Tricky Transition

One big question that’s being asked these days is “What should Federal Way’s high schools be like?”

A group of 60 parents, high school students, teachers and administrators, all members of the district’s High School Transition Team, are seeking the best answer to that question during the next six months. As part of that process, they expect to ask hundreds of local residents what they think.

“Why are we doing this? The school system that we currently operate under was developed by Horace Mann and the men of his era in the late 1800s and we haven’t really made any major changes since that time,” said Danny Leaverton, the group’s facilitator. “Yet the life our children are facing is so vastly different.”

The transition team recently formed to continue the work of a previous group called the Middle School Transition Team. Both of these groups came about because of a 1997 decision by the School Board to change the district’s six junior highs (grades seven to nine), to middle schools (grades six to eight) once the district’s new high school is completed in 2003. At that point, ninth graders will move to the four regular high schools.

Truman High, an alternative high school, is excluded from this process.

“The purpose of this team is to present to the superintendent our recommendations as to the best practices in terms of instruction and relationships for all four high schools, and a structure to support them,” Leaverton said.

The transition team has been divided into 10 study teams. Their tasks include researching what makes a good high school and visiting sites in Washington and other places that have noteworthy programs.

In addition, the team will be interviewing as many as 600 Federal Way residents about their high school experiences and what they would like to see in an ideal high school.

“In today’s schools, kids are so uninvolved in the decision making about their own education,” said Mary Jo Reintsma, Decatur teacher and team member. “They need a lot more choices and help in seeing these choices. The school doesn’t have to provide all of them, but more and better relationships have to be developed with mentorships and real work experiences and community partnerships.”

Reintsma said one of her objectives is figuring out how to make high school more personal for students.

“Without that personal touch, the education doesn’t get through,” she said. “We do a great job for the top 30 percent, but need to learn to do a better job for the other 70 percent.’

It is Leaverton’s impression that most of the community’s leaders and employers have children in the Federal Way district, so their views are already being represented.

However, “we have to work much better together with parents,” Reintsma said. “We all know just a part of what children need.”

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