Changes likely ahead for Marysville Getchell High School

MARYSVILLE — Some big changes might be coming to the four schools on the Marysville Getchell High School campus in 2018 that could send ripples across the entire district.

The most extreme scenario would mean converting the campus to a single comprehensive high school, with students coming from adjacent neighborhoods, not from elsewhere in the district.

A committee from the Washington Association of School Administrators has issued a report recommending that the school district establish a planning committee to weigh changes for future.

“What we’re asking you is to go through a pretty significant process and make some pretty significant decisions for 2018-19,” said Alan Burke, one of the leaders of that committee.

The school board is slated to take up the report at a special work session at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Superintendent Becky Berg’s recommendation to the board is expected by the board’s June 19 meeting.

The report raises a number of issues to consider. They include making smaller changes to the transportation network or consolidating how grades are recorded. More drastic changes could eliminate the Small Learning Community system at the school.

The eight-year-old Getchell campus is home to four specialized high schools designed to foster stronger student-teacher relationships and to give the students more choices and the ability to focus on an educational or career track.

That alternative structure has its drawbacks, however. Getchell is estimated to cost up to $1 million more per year to operate than if it were a standard comprehensive high school like Marysville Pilchuck, said Douglas Kernutt, the other committee leader.

Those costs come from more staffing at the four schools and the hub-based bus system that ferries students from across the district to the school of their choice.

One key question the school board will have to answer is whether the benefits are worth the additional cost, and if not, if those benefits still can be preserved.

Other districts that experimented with Small Learning Communities have reversed course. Mariner High School once had small learning communities. The Highline School District in King County eliminated its programs last fall.

According to the new report, many Getchell students have formed stronger ties to their school and teachers, and some have excelled there.

There hasn’t been a corresponding improvement in standardized test scores across all the schools, however, even as the four Getchell schools outscored Marysville Pilchuck on almost all the standardized tests in 2016.

There are further disparities among the schools. Three-quarters of the students in the Academy of Construction and Engineering, or ACE, are male. In the International School of Communications, two-thirds are female.

In addition, the schools at Getchell have enrollment rates of special education students ranging from 4.8 percent at BioMed to 12.2 percent at ACE. Special education is a broad category that encompasses students with varying challenges, including mild attention disorders and severe cognitive or physiological disabilities, such as autism. Getchell’s rates are all below the statewide average of 13.5 percent, but it also means that Marysville Pilchuck has a disproportionately high rate of special education enrollment of 18.8 percent.

The report highlighted several recent moves by the district indicative of shifting away from the smaller school model.

In the current school year, the district changed the four school principals into one principal plus assistant principals, consolidated the four head secretaries into one location, and combined four separate faculty meeting schedules, lunch periods, leadership programs and school assemblies into one for the entire campus.

Offering more than 40 courses that are open to students from all four schools also has necessitated a single bell schedule.

“If you look at the continuum, you can see the (small learning community) model over the years moving more and more toward the comprehensive model,” Burke said.

At the very least, the district needs to remove the ambiguity that has hovered over the fate of Getchell.

“The staff is certainly looking for some answers and consistency,” Burke said.

Several parents urged the school board to keep the small learning communities.

Both of Jane Downey’s children attended Getchell, one at ACE the other at the BioMed Academy.

“They would not have had the level of success they did if they had attended a more traditional, comprehensive high school,” Downey told the board.

Her son at ACE, an “extreme introvert,” ended up graduating second in his class and getting a full-ride scholarship to college, she said.

“Our school district is unique in this region,” Downey said. “We should be celebrating this rather than looking for a way to do away with it.”

Margaret Langan, who has a son at Getchell, was initially opposed to creating the small learning communities, and even considered other school districts.

“I’m a convert, because I have a son who also would have been completely lost at Pilchuck,” Langan said.

“He’s needed a smaller community all along,” she said.

Superintendent Berg commissioned the report in January. It comes during the seventh straight year of declining enrollment in Marysville schools.

That means that, even before the Legislature passes a budget, the school district is looking at a $1.4 million reduction in funding for the 2017-18 school year, Berg said.

Already six teachers are being laid off at the end of this school year, and six more vacancies will go unfilled. Three district administration positions also have been eliminated, and others are being reclassified.

There are likely to be positions cut among food services and other staff, she said.

In presenting the report’s recommendations to the board, Burke said that he realized converting to a comprehensive high school would be both expensive and highly political.

Getchell would need a library, a larger gym, performing arts spaces and lunchrooms, to start.

“Obviously you could fix some of that stuff with a bond, but I’m familiar with Marysville,” Burke said.

In 2016, voters rejected a $230 million bond that would have paid for needed modernization of Marysville Pilchuck, among other projects. Getchell, by contrast, is new and doesn’t need renovation.

“Marysville Getchell is an awesome place,” Burke said. “It is aesthetically and architecturally a jewel.”

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

Work session

The Marysville School District Board of Directors is scheduled to take up the report recommending options for Marysville Getchell High School at a special work session at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the district administration building, 4220 80th St. NE, Marysville.

The report is online at http://bit.ly/2s5yTWS.

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