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Forum clarifies the SLC concept

POULSBO — When discussing the topic of Small Learning Communities, confusion, excitement and anxiety usually come out all at once, but the latest North Kitsap High School informational forum focused on clarity.

“It sounds to me like, essentially, if you hadn’t used SLCs and these acronyms, you could’ve just said, ‘We want to improve student learning by networking teachers into smaller groups’ — is that what I’m hearing?” audience member Will Gray asked the North Kitsap School District’s five-member panel of SLC architects.

The audience responded with a collective sigh of relief and a smattering of applause, while the NKSD officials let out a relieved “Yes!”

With his comment, Gray cut through the jargon to the nuts and bolts of the looming transition to SLCs. In a stricter than usual format, clarification was the district’s aim for the evening.

The purpose of the forum centered around “answering the questions that have not been answered to date,” NKSD Supt. Gene Medina said in his opening address.

At the end of the session, parents said they appreciated the district’s willingness to answer their questions, but still had reservations about how the transition will affect their students. Many agreed that though the idea has great potential, NKSD’s execution is a cause for concern.

The NKSD compiled that anxiety into a list of nearly 40 questions it had received through previous forums, e-mails and conversations and addressed them from five administrative perspectives: those of Medina, Kingston High School planning principal Bruce Saari, Polaris lead administrator Christy Cole, director of student support services Gregg Epperson and NKHS principal Roy Herrera.

“It’s a transformation of the whole culture of doing things and it’s not going to happen in six months,” Medina said. “We don’t have the magic bullet. We’re about working together to create the best possible system for students.”

The district has been moving forward through countless hours of research and banking on its ability to take time to survey SLC systems now in place around Washington state and the country — including NKHS’ Polaris — to learn the pros and cons that have resulted, Cole said.

With nearly a year and a half remaining until the planned implementation in 2007, the district is asking parents and community members to weigh in now and help structure the SLC movement.

The district presented the audience with its updated draft copy of three SLCs, outlining the specific goals of each, sample class schedules and the particular emphasis of each SLC. Medina asked the audience to take copies home, scrutinize them and return at 7 p.m. March 7 for a roundtable workshop.

“I thought the presentation was great,” NKHS parent Marcy Colyer said after the meeting. “But I think it’s a lot to ask of a 15-year-old. I’m wondering why they can’t grandfather this in over time.”

For unanswered questions, like Colyer’s, the district directed audience members to fill out a questionnaire and promised to respond either via e-mail or by telephone. Those wanting to address a question can call NKSD director of community relations Chris Case at (360) 779-8709.

NKHS Sophomore Cailin Gallagher, a part of one of the largest groups of students to attend an SLC function to date, also set up a time to meet with the superintendent after the presentation.

“I know all my friends and I have had a tough time this year,” Gallagher said of changes. “I can understand where they are coming from on enhancing student/teacher relationships but the door swings both ways.”

The district is planning to begin involving the student body to gather feedback and input within next few weeks, Saari noted.

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