New grading system may be game changer for Federal Way schools | Roegner

Bob Roegner - Contributed
Bob Roegner
— image credit: Contributed

Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu needed a game changer and may have found one as he recently recommended a controversial grading system be amended.

The superintendent and the school board have been under fire from members of the community for many months over several different issues, but none seem to cause more discord with parents, teachers and students than the controversial new standards-based grading system (SBG).

Implemented in 2011, it has been an ongoing source of friction and misunderstanding. Neu recommended it be replaced with the more traditional and understandable “averaging.”

With the district facing policy challenges on many different fronts and planning to ask voters to approve a replacement Educational Programs and Operations (EPO) levy early next year worth 20 percent of the districts budget, Neu’s redirection did not come as a surprise. In fact, he hinted at such a possibility for several weeks.

The SBG, along with travel and graduation rates, had become keystones of debate in the two school board seats up for election. Incumbent Ed Barney faced a serious challenge from Geoffery McAnalloy that he would lose, and Angela Griffin did not seek re-election. Carol Gregory would claim Griffin’s seat as she and McAnalloy repeatedly suggested additional parent, teacher and student participation on policy issues such as SBG.

The school board agreed to Neu’s recommendation but not without comment. Both former school board President Claire Wilson and board member Tony Moore were concerned about stepping away from a system designed to better reflect students actual knowledge. They had taken a big gamble to implement the system. Also, Moore worried that they may be substituting one set of upset parents for another.

But the politics of the situation almost demanded that Neu make the recommendation that he did and that the school board agree. Neu has enough issues on his plate and needs to pass the EPO levy in a few months.

With parents, teachers and students upset, attempts to explain and diffuse not seeming to work, and two new members with possible different points of view joining the board in January, change was likely any way.

By making the move he did, Neu helped calm things down so he could focus on other goals. However, incumbent board members may feel like they were left in a politically exposed position as they had gone out on that SBG system limb with Neu in the first place.

Moore in particular faced a lot of questions on the topic as board president when he was running for the state Legislature. In addition to possible strained relations, some may feel like the change is a retreat from progress that just needed more support and discussion.

But the district’s annual break for Christmas could help. It will allow Superintendent Neu, along with the carryover and incoming board members, to start to get on the same page.

That may be something that is  harder than it sounds but is very much in need for what is likely to be a challenging 2014.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn: bjroegner@comcast.net.

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