Communication on SLCs causing frustration

POULSBO — It seems that no matter which platform of communication the North Kitsap School District stands on, the community isn’t able to reach answers to all of its questions.

NKSD’s latest forum on Small Learning Communities took a different form, breaking the audience and school officials into small groups to better isolate individual concerns. But at the end of the night, many people left disappointed by a continuing lack of resolve.

“Just answer their questions,” NKSD board president Catherine Ahl uttered in frustration at one point during a study group session.

The audience of some 40 people was split into two study groups for about 40 minutes with the goal of reviewing the three proposed SLC designs and creating a pool of likes, dislikes and ideas.

“It’s like they are not telling us anything we haven’t heard before,” said NKHS sophomore Jordan Tucker. “They are not answering our questions.”

The answers being rendered are oftentimes vague and coated in “if’s,” “could be’s” and “yet to be determined’s,” audience members noted.

But that’s because the process is evolving as the district searches for the best possible SLC format, said KHS planning principal and SLC architect Bruce Saari.

“(This document) is not finished in its entirety, it’s just an attempt to capture the feel,” Saari said, prefacing the three draft SLC formats. He added that teachers at both the high school and junior high levels have been working for two years to “make sure the programs are robust, balanced and full.”

Upward of 2,500 hours have been spent compiling the current draft designs, NKSD director of career and technical education Jim Noeldner estimated in response to community member Will Gray’s inquiry of how much time had been spent on the design process.

“I would’ve loved to have had input long before now,” Gray said as the audience agreed with applause. He noted the possibility that maybe SLCs don’t need intricate designs and themes.

“I just want to see some networking of teachers,” Gray said.

“How important are these themes in SLCs and how’s an eighth-grader gonna know what they want to do?” NKHS sophomore parent Deb Wuensch asked in one of the study groups.

Saari replied that 70 percent of classes, for students on a two-year college track, will be core classes and will be the same in each SLC. University bound students’ course work will revolve around 90 percent of required classes.

So electives, which are currently planned to be thematically grouped within each SLC, would play a small role in the emphasis.

But the way that the core curriculum is delivered could also add emphasis to an extent, Saari said.

“Teachers will choose (their) SLC because they share in some of the philosophies or approach,” he said.

But right now at NKHS, some teachers don’t share in the philosophies or approach of SLCs in general.

“I’m struggling terribly to find faculty and staff on board with these issues,” parent Brad Brown said.

An informal survey conducted with 46 respondents from North Kitsap High School’s 74 teachers notes a potentially ominous undercurrent in the SLC movement which, NKSD administrators agree, requires complete teacher buy-in.

Of the group of 46 NKHS teachers surveyed, only 13 (28 percent) supported the direction of the current SLCs while 26 (56 percent) were opposed. Seven (15 percent) were undecided.

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