School weighs guiding principles' progress

POULSBO — The North Kitsap School Board met with school officials, teachers and community members Wednesday during a study session for a presentation explaining the ins and outs of the secondary guiding principles of small learning communities from NKHS Planning Principal Bruce Saari.

District Superintendent Gene Medina said the purpose of the session was to bring everyone together on the same page. Planning has been taking place for more than a year and the structure is taking shape, but the transition will inevitably take time.

Saari’s presentation combatted the growing mystique of SLCs, which is the idea that simply lowering the number of students in the class will eliminate the issues that come with having larger class sizes. The plan forming within the district deals more so with the establishing communication and relationships within SLCs and between grade levels.

A 9-12 grade instructional task force, headed by Saari, found that curricular communication time between teachers is scarce, not only in North Kitsap but in schools around Washington. What is being proposed is a split of the student and teaching bodies into clusters in order to create more personal and more effective relationships between both student and teacher as well as teacher and teacher.

“Small schools are not necessarily better,” Saari said. Extensive curricular design and structuring is part of the second-order change that could make this concept work.

Alignment of student’s learning course is critical, he explained. The concepts being taught in 10th grade should connect with what was learned in ninth. The concepts being taught throughout each grade level should also be consistent. A child who stays with the same group of teachers all through high school would be more likely to receive this continuity.

One of the largest concerns attached to this idea is the switch from the way things have been done for years. However, this system has been implemented in other Washington schools which allows NKSD the luxury of learning from the triumphs and mistakes of already-established programs.

School Board President Catherine Ahl also brought up a community anxiety about students being forced to choose a career path too early.

Each SLC would be somewhat thematically grouped, however 70-90 percent of the student course work is identical. Core classes such as english, math and science would remain solid for each student, no matter the SLC. The remaining electives would then be apportioned according to the theme of the cluster, but students would not necessarily be locked to those choices.

“We are all learning through this,” Supt. Medina said. The consistent core is the “critical nugget” but how the electives fall in will be what needs to be collaboratively determined.

Since it is a learning process for even those involved with developing the program, input from all angles is welcome and called for.

“My concern is that we get the information out sooner than later,” Ahl said of community involvement. “I think what you are doing is great; the community needs to hear what you (Saari) have to say.”

However, board member Bethany McDonald is concerned that the community is not demanding a change.

Following the study session, the board convened for its regular meeting, at the end of which conversation was continued on the secondary guiding principles progress. The consensus of the board was supportive of the idea, though no vote or action was taken.

The next steps will be footprints of education for teachers, students, the community and everyone else involved. Planning includes determining the structure of specific SLC’s as well as how students and teachers will be allocated.

“Team building is a critical part of everything,” said Medina. “But it will take time.”

Goal for implementation is September 2007, when Kingston High School is expected to open.

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