Saying Yes and No at the Same Time


Dear James,

I apologize for the long wait of the post, however as a mutual friend of ours puts it, I wanted to give your response the attention that it deserves. (In other words, I was busy with oh, I don’t know – life?! Haha.)

The small school experience is something that every student deserves. Every student deserves to be known by her or his ‘name, strength, and need’ – something that our own superintendent believes. If that becomes our premise, then this also means that going to a 1500+ school may not be the best choice for our students. But there is always a catch.

During my junior and senior years of high school, I went to a Gates Grant school. My school was a 4A school and this meant that it was to be transformed with a small schools model. This meant that at some point the transition needed to go down seamlessly. Every couple of months, my principal met with our Class of 2004. He would break down the on-track to graduate numbers for us, chat with us about what we want for our school, and be the ‘dad.’ One day, he told us about the small schools move.

(Let me remind you that I’m not as old as my students think.)

“Wait, what?” I whispered to my other AP friends in the gigantic auditorium.

“He’s telling us that we won’t be able to take any class with any teacher we want? Like we used to?”

I was a good Christian kid back then, otherwise my next word would have been bull. I loved our principal. For being the administrative head of 1500 students, he knew my friends and me well. (Maybe it was because we actually tried on the WASL.)

Now, as a Honors/AP student, I was only thinking about my college transcript. This did not bode well. I wanted Mr. Slater for AP American Government and Politics. I wanted to take senior year Mock Trial. I wanted AP Biology. Yep, that was me. Nobody was going to jeopardize that for me. I worked too hard and too long for a school to flip the script on me. The school received my stellar WASL scores. It was time for me to get something in return.

I became a part of a senior class of a 4A school moving towards the small school format and none of us liked it. Suddenly, half of my friends from sophomore-junior year were in Mr. Dodge’s AP Politics class when we envisioned taking Slater together. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

My pastor said that in order for us to move into something new God wants us to do, we must leave from someplace we currently are. I tell my students something similar, “By saying yes to this, you must by definition say no to that.”

James, this is my small schools argument: by saying ‘yes’ to small schools and the perks of it, you are saying ‘no’ to a comprehensive high school and the perks of such an experience.

With only a little more than half of your students graduating on time, what steps are we to take to ensure success? Why is a comprehensive high school a bad idea?

Every year, students come up to the 8th grade teachers (like myself), asking for honest, unadulterated feedback. The only thing I can really say is, “Well, I went to a school more like Mount Rainier.”

Are we saying that there is no student voice in a comprehensive high school? No. They have ASB.

Are we saying that there is no personalization of curriculum in a comprehensive high school? No. They have Advisory.

Are we saying that teachers don’t ‘know’ students by name, strength, and need in a comprehensive high school? No. Teachers care about their kids.

And so, I ask:

In a comprehensive high school, could academies be created to create community within hallways, teachers, and students? Yes.

In a comprehensive high school, is there a more diverse selection of classes and electives offered? Yes.

By offering more of a selection of classes, will our students be ready to compete transcript versus transcript at an Admissions Office when they apply for university? Yes.

In a comprehensive high school, are there more opportunities for students to take core Math and Reading classes that are more differentiated (i.e. SpEd Math, Reading Essentials, Algebra Lab, Honors 9th Grade Lit & Comp, etc.)? Yes.

By increasing staffing (thereby becoming Big Tyee), could there be more chances for students to have all of the opportunities above? Yes.

Respectfully submitted,