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Federal Way school district clarifies changes at Truman following confusion

Federal Way Public Schools - Courtesy Federal Way Public Schools
Federal Way Public Schools
— image credit: Courtesy Federal Way Public Schools

The announcement of a new program at Truman High School next fall recently left district officials and community members confused about the changes set to take place at the district’s alternative high school.

Ron Mayberry, director of instructional technology for the district, was asked to provide some clarity on the changes planned for Truman next fall during the Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) board of directors meeting on Tuesday. He said the situation at Truman will be an either/or change and that no programs will be eliminated completely.

“This coming fall, we’re looking at two options happening at the Truman campus,” Mayberry said. “We have the Career Academy … and Life Flex Prep is the new option that’s coming. It’s a fully blended model that will bring many extra opportunities for students to close the gap in credits and skills, and also have the opportunity for students to take courses they previously had not been able to take due to the size and scale of the current program.”

Mayberry stressed a number of times throughout his brief presentation that what will take place at Truman next fall is just the addition of a new program, while the Career Academy will remain in place. What the new Life Flex program will offer, and to a lesser extent the Career Academy will take advantage of, is an opportunity for students to have “access to previously unaccessible resources, such as advanced placement programs” and a “wider selection of (Career and Technical Education, CTE) electives and additional fine arts” programs.

Mayberry said he’d spoken with a number of Truman students and found that 20 will take advantage of the Life Flex program, while 11 will stay within the reworked Career Academy program. Six indicated they plan to move on to the Skills Center to pursue their CTE interests, while eight are planning to take advantage of the Running Start program.

He also noted that two parent meetings are scheduled for April 2 and April 16, and that Truman principal Adam Kulaas has opened his doors to all concerned, schedule permitting. Mayberry closed by sharing a letter from a former Truman student who heard about the planned changes and initially felt it was going to be detrimental to the positive experience he had taken away from the school. After meeting with Kulaas recently, this student changed his mind, according to Mayberry.

“I had a chance for Mr. Kulaas to explain the new system to me, and much to my chagrin, I agree with (him) on this,” Mayberry read from the letter. “The new system is taking Truman in the direction it needs to go. The system will allow students who need to go faster, go faster. And to allow those who need things explained to them, to get their questions answered. This change needs to happen, because it’s going to allow Truman to flourish, instead of diminish.”

FWPS Superintendent Rob Neu, who was absent at the last meeting when the new changes were first presented, took the time to address the situation, saying FWPS still needs to improve at communication when making these changes. But Neu also noted that the educational modeling Life Flex is based off of is top-notch.

“First of all, process. It’s something we’ve been talking about this last year. We’ve got to get better at it. Better at engaging our community in conversations, in particular our students,” he said. “Our research (shows) this is a proven strategy, a proven and effective pedagogy. It’s going to be a change in teaching strategy, they’re going to be more of a facilitator. But in the classrooms we visited, we saw that in action. And it’s powerful.”

Neu related how he and other district officials, Mayberry included, visited schools in Detroit, Mich. recently to see examples of blended learning. He noted the contrast of Detroit’s deterioration with the 21st-century learning that’s taking place in schools there.

“You’re going through neighborhoods with unbelievable blight, broken windows, boarded up houses, burnt out houses. And then you go into these classrooms and these beautiful children are engaged and learning is alive. The bastions of hope are their schools. It was an unbelievable experience,” he said.

The superintendent also stressed that the Life Flex program allows for more choice for Truman students, saying it wasn’t a change that’s going to be “implemented upon anyone” but rather students are going to have the chance to “choice in.”

Board member Claire Wilson said that she felt blindsided by the proposed change at the meeting two weeks ago, and reiterated the need for district administrators to make sure everyone is included in the loop when a change like this is on the horizon.

“It’s very difficult to respond in a way and maintain positive support, when you want to have been able to ask the questions before the presentation comes,” she said. “I think it’s also important as we go through a change process to understand how we work with staff to help them understand what the change is, and then help them work within that (change) or help them prepare to make some other decisions … The process piece is critical before it ever happens.”

Board vice president Geoffery McAnalloy, who was the most forceful with his questions of the situation at the meeting two weeks ago, said he feels reassured about the process after having the chance to have further discussions with administrators and staff, which was aided by a recent visit to Truman.

“I can tell you that I was really concerned the last time that it was a replacement or had the feeling of a replacement,” he said. “When we walked in with Adam (Kulaas, principal of Truman) the slide that was shared is it’s an either/or choice. So that took care of part of my concern.”

McAnalloy said he was told that the teachers who could potentially be displaced by the change in programs will not experience too great of a disruption to their careers and lives.

“This impacts everybody. I’m totally with you that it’s student-centered always, but these teachers give their lives and their hearts to us and we need to make sure we’re taking care of them as well,” he said. “It’s a partnership, and I think we’ll all work together, but we need to work on pieces that go into the process.”

Board president Carol Gregory said this situation will hopefully be a learning experience for all involved.

“You make some mistakes, you move on and learn from them,” she said, “and that’s what we’re into too. We really appreciate all of you that are concerned about this issue and hope you’ll continue to communicate with us.”

To learn more about the Life Flex program, visit https://schools.fwps.org/life/

 

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