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School board president: ‘No going backwards’ with academic policy

During the June 28 Federal Way Public School (FWPS) board meeting, a contingent of the Thomas Jefferson High School Raiders Parent Movement (RPM), took advantage of the public comment period to once again vent their frustration about the district’s accelerated academics policy and it’s effect on the International Baccalaureate (IB) classes at TJ.

For the district, the policy has been seen as a success to this point, because it has gotten larger numbers of students into more academically rigorous classes, and has also helped increase the numbers of students of color enrolled in these classes. As the policy stands now, any student who qualifies for the more challenging classes, which is determined by testing, is automatically enrolled in them, and has a choice of opting out if they so desire.

For members of RPM and their students, the new policy is perceived as a watering down of what were once active and academically challenging classes. Complaints of “teaching to the middle” have been heard at many forums, along with complaints of disengaged students being forced into classes they have no desire to be in. During the June 28 meeting, members of RPM asked for the district to revert the policy to one of “opting in”, as opposed to the aforementioned opt-out mechanism now in place.

When the meeting’s public comment period was over, FWPS board president Tony Moore responded to what he had heard from RPM.

“We approved the academic acceleration policy because we believe every child ought to be given rigor and the opportunity to stretch their mind,” he said. “We don’t believe that being stretched to failure is the absolute worst thing that can happen to your child...We did not pass this policy to put children in difficult classes so they can fail.”

Moore referenced that if this discussion was 50 years ago, they would perhaps be debating the merits of mixed gender classes, and whether or not girls should be allowed to participate in the same math classes as boys.

“It would be a school board meeting full of men saying we shouldn’t have girls in our math classes because they don’t go fast enough and they’re slowing us down,” Moore said. “Part of this process is all of us, looking inside ourselves and trying to figure out how we can challenge kids beyond what they are now. To move our thinking away from this idea that some kids will win and other kids will be trapped in failure.

“That’s the challenge. It’s not about my kid is Number One, and your kid is Number 50. It’s about everybody moving to make this work. Our girls may not perform as well as our boys, but I tell you what, they ought to be in those classes. Because they ought to have the same opportunity when they leave those classes as any boy.”

Moore conceded that implementation of the new policy and communication with parents and students has had some bumps in the road, but reiterated his position that the only direction now is forward.

“I know there’s some kinks in this plan. There’s no doubt about it. And we can criticize and talk about going backwards. I tell you what, I have no plan on going backwards. My plan is to make this plan work and every child get an opportunity,” he said.

In what was a surprisingly civil discourse, considering the passion with which both sides look at the policy, the only moment of ire from both sides came as Moore ended his remarks.

“I appreciate you all coming out,” Moore said. “The idea in your mind that those children should not be in my child’s class...that...”

Moore was unable to complete the sentence, as nearly the entire group of RPM members shouted out, “That’s not what we said!”.

“Then we’re on the same page. Every child is going to get an opportunity if they show aptitude for a class. We’re open to any good idea, but we’re going to move forward,” Moore responded.

A crowd member, breaking meeting protocol, then shouted out, “We gave you lots of good ideas.”

“And we appreciate that, and we will do our best to implement those ideas to make this plan work for all kids,” Moore responded.

The same crowd member would not be deterred, and continued her questioning.

“Can you give us specifics on that? Because what I’m hearing is a lot of platitudes,” she asked.

Moore reminded the vocal parent that she was out of order, according to meeting protocols, and closed the discussion.

For more information on FWPS’ Accelerated Academics program, visit www.fwps.org/info/advanced.

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