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Some teachers feel 'blindsided' by Truman High School's new program

Federal Way Public Schools - Courtesy Federal Way Public Schools
Federal Way Public Schools
— image credit: Courtesy Federal Way Public Schools

Truman High School will see a significant program change beginning next fall, mostly shedding the Career Academy program for what will be known as the Life Flex Program.

The new program is considered “blended learning,” meaning it will include a combination of Internet learning and face-to-face learning for students enrolled.

While the building administrators responsible for the program, most notably principal Adam Kulaas, feel this is a positive step for the school, Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) board members, and two FWPS teachers, were not quite so sure about the proposed change. Both groups provided their input about the change during the board’s meeting on Tuesday.

Board vice president Geoffery McAnalloy led the way with a series of questions.

“How many teachers do you have staffed today?” he asked Kulaas.

“Currently, I have 10 full-time teachers,” Kulaas replied.

“And you said we’re going to three?” McAnalloy followed up.

Kulaas replied in the affirmative, with McAnalloy continuing his questioning by asking how much students and parents have been informed regarding these changes.

“So we have a parent meeting scheduled for tomorrow night, and then two follow-up meetings later this month,” Kulaas said.

“Was teacher input added to this?” McAnalloy continued.

“Some of the teachers have seen different parts of this plan since August, since its inception,” Kulaas said.

“So we’re going to displace 7.7 teachers with doing this, right? And also, it will have a student impact, right? I’m not trying to pooh-pooh it, but I’m just trying to understand it logistically,” McAnalloy said.

“My current students can all either stay in this program, we’ll continue to serve them,” Kulaas said. “None of our students will be displaced unless they choose to or are already planning to do other pieces/approaches.”

Board president Carol Gregory also pressed Kulaas on what exactly this change will mean for students and staff.

“I’m just going to react because unfortunately we just got this material so I really haven’t had a chance to explore this fully,” she began. “It seems like there’s a missing piece here … I can’t, from your discussions, understand where (teachers) fit in this process. I hear ‘I’ but I don’t hear ‘We’. That’s confusing me. Do you all of a sudden just tell a group of teachers that … the program is changed and you’re moving on?”

Kulaas replied by saying the process for building the new program has been “student centered.” Director of Instructional Technology for the district Ron Mayberry also interjected, saying the displaced teachers may be picked up by the district’s Internet Academy. The Life Flex Program will draw upon Internet Academy resources, he said, so it seems like a good fit to shift those teachers over.

Kulaas also pointed out that part of the intent in creating the Life Flex program is to allow students at Truman to draw upon resources Truman doesn’t have because of its status as an alternative high school.

“Right now, in our current delivery model, we can’t provide (students) the pieces that would make access (to post-secondary education/opportunities) a reality,” he said.

Truman’s principal also pointed out that staffing at Truman is somewhat problematic as it is, because of continued decreases in enrollment and students struggling with attendance.

“It’s a tight rope, a balancing act with those components,” Kulaas said. “Change is personal, I understand it, I’ve been through it. By no means is disrespect meant to the adults that are invested in our kids. A blended model shifts focus on that delivery (of education to students). We’re still accessing all of our teachers, it’s just in a different format.”

Truman teacher George Bechara pointed out that, at least from the teachers’ perspective, they feel as though a bait-and-switch routine was pulled on them by building administrators.

“The idea (of a blended learning program) was welcomed warmly at Truman High School, when we were informed of this decision last spring, as we admired the idea of having additional educational opportunities for our students,” Bechara said. “Now, after we were informed of the different model on Feb. 14, we were blindsided, as it was nothing like the one from last spring.”

Bechara noted that internal staff conversations last spring had teachers believing that only one or two positions would be eliminated with the transition, and not the six to seven positions being discussed.

“Unfortunately, we knew nothing about this until Feb. 14, and in addition to that, we’re going to lose all of our career and technical education staff members,” Bechara said. “Please make sure the decision you make on the direction of the program really ensures that the 100-plus students’ needs are met.”

Mark Twain elementary teacher Steven Mayer asked board members to imagine if it was announced that one of the four comprehensive high schools was making a wholesale change, such as the change that will be made at Truman next fall.

“Thomas Jefferson is going to drop the current program they have, and completely change their International Baccalaureate program into STEM,” he said. “Imagine if we made such a statement. The public outcry would be incredible. Tonight we heard there’s going to be a huge, fundamental change at one of our high schools, and because it’s not a comprehensive high school, because it’s an alternative high school, it appears that it’s okay by the administration to make wholesale changes.”

Transparency has been a buzzword at district meetings for a number of years now, Mayer noted, and he pointed out how the district’s issues with the idea stem from changes such as this.

“This is exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve talked about my concerns with policy governance, if policy governance says that the administration can simply make and take wholesale changes to our schools and doesn’t have to get approval from you folks, and doesn’t have to include the community, then there is a fundamental flaw in policy governance,” he said.

To learn more about the new program slated for Truman, visit https://schools.fwps.org/life/.

 

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