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Federal Way school district to critics: Please be constructive

For anyone who follows the Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) Board of Directors meetings on a regular basis, the sight of a few vocal public commenters has become commonplace.

These commenters are more than happy to share their thoughts on the state of FWPS. They often seem only focused on pointing out the negative without providing any corresponding solutions to try and help with the issues they find so displeasing.

It’s no surprise then that the school board, along with Superintendent Rob Neu, may have finally felt the need to respond in some fashion to the constant sniping from this small group during the board’s June 26 meeting.

Among the commenters present during the June 26 meeting were Walt Brooks and Paul Levy. Brooks shared his thoughts on the district’s plans for renovating Federal Way High School, along with a few other choice thoughts, with the board.

Levy acted like an amplifier for Brooks, echoing many of the same sentiments.

“I have yet to meet a kid who lives in this area who can add, subtract, multiply and divide,” Brooks said. “When you go to checkout from a store, if it weren’t for those computers they have, they wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Brooks said that shows him there’s something fundamentally wrong with Federal Way schools. He also felt the district isn’t properly addressing the needs of local employers.

With the pending evacuation of workers at some of the largest employers in the region (20,000 retiring in the next 10 years from Boeing), Brooks feels the district needs to explore opportunities to put in programs and systems in Federal Way schools that will address those employers’ needs.

Levy, who had shared his comments at the last meeting regarding what he perceived as the district’s glad-handing, took up much of the same theme. He said the district needs to shift its approach to meet the needs of local employers. He discussed how in the past, humans have taught the necessary skills to their children, from hunting and gathering in pre-historic days, to the passing down of knowledge of things like carpentry and other skilled trades during the Middle Ages.

“What I’m concerned with now is, what guild have we established for our young people, who are not necessarily the best and the brightest, but ordinary kids who need to be able to earn a living?” Levy asked. “The importance of this should be patently obvious.”

Levy touched on an ROTC ceremony that took place at the last board meeting, saying he found it to be a disturbing display.

“For the better part of an hour, I saw an Air Force general saluting a bunch of children coming out of high school. To me, it was an admission of failure by the educational system. Because here we were, telling young people that this was an actual career. Is supplying fodder for a group of mercenary soldiers a career? Is this what we want? Do we want these children to be productive members of our community?” he asked.

Commenter Kurt Peppard also shared his thoughts, saying that the way FWPS frames its successes is somewhat dishonest. Peppard told the board that it should rename the district’s “Progress Report” newsletter to “Unicorns and Lollipops.” Peppard also touched on a statistic that apparently has the FWPS graduation rate at closer to 52 percent, rather than the 72 percent that the district regularly references. He also tore apart the district’s touting of the four high schools being on the Washington Post’s High School Challenge List.

Neu responded to Peppard’s comments, saying he’d like to see a citation for Peppard’s 52 percent statistic.

“I’d like to address a couple of the comments I heard tonight, that we are at a 52 percent graduation rate. That is simply untrue. I’ve said this several times, and I’ve heard that at several board meetings. We’re at 72 percent on-time, and over 80 percent as a district,” Neu said. “I would love to see where that’s posted. Because our results go to OSPI, and our results are 72 percent on-time, and that’s not nearly high enough, but it’s not 52 percent.”

Neu continued, countering Peppard’s comments that having the four high schools on the Post’s Challenge List isn’t that big of a deal.

“I also heard tonight that Federal Way High School was among the top 25 percent on a list. That list is the top nine percent of the schools in the country, which would put Federal Way High School at 405th on the list out of 22,000 schools, in the top two percent.”

Board vice president Angela Griffin said she appreciates the comments, but hopes that moving forward, the most negative critics of Federal Way schools can at least find a way to be constructive in their criticism.

“We have several naysayers in our community. And I think several people dig and try to find negative things to continue to tear our school district down, rather than build up our school district,” she said. “And I hope as we continue to go into a new school year, that more people will take the time to acknowledge what we’re doing well…(and) take the time to ask kids whether they know math, rather than throwing out general statements like ‘No child in this district can add, subtract, multiply or divide,’ because that’s simply not true. I really hope, in the 2012-13 school year, that we as a community take the time to really learn more about the students and the academics and the work going on in this district, and build, rather than tear down.”

Board president Tony Moore echoed Griffin’s thoughts.

 

“A great person told me it’s easy to tear down a building. It’s hard to build one,” he said. “So those of you who have comments, my hope is that you’ll stay, beyond your criticisms, and help us in building.”

 

 

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