State of the schools: No more 'teach, test and forget' in Federal Way

Rob Neu, superintendent of Federal Way Public Schools, delivers his State of the Schools address on Feb. 1 at the Federal Way Chamber luncheon at Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club. - Courtesy of Ed Streit Images
Rob Neu, superintendent of Federal Way Public Schools, delivers his State of the Schools address on Feb. 1 at the Federal Way Chamber luncheon at Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club.
— image credit: Courtesy of Ed Streit Images

Federal Way Superintendent Rob Neu delivered his annual State of the Schools address Wednesday, focusing on challenges in the district in the past, present and future.

"The days of 'teach, test and forget' are gone," Neu told attendees at the Federal Way Chamber membership luncheon, held Feb. 1 at Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club. "Quality education is not random in Federal Way's public schools."

After warming up the audience with a little humor, Neu tackled the serious side of education in Federal Way, namely student achievement. Among the changes implemented in the state's eighth-largest school district:

• More opportunities for students of all abilities to enroll in rigorous classes. "This policy has had a profound impact on so many students who didn't think they were smart enough or good enough," Neu said.

• The controversial Standards Based Education program has established benchmarks for student learning. Each course in grades K-12 has a set of 15 "power standards" that students must satisfy in order to pass. Students have multiple opportunities to learn and meet these standards. Ultimately, the policy prepares students for the next level by requiring them to demonstrate success in their courses.

While he recognizes that not all students choose to attend college or secondary training, Neu said the district wants students to finish schooling in Federal Way with the skills and knowledge to make those choices. More rigorous courses are seen as one avenue in reaching that goal.

Neu acknowledged a few alarming trends that stand in the way of student achievement. In Federal Way, about 55 percent of students live below the poverty line — a statistic that has doubled in the past 10 years, he said. In the South Sound, about 50 percent of graduates attend college, he said, and about 24 percent of high school graduates in the region earn a college degree.

Another prominent concern is raising the school district's 72 percent graduation rate — and reducing the number of dropouts. Those who dropout face tougher obstacles in life and are more likely to live on welfare, for example.

"We have a moral imperative to change this trajectory for our students and we need to change it now," Neu said. "Excuse me if I get a little intense over this."

Federal Way's growing ethnic and linguistic diversity also pose challenges to the district. Nearly 13 percent of students speak a different language at home. In addition, at least 113 total languages are represented in the student population of about 22,000.

Social and intellectual capital will be the economic drivers of the future, Neu said, noting that Federal Way schools are adapting to the times.

"(Students) will need to be lifelong learners, and we will teach them how to learn," he said. "In Federal Way, we will fight and continue to fight for 'all means all.'"

Learn more

Rob Neu was hired by Federal Way Public Schools in 2010. He welcomes feedback from the community on Federal Way schools. Email or visit to learn more.


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