The campus of Marysville Getchell High School (Herald file)

The campus of Marysville Getchell High School (Herald file)

Talk of changes at Marysville schools has parents wary

The district has lost more than 1,000 students over the past 10 years.

MARYSVILLE — What began as an assessment of small schools within Marysville Getchell High has morphed into a district-wide examination of secondary education.

Marysville schools Superintendent Becky Berg rattles off the kinds of questions she’s asking these days: “Are our middle schools the right size? Do we need to change grade configurations to our secondary schools?”

All of which makes for anxious times for some students and parents.

The fear can be found in conversations on social media or in school board chambers where Getchell parents have appeared.

Some parents have hung on to a comment Berg made in May at a school board work study session when she mentioned the possibility of converting Getchell into a campus for eighth- and ninth-graders. That’s the current setup at Cavelero Mid-High School in Lake Stevens.

Berg said Friday she merely was throwing out hypotheticals at the time.

“We don’t have a preset anything,” she said. “We want to hear from the community.”

And that time to speak up is approaching.

The district is beginning what it’s describing as a five-stage process to gather input to guide far-reaching decisions about the future of Getchell and other schools.

It begins with a public opinion poll of 300 people from the community. They’ll be asked how the district is doing, how it can improve and what its priorities should be. The random-sample poll takes about 17 minutes and should be completed in November.

The second step will be one-on-one interviews with nearly 25 people deemed “key leaders” from Marysville and Tulalip. That’s scheduled to wrap up by February.

The third step is meetings with parents, students and people living within the district from December through February. Those discussions will occur where people “naturally gather,” including PTSA meetings.

An online survey next March for anyone who wants to participate is the fourth step.

The final stage is a large-scale community meeting focused on “small group and interactive discussions.” It will occur next spring. No date has been set.

It’s too early to say when any decisions will be made and when they would take effect, said Emily Wicks, a school district spokeswoman.

Pegi Langan has a son enrolled in the International School of Communications at Getchell. He was part of the Marysville Parent Cooperative and highly capable classes in elementary and middle school, programs that served his and other students’ specific learning needs well, she said.

Langan said the district has made major changes to choice programs at the secondary level, including the small schools at Getchell. She said parents were told there would be more time and public discussion.

“As of this fall, the SLCs exist in name only. MGHS is being run as a traditional high school, with the only difference being the students attending are not determined by boundaries,” she said.

She’s leery of the public input process, given the extent of changes that already have been made.

“This doesn’t inspire confidence in the transparency of district administration nor in their commitment to addressing the demonstrated learning needs of many of their students as communicated by families,” she said.

“People need to speak up often and in as many ways as they can,” she said.

Berg said she understands some parents are feeling anxious.

“I appreciate them fighting for their kids and I appreciate the democratic process,” she said.

Berg lists several factors that will be considered for the future of Getchell and other schools. They include districtwide equity issues, accessibility to classes, student learning, new state requirements for additional credits to graduate and finances in an era of declining enrollment.

Enrollment drives money. During the 2014-15 school year, for instance, Marysville received more than $7,900 per student from the state. The Marysville district has lost more than 1,300 students over the past 10 years. Its enrollment now stands at 10,655, according to an October count. Several other north Snohomish County school districts also have seen fewer students over the past decade, but not to the same level of losses.

At the same time, running four schools on one campus traditionally has been costlier. A Washington Association of Student Administrators report cited redundancies in core classes that combined cost about $600,000 a year at Getchell. Add in transportation costs in a district without high school boundaries and the cost of maintaining Getchell as is could be as high as $1 million.

Just as some parents in the district objected to turning Getchell into four small campuses after a bond passed in 2006 to build a second large high school campus, many Getchell parents today argue that big things come in small packages. The small schools, such as the BioMed Academy and the School for the Entrepreneur, were designed to foster strong ties between students and staff and to place more emphasis on potential career paths.

In a letter sent to district families Friday, Berg wrote about the importance of getting public input before the district moves forward. It is why, she said, “I didn’t just drop the gavel and make a decision last year.

“Some may like or not like the decisions we ultimately make,” she continued later in the letter, “but I can rest much easier knowing that we had a methodical, deliberate, inclusive process before reaching any decision.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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