Parents Descend on School Board Meeting for Policy Change; Board not Receptive

It was standing room only at the March 24th Snoqualmie Valley School Board meeting, where some 50-60 parents filled the room to ask for a new district policy allowing parent voice to be considered when students’ math pathways are selected before 6th grade.

Currently the district has no such policy specific to math pathway decisions, but parents say one should now be considered as the pathway selection determines what math courses students will have access to from 6th grade to 12th grade, possibly impacting SAT scores and the college application/admissions process.

Members of a parent group that gathered over 500 signatures in less than two days supporting their fight for parent voice presented the petition and signatures to the school board, asking the board to place their request for an Informed Self-Select Policy on the April 14th school board agenda.

Parents Jill Looper and Dana Russell each addressed the board requesting they take up the topic and bring parents into the placement decision process.  Russell noted that she and her husband were shocked that the Snoqualmie Valley School District had significantly fewer students on a track to access to algebra by 8th grade compared to nearby Bellevue and Issaquah School District.

Looper noted that with the district’s math pathway placement change last year, with now only 29% of 6th graders are on a path to take middle school algebra (down by about half compared to a few years ago) – and that taking algebra in 8th grade gives students the ability to take pre-calculus by junior year and before SAT exams are taken. She pointed out that the newly designed SAT exam now has pre-calculus – and she and other parents want a say in guiding their children’s academic future.

Looper presented the board with a flyer her group had circulated in the community, as well as the petition with 530 signatures asking for that Informed Select-Select Policy, which would give parents a voice in students’ course placement.

Board member Carolyn Simpson responded by requesting the topic be on the April 14th agenda, adding that the board should consider drafting such a policy.

Board member Dan Popp said the board should “absolutely” take up the topic, saying he almost signed the petition and that the board should evaluate how the district is doing things. He commented, “It’s a valid conversation to have.”

Board Vice President Tavish MacLean was not as enthusiastic, saying he wouldn’t be pressured into putting the topic on a specific agenda date, but said they should do it “sometime soon.” He went on to say the administration should be given the time they need to present on the topic.

Board  President Geoff Doy said the topic should have a thorough, informed discussion with ample time allotted for district professionals to “do their jobs.” He stated he wanted time for the district to “present facts” in order to have a “valid discussion for improvement.”

Some parents in the room seemed unsatisfied with the board’s reluctance to give the topic a firm date for discussion. One parent interjected twice asking if it would be on the next agenda and got no answer. In apparent frustration, parent Caroline Gates approached the podium and read the following statement from the district’s scorecard contained within their strategic plan:

“Research supports that Algebra is the gateway and foundation to higher level mathematics and STEM related courses in high school and beyond. Students who complete Algebra 1 and/or Geometry prior to 9th grade are prepared to take a wider array of high school mathematics courses. Students who complete Calculus, AP Calculus, or AP Statistics are more competitive college applicants.”

Parent Rene Price also stood and asked for the policy, saying “We need to have a voice in this process – not at the end of the conversation.”

By the end of the meeting the board circled back to the topic of math placements. They were clear that they wanted

SVSD School Board. Photo: SVSD webstie

to discuss the topic more at a later date, to be more fully educated on how the new math placements were working by the administrators who rolled out the new math paths and placement process last spring.

Vice president MacLean acknowledged that with new programs mistakes will be made and processes may need fine tuning, saying he wanted to hear from the administration team how the program is actually working.

He said he appreciated hearing the passionate voices of parents calling for change while also saying he believed “in the positive intent of the district.”

President Geoff Doy said they should discuss more later, but that an April 14th date as requested by parents might be too soon.

Dan Popp said he wasn’t sure a policy for Informed Self Select was necessary, as he thought that one was already in place. Parents in the audience tried to remind him that such a policy is not in place.

Carolyn Simpson said the policy could keep these types of parent issues and possible wrong student placements from happening in the future. She noted that informed self-select policies worked well in other districts that were ahead of SVSD on math. Simpson also said the policy should happen soon, as kids were being placed now for next year’s classes – and it shouldn’t take too much time to implement or require much change to the existing pathways.

So… what was decided?  Some in attendance were confused, but what the board agreed to was: to discuss math placements more in the future, but exactly when was not determined.

Would a policy change be considered by the board as requested by the parent petition?  That question was not answered, with only one board member ready to discuss the requested policy at this point.

Bottom line:  They agreed to talk some more at an undetermined future date, once the administration also had a chance to weigh in.

 

flyer

Flyer circulating the Snoqualmie Valley community by parent group.

 

Comments

  1. Stephen Kangas says:

    I was also at the school board directors meeting. I was somewhat surprised that the majority directors did not exhibit more support for serious consideration of the parents’ proposed new policy in the form of either calling for a special meeting work session on this before the next regular meeting in two weeks, or directing the superintendent to place this on the agenda for the next regular meeting on 14 April for at least an initial discussion. Two full weeks for the district administration to prepare a presentation to the board on a program that already exists and in operation for the past 4 years is ample time, and if another follow-on discussion at another special or regular meeting after that is needed then so be it…at least quick effort to move forward on at least discussing a matter than is so important to so many parents is a prudent and reasonable thing to do if for no other reason than to demonstrate sensitivity by the elected board to their constituents.

    Unlike director Dan Popp, who made it clear that he is not in favor of adopting any new policy about this, including the one that the petition calls for that is in practice at other school districts, at least the other directors did not rule out that possibility. Director Marci Busby has a history over the years of always deferring to the recommendations of the superintendent and his administration on such decisions, thus we’ll not really have an idea where she stands on it until we hear from the superintendent. Caroline Simpson clearly appeared in favor of serious consideration of the proposed new policy and asked for discussion on this during the next regular meeting. Directors Tavish McClean and Geoff Doy did not appear to be against considering the proposed new policy and a discussion about it, they were simply adamant about first hearing the superintendent’s position on it, including whatever additional information he wants to come up with (the board was not very specific about exactly what they needed to hear about the current program). I do wish they would have expressed more support for a discussion of this during their next meeting, instead of the appearance of pushing back on making expedited progress on a resolution. I personally don’t see harm, instead potentially benefits to all, in superintendent Aune’s administration doing some research and report to the board…I am just amazed that such an effort should take more than a week to complete in a thorough manner. Especially considering that it is intuitively obvious to the most observer at the meeting that this is a very important issue to 550, and growing, number of parents, which is to say it should be given the highest priority. Hopefully, we’ll see this appear on the agenda for the next regular board meeting in the end, as it should.

    • Sounds like pressure should be focused on the Superintendent

    • Warren Bingham says:

      It disappoints me greatly to hear that they (SVSD Board) were not even receptive to our concerns; whereby said concerns can have a significant impact on the future lives of our children. If this is true, and if a mutually agreeable resolution is not reached, then know I am willing to contribute to a legal fund that targets the SVSD Board collectively and individually. It seems to me that there is a legitimate and justified legal case here (e.g. SVSD Board knowingly refuses to teach topics they know will be tested on the SAT, thereby knowingly handicapping our children’s futures). Please let me know if I am incorrect. Assuming I haven’t misunderstood the situation and its future ramifications, please join me in creating a legal reserve fund should we have to go down this path, which I truly hope we don’t.

  2. Matthew Wolenetz says:

    The existing policy is why we removed our older son from SVSD after a failed attempt at the appeals process kept him placed on an unchallenging and unproductive path. Only a 0.5% increase in his in-class grade would have had him automatically selected for the better path. It’s frankly disgusting that parents have no effective choice other than leaving SVSD. He is now excelling at home school and will have much better opportunities in the future than would have been available if we had kept him in SVSD.

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