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SLC study session brings up questions, concerns

POULSBO — Claims that Small Learning Communities in North Kitsap were a “done deal” before students and parents had a chance to provide input lead a host of community angst that is casting shadows of doubt over a sunny idea.

Community members voiced concerns at the North Kitsap School District board meeting Thursday night, but many questions remain unanswered as the district’s progression to SLCs enters crunch time.

“It’s frustrating that the administration can make these decisions without the approval of parents and the community,” said Andrea Tucker, parent of a NKHS sophomore, adding that she’d just recently heard about the transition. “We didn’t have a choice and now they’re telling us it’s a done deal and they’ve been working on it for two years.”

Community members at the meeting expressed anger for being brought aboard so late in the process as well as anxiety toward the execution with which the district will implement the change to SLCs.

“As a taxpayer, when I voted to build a new high school in Kingston, I didn’t know that vote was going to change the entire system of our school district,” said Mary Anne Huggins, who formally addressed the board following the study session. “This seems to me like a risky experiment. I’m not opposed to having Polaris as a choice but it’s not for all students.”

However, hours of research — including much of the work that went into the NKSD Secondary Guiding Principles, completed in June 2002 — suggest that the current North Kitsap High School education system is in need of repair.

“It’s a core belief that we’re not interested in perpetuating what we believe has not worked for enough kids,” said NKSD executive director of student services Gregg Epperson. “We’re totally committed to creating something that works for as many students as possible. That’s the quest we’re on.”

The SLC quest has been ongoing for about five years and is nearing its end with the expected implementation in the fall of 2007 along with the opening of Kingston High School.

The process has been funneled into three loosely defined forms of SLCs, which are planned to take shape within both NKHS and KHS. Each SLC aims to increase teacher coordination and enhance student learning by creating smaller classes and multi-year relationships between pupil and instructor.

Even so, some NKSD parents have doubts.

School Board Director Ed Strickland asked on behalf of parents, “What happens if my kid gets a bad teacher for four years? That’s a real problem.”

“There will be two teachers in each content area and if that doesn’t work out there’s always a possibility for crossovers or a change in SLC all together,” answered Polaris lead administrator and SLC architect Christy Cole. “We will have to figure out what will be best for each student and that is what it’s all about.”

Crossovers, which will allow students access to classes outside of their SLC, among other issues including staffing are creating anxiety in how difficult scheduling will be for three small schools within each comprehensive high school.

But they are not complications without resolution, said KHS planning principal Bruce Saari, it will just take time, feedback and input.

“We’ve been getting a lot of feedback and input from teachers who are helping us put the pieces together,” he told the board. “We’ve got another year and a half to sketch in all the details.”

The next chance for the community to stir its opinions into the mix will be at the next NKHS parent forum at 7 p.m. Feb. 15. SLCs will be the only topic of discussion. Background information will be provided at 6:30 p.m. for those who have been unable to attend previous meetings.

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