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High school construction underway

No one would argue that local high schools are overcrowded.

At Federal Way High School, for instance, students eat in three to four lunch shifts per day. Teachers who need space to do planning are competing with students for classrooms, and administrators are looking down the barrel of up to 300 more students per school. School officials need no prodding to expand their buildings.

Next year’s influx of ninth-grade students from area junior high schools is forcing the Federal Way School District’s expansion plans, and $7 million from the $83 million bond measure is being put to use in these construction projects:

Decatur High School: Construction on six new classrooms — two science and four general purpose — began in December.

Thomas Jefferson High School: Also building two new science classrooms and four general purpose classrooms.

Federal Way High School:Four general purpose classrooms and an expansion of the school’s cafeteria. The project will incorporate the school’s entryway, which abuts the lunchroom and is too small for the 1,450 students who attend the school.

The new high school, which is being built on the west side of I-5 near the Enchanted Parks area, will help relieve the overcrowding at all three high schools, but a tough transition period may be at hand.

Rod Leland, director of facilities services for the district, said the Enchanted Parks area school is scheduled to open with 1,300 students. “What the configuration of those students will be is undetermined as yet, but the district’s newly formed boundary committee is working on that now,” Leland said.

The boundary committee, which is made up of 20 parents from around the district and four staff members, is charged with making recommendations to the superintendent regarding policies and criteria for transferring students. The superintendent will present those recommendations to the district board of commissioners.

As is the case with most new schools, he said, an incoming senior class is problematic.

“Whether we open (the new school) with just freshman, or sophomores and freshman, three classes or all four, remains to be seen,” he said.

Sally McLean, chief financial officer for the district, also heads the boundaries committee. She said the group was sensitive to the needs of the district’s 12th-graders.

“Senior classes are pretty invested in their current school,” McLean said. “They have class rings and letterman jackets; they want a school yearbook. We understand that it’s hard to give up all that to move to another school, no matter how shiny and new it is.”

The committee is considering several options to offset what they recognize as an impediment to a smooth transition for the new school.

Leland said the district has looked to other just-opened schools for ideas. School officials recently visited Emerald Ridge High School in Puyallup which has been open two years.

“They opened with just sophomores and this year they have juniors, which is the gentler way of doing this,” he said.

“But in our case, we’re adding a new grade to all of our high schools, so we need to accommodate them quickly.”

Another concern is the impact a decision to bring in ninth-graders next year, while not opening the new school to a class of seniors, juniors or sophomores.

Decatur principal Jerry Millett said he’s concerned about such a scenario. “If the new school is opened with just three (ninth-, 10th- and 11th) grades, and the seniors elect to stay on, by September 2003 we can expect an increase from 1,400 to 1,550 or more.”

He’s right, said Leland. “If the school doesn’t open with the expected 1300 students, those kids have got to go somewhere.”

The double impact of seniors opting to stay at their school and an influx of ninth graders could mean up to 300 additional students.

“The boundary committee is aware of that impact,” he said.

McLean said the committee should be ready to present their recommendations by May.

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