Story by Ralph Nichols
Photos by Scott Schaefer
Highline Public School officials anticipate placing a new construction bond issue on the ballot next year, superintendent Dr. Susan Enfield recently told a group of parents and other community residents.
District voters have twice rejected a bond issue – in last fall’s general election and in a special election earlier this year – to build a new Highline High School and other school buildings.
Enfield said during her first ‘Conversation with the Superintendent’ at Mount Rainier High School that waiting until 2016 will “give us time to do it right” …stating that “over the next several months we will have lots of opportunities to look at the data with the community” and that they would “determine what the best solutions are.”
“I don’t know what will be on the next bond,” she said, ”because we need to take the information that we have out to folks and let folks take a look at it and see, and come up with ideas.”
While there are needed improvements at both Evergreen and Tyee, she noted that Highline High School “is at the front of the list” because of the “critical need” to replace the aging structure.
Regarding overcrowding, Enfield stated, “We will be overcrowded. For the coming year, we have identified enough classroom space to meet our needs.” But if annual student growth continues at its current pace the district will run out of space soon. “Our challenge is how to create that space.”
Responding to concerns about inequities among Highline schools, Enfield said while “smaller high schools don’t have everything that larger ones do,” next year all campuses will offer “a certain level” of advanced placement courses and other programs.
“Giving certain high-level courses and support” to students at all high schools in the district will be “a big change.”
Currently, “what we are trying to do is ensure that regardless of where your child goes to school, they’re guaranteed a certain level of access to higher level courses and support,” she continued.
Classroom teacher turnover is a problem with departures increasing from 11 percent to 16 percent last year. But Highline is also “a challenging district,” Enfield said. “It’s not the same as some other districts.”
Another challenge is student discipline and suspensions. Until recently, the district was “hemorrhaging” students with some 3,000 of them being placed on suspension each year. Many, the Superintendent noted, were for inappropriate reasons, such as defiance.
What school officials learned, she noted, is that even one suspension can have a dramatic effect on the likelihood that a student will graduate. She stated that the graduation rate was 71% among students who had never had an out-of-school suspension. Yet among students with just one out-of-school suspension the graduation rate dropped to just 46%.
Suspensions are now down by 55 percent and limited to certain situations, particularly where the safety of students and staff is a concern.
“If they are a danger, we are going to move them out,” said Enfield. By contrast, “defiance is not a suspendable offense.”
But a lot of work remains to make student discipline work for all, especially at the high school level, she said. Enfield also added that some of that work includes de-escalation training and working to ensure that staff are interacting with high school students in a respectful way, thus utilizing teachable moments in a positive way. We contacted Communications Director Cathrine Carbone-Rogers for comment and she confirmed that security staff, bus drivers, and some teachers have had de-escalation training.
“We have provided the training to special education teachers at principals’ request, and continue to provide training to staff as requested,” said Carbone-Rogers.
“Over testing” was another concern voiced by several parents, who echoed claims from many school districts in Washington that “a lot of teachers are teaching to the test…even in elementary schools.”
But, Enfield said, the district had already made changes to the amount of assessments, and is “making changes to our assessment system – what we’re assessing and why we’re assessing … we’ve always had state standards … but we never have endorsed and never will, teaching to the tests.”
Raw audio of the complete ‘Conversation with the Superintendent’ is below:
Dr. Enfield will host three more community conversations this spring:
- April 27 in the Evergreen campus library in North Highline.
- May 21in the Tyee educational complex library in SeaTac.
- June 2 in the Highline High School library.
All three hour-long meetings will begin at 6 p.m.
School board member Bernie Dorsey will also hold a community meeting at the Chinook Middle School Library on April 21 at 6 p.m.
In addition, public budget meetings for the 2015-16 fiscal year are scheduled for May 7 and 13, with times and locations to be announced.