    It should read,”Not only should Tiger Mountain High School NOT be closed, likely it should be expanded and better funded as a needed resource for our community.

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