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'A teacher's dream, a parent's dream, a student's dream'

By JODY ALLARD

Staff writer

In a perfect world, the only rules limiting a new school’s principal would be to hire the best possible teachers and to implement a structure and curriculum that work.

Carol Eberhart, principal for Todd Beamer High School, may have come as close to perfect as possible.

The school that Eberhart has designed will look far different from the other high schools in Federal Way when it opens its doors for the first time this fall. But its fundamental principles will lead the way to a new standard for education in the district’s public schools.

Eberhart, a veteran principal and vice principal at Sahalie and Illahee junior highs, gained experience starting up a new school at Illahee and has nearly 20 years of teaching and school administration under her belt.

Although contemplating retirement, Eberhart changed her mind when superintendent Tom Murphy asked her to be principal of Beamer High.

“I obviously had some experience at opening a secondary school,” said Eberhart. “I had some conversations with Tom and we talked about the new high school and what experience I might bring to opening a new high school.”

Appointed planning principal of Beamer in August 2001, the first hurdle facing Eberhart was “deciding on instructional practices and knowing it needed to look different in the classroom.”

The question of how to make it different eventually established the school’s core principles.

The concept was simple: “You can’t motivate a child you don’t know well,” Eberhart said.

Beamer High’s students will be split into three “mini-schools,” each staffed with an academy principal, a career specialist focusing on 11th and 12th-graders, a teacher that acts as a peer coach to assist teachers with instructional strategies, a special-education specialist and an academy secretary.

With a maximum of 450 students in each of the school’s three academies, Eberhart hopes to foster an environment “built around relationships.”

“In a traditional large high school, kids march through the day seeing a number of teachers, and teachers have a large number of kids to see on a daily basd,” said Eberhart. “When we divide this into smaller learning communities, the focus will be on students.”

Beamer’s schedule will break from the high school norm, as well. Students will take four classes each semester, for a total of eight classes a year instead of the traditional six full-year courses.

“We’re kind of slowing it down so we can speed it up for kids,” said Eberhart. “We give them more opportunity, but we focus on fewer courses at a time.”

The change will allow teachers to see no more than 90 students on a given day and will “give them the opportunity to communicate with smaller numbers of parents, smaller numbers of students,” Eberhart said.

Parents will also know the “exact adult” to contact when they need help or information.

Core classes will be the primary focus for the school’s ninth and 10th-graders. Preparation for the 10th-grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) will be key for freshmen and sophomores.

Meeting high standards and preparing for life after high school will be the emphasis for Beamer High’s juniors and seniors. Eberhart said students will be expected to do college-level work, regardless of their plans for the future.

“It doesn’t mean they will all be going to college, but that opportunity is going to be there,” said Eberhart. “For whatever that 13th year looks like, whether it is an apprenticeship or training, our students are going to be the first in line.”

The school’s students will draw from all of the junior highs and high schools in the district. All of Illahee’s current eighth and ninth-graders -- -- and about one-third of Kilo Junior High’s -- will join some of this year’s 10th-graders from Federal Way High School (241), Thomas Jefferson High (87) and Decatur High (35). Beamer High will operate without a senior class for its first year to enable this year’s juniors to graduate from their current high schools.

Focus groups and information sessions will be held in each of Beamer High’s “feeder schools” to make the transition as pain-free for parents and students as possible, Eberthart said.

With the school’s instructional policies hammered out, Eberhart and a group of core instructors have moved on to the arduous process of hiring teachers and coaches.

Two-thirds of the teachers have already been selected, with the remainder expected to be on staff by the end of the week. Because the school is serving existing students, all of Beamer’s teachers have come from other schools in the district.

“We have gone to all of the schools, talked about our instructional practices, and people have applied who are very interested in what we’re doing,” said Eberhart.

The 47 open coaching positions have generated as much “if not more interest” than the teaching positions, Eberhart said. The coaching positions, which have yet to be filled, have been posted inside and outside of the district. Despite a flurry of rumors, the school will compete at a Class 4A level (the largest, based on enrollment) and will boast a full spectrum of sports and activities.

The past year may have been the busiest year of her career, but “it is the most gratifying, rewarding experience that I have had,” said Eberhart. “This kind of opportunity only comes along once in a lifetime and I have really indeed felt privileged to be able to have an impact on a school system.”

Staff writer Jody Allard can be reached at 925-5565 and jallard@fedwaymirror.com

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