Letters to the Editor

Say no to 'juvenile warehouse' in Federal Way | Letters

Does our school district want to build another “juvenile warehouse?”

The Federal Way School District has proposed a $60 million levy (tax increase) to replace Federal Way High School at a total cost of $110 million. Why $ 110,000,000? Nobody seems to be willing to tell us what this would buy.

In fact there hasn’t been any discussion of what this replacement would be like.

Our last experience at building a high school, where we picked the price and then tried to fit a “school” into the budget, hasn’t worked well. Why would we want to repeat this experience?

Todd Beamer High School was built by establishing the price first and then trying to build a “high school” that would fit into the budget. While the superintendent insisted that it was a “comprehensive” high school, it lacks any recognized vocational programs and its academic successes are very limited. In addition, it was overcrowded the day it opened and had to have its library reduced to build more classrooms after the first year. Portables were added within two years of its opening.

Why is the city having such a hard time with economic development?  Developers will tell us that good schools are an attraction and they have lots of ways to measure these high-performing schools. Unfortunately, most of our secondary schools don’t do very well by these measurements.

Todd Beamer has, according to the Washington Post, a 12 percent success rate on Advanced Placement tests. Federal Way High School’s rate is only 8 percent. Since both of these schools are exclusively academic high schools, they offer no recognized vocational programs. The likelihood for serious academic success is doubtful. The success rate for students without the ambition to attend college is guaranteed to be abysmal without adequate vocational offerings.

According to the state, only about 30 percent of the graduates (this doesn’t include the dropouts) will complete a college degree in five years.  According to Education Week, our dropout rate is nearly 50 percent. 50 percent of 30 percent is 15 percent. Is a college completion rate of 15 percent acceptable? Probably it isn’t.

If you want a wonderful future for your child, are these facts acceptable?

Ask yourself, would you go to a hospital/school where success rates were near 10 percent? Would you want to locate your business in a region with this kind of an educational success rate? A former and well respected school board president referred to these kinds of schools as “juvenile warehouses.”

Local employers tell us that graduates of these schools, who are looking for employment, are often unable to fill out an application correctly. They weren't even taught to bring their own pen with them to fill out the application.

Has the school board considered this? Well not in any public forum. Does the school board have a remedy for this? None that they have been willing to suggest.

Recently, Boeing has predicted some good years in its future. Boeing announced that it will have 20,000 retirements within the next 10 years.  These are all living wage jobs. Boeing also said that it don’t see any education programs in schools that will address this. Boeing hires from out-of-state because the students of this state are not prepared to do the work that Boeing requires.

As the president of Central Washington University puts it, “Come to Washington to work and we will find someone to mow your lawn!”

We have a great opportunity to do something wonderful for our children and our community if we were to re-think this, and determine first — not last — what a replacement for Federal Way High School might look like and then price it based upon the community vision.

Prior to the building of Todd Beamer, the school board heard pleas from many of the living wage employers (and their unions) in the region. They asked the board to work with them to design a school that they could support. The votes by the board were consistent (4-1) to reject these offers.

In the Highline School District, they have established a very positive relationship and they are building a new Aviation High School. Several Federal Way students attend this school that is highly rated by the same organizations that don’t look so kindly upon Federal Way schools. Why is this school so highly rated? The kids there are focused on some specific outcomes instead of “majoring in graduation.” Why aren’t there schools like this in Federal Way?

Let’s stop this process for long enough to consider some of the successful options that other districts have employed. Let's take a closer look at what others are successfully accomplishing, and see what we can learn from their successes. Then we can figure out what the best high school to serve all students should look like. Then we can determine what the price for success will be.

The price of success in replacing the badly dilapidated structure of Federal Way High School needs to be calculated carefully. First we have to determine “what is the success that we want to achieve for all children. From that, we will come up with an appropriate cost that I'm sure all members of this community could support.

Please check www.greatfederalwayschools.org for a look at the current ratings of Federal Way and Todd Beamer high schools and then ask, “Would we want to do this again?”

Am I “for schools?” Some have suggested otherwise, that I'm anti-child.  What I hope for is effective schools. What I want to see is schools whose graduates can either gain living wage jobs, or be successful in a competitive college environment. We can do this, if we plan first and then determine costs. If we do it the other way around, we will only create another “juvenile warehouse.”

Charlie Hoff, Federal Way

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