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Over protests, K-8 school moves forward

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

It was one of the few times someone should have sold tickets to a School Board meeting.

Inside a packed meeting room Tuesday, parents, educators and students were, for the most part, unhappy with the Federal Way school district for considering a kindergarten-to-eighth-grade (K-8) school.

The School Board approved a resolution later in the night directing district superintendent Tom Murphy to develop a plan for a K-8 school. He said that plan is expected to be ready by May 23, the board's next regular meeting.

During the public forum Tuesday at Federal Way City Hall, students asked why they hadn't been consulted on what they thought of the idea. Parents complained it was too soon to change after just switching from junior highs to middle schools and the effect a different format would have on students. Others questioned the district's wisdom during a time when it's in a financial headlock.

The board has considered K-8 since last year, when it directed district officials to do some initial research. At this point, four or five schools are being considered, but Murphy declined to name them until further in the planning process.

Part of creating a plan to make a K-8 school involves seeing what plans principals are considering and what's needed for a transition, Murphy said.

If K-8 were to become reality, it would most likely be one school or two that would offer it. Parents could choose to send their children there much like they can choose to send their children to other schools in the district, officials have said.

Board members Evelyn Castellar and Charles Hoff believe a K-8 system is a good idea for some students. Other districts with such schools have reported improved test results and grades along with fewer discipline problems, and the board members have said K-8 schools would also have a smaller enrollment.

Castellar also noted K-8 schools would help minority students close the test score gap between themselves and white students.

But some parents at Tuesday's meeting didn't like the idea.

"We're changing too radically," said one woman.

In an interview Thursday, Murphy said the district should always evaluate the programs it offers students to determine if new programs are better than what is currently offered. Paying for new programs means cutting those not benefitting students.

Another woman at the meeting said she appreciates the district giving parents and students options, but she questioned the interest in K-8, noting even in a K-5 school, the toilets are too low for fifth-graders to use. Changing a building for K-8 would cost money, and with a $4.2 million deficit facing the district, now is not the time for K-8, she said.

Another audience member suggested the district do more to educate the public and present studies that show both sides of the K-8 debate.

Murphy told the audience his understanding from the School Board was he would be directed to create a plan for starting K-8 in the district, but not that it would happen.

That would mean another vote by the School Board.

Helen Stanwell, a board candidate in last year's election, told the audience the money spent on K-8 schools would be better directed to remedial programs for students who need academic help.

She was also critical of RAND Corp., which has researched K-8 schools and which Castellar cited during the meeting. Stanwell said RAND is a "right-wing organization that calls itself a think tank."

RAND is based in Santa Monica, Calif. and has offices nationally and internationally. According to the organization, it has been providing research and analysis to the public and private sectors for 60 years.

There doesn't appear to be much conclusive research on the K-8 format. District educators reported to the board late last year essentially that more research was needed and not every student is right for K-8.

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

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