News

School with eight grades proposed

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Federal Way Public Schools is considering a school concept to have grades kindergarten through eight on the same campus possibly by September.

The School Board, at its meeting next Tuesday, will decide whether to direct superintendent Tom Murphy to begin a process for altering elementary schools to include sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

A May 25 public forum is also planned.

Specific schools haven't been named as candidates for the switch. It's not even clear how many schools would be allowed to test the K-8 configuration.

Assistant superintendent Carol Matsui, who is heading the initial research, said at a recent board meeting that the program could be ready as early as this fall.

A K-8 school is not a new concept outside Federal Way. Seattle Public Schools has eight schools using the concept; the first opened in 1998. Tacoma's school district has one such school that also uses the Montessori method. And Portland, Ore.'s school district recently announced it was considering a wholesale change.

Federal Way School Board members Evelyn Castellar and Charles Hoff have been publicly supportive of the concept. Hoff, in a recent interview, said he likes the K-8 model because it's more promising than middle schools based on:

• Test scores are higher at K-8s.

• Parental involvement is better because the student stays at one school for nine years.

• There is less transition because students remain on the same campus for up to eight years.

Other supporters of K-8 schools have also noted the smaller schools seem better for educating students.

At least one person has voiced opposition to the idea. Helen Stanwell, a board candidate in last year's election, has spoken against it, stating citizens haven't had a chance to comment. She also is critical of changing since the district earlier switched from junior highs to middle schools.

Federal completed its move from junior highs (seventh, eighth and ninth grades) to middle schools (sixth, seventh and eighth grades) two years ago. Hoff didn't favor the change.

In 2005, the board directed the administration and educators interested in the K-8 idea to do some preliminary research.

At a January work-study session, that group reported the middle school and junior high school concepts are generally criticized for several reasons. Middle schools get low marks for poor academic achievement, while junior highs are considered unable to meet the emotional needs of "tweens." However, both concepts apparently do well where the other doesn't.

The group of educators also reported a lot has been written on the K-8 concept, but there is little empirical data about whether the format truly is the cause of improved academics and fewer behavior problems at the schools.

A study from Columbia University noted a study of students' grades in Philadelphia, Pa. showed no academic difference between students attending K-8 schools and those in middle schools. The researchers do note in the study they didn't look at student assessment scores.

What seems to be the consensus is no single configuration is best.

For Hoff, that means if Federal Way does go with K-8, parents can enroll their children in schools that test the program or a middle school.

Hoff said if the change takes place, he envisions a new grade being added each year, giving the district three years to alter an elementary school to meet the needs of the older students.

Staff writer Mike Halliday, 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

TALK ABOUT IT

Possible K-8 schools in the Federal Way Public Schools system will be discussed at a School Board meeting at 7 p.m. next Tuesday at Federal Way City Hall. A May 25 public forum also is planned.

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