Monroe High on Gates list

By Eric Stevick

Herald Writer

MONROE — Another Snohomish County high school has been awarded a Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation grant to improve the way technology is used in the classroom and instill a small-school feeling.

Monroe High, which will receive $517,000 over the next three years, was among 10 schools across the state in the latest round to receive a Gates education grant. It was the only high school in the group announced Thursday.

"There is quite a bit of excitement and a little bit of trepidation," said Mike Weatherbie, principal at Monroe High School.

Excitement comes with the opportunity to improve student learning; trepidation in the breadth and uncertainty of the work ahead, he added.

Earlier this year, Mariner and Mountlake Terrace high schools received grants with the same goal of creating small learning environments within their large campuses.

Behind the grants is a philosophy that when it comes to high schools, size does matter.

The Gates Foundation points to research that has shown smaller schools often foster improved attendance, discipline and student achievement through a more personalized approach to learning. Local schools are considering breaking their large campuses into academies or other small learning environments where students may remain with the same group of teachers and classmates during their high school years.

"We are already working on a lot of the things the grant would provide for," Weatherbie said.

The extra money, which can be used for planning time to collaborate and for training and technology, should accelerate the school’s efforts, he said.

The Gates Foundation was impressed with Monroe High School’s application proposal for several reasons, said Kyle Miller, program officer of school grants for the foundation.

The campus, which opened in the fall of 1999, was built with separate wings called "learning communities."

The design also encourages teachers of different subjects to work alongside each other, Miller said. Office space integrates teachers from many disciplines.

"It’s evident in their proposal they have spent a lot of time talking about where they want to go and what kind of student they want to be producing through different (approaches) to teaching and learning," Miller said.

One goal in the grant is for a 4-to-1 ratio of students to computers.

Students at the school now won’t see significant changes right away, Weatherbie said, adding that changes will occur during the course of three years and beyond.

You can call Herald Writer Eric Stevick at 425-339-3446 or send e-mail to stevick@heraldnet.com.

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