School board votes to begin preliminary work on new Alderwood Middle School

By Natalie Covate for Lynnwood Today

While voters in the Edmonds School District will consider a $230 million bond issue next February, the Edmonds School Board voted on Tuesday, Nov. 12, to begin the preliminary work on construction of a new Alderwood Middle School.

The school board unanimously approved a $500,000 budget for the Alderwood Middle School work during the Tuesday meeting. The funds will allow the district’s Capital Projects Office to begin finding an architect for the new school and taking a topographic survey of the school’s Martha Lake site, among other pre-construction tasks.

According to Capital Projects Director Edward J. Peters, the Alderwood Middle School building is already overdue to be replaced. Moving the school from its current location near Alderwood Mall to Martha Lake will also put it in the center of the area that it serves rather than directly south, he said

Although $500,000 seems like a large budget considering the bonds will not be voted on for approximately four more months, Peters said that it is less than half of 1 percent of the total budget for the project, so it is a very small price to pay up front for four months worth of progress.

“I have never finished a project and said ‘Boy, I wish we started this project later,’” Peters told the school board.

Provided the bonds pass in February, taking these pre-construction steps now makes it possible for the school to finish construction in time for the beginning of the school year in 2017.

The Capital Projects Office also requested $800,000 for a separate project. Lynndale, Mountlake Terrace and Spruce elementary schools will all be receiving state funding to reduce their class sizes in the 2014-2015 school year, but only if they can provide the classroom spaces necessary for the additional classes.

The proposed $800,000 would go to the rental of one portable classroom per school in order to fulfill this requirement. The school board also unanimously approved this request.

Next spring, many of the district’s schools will be participating in a field test for the online Smarter Balanced Assessment, which is a standardized test that relies on computer technology to measure a student’s academic growth. This will put an increased demand on computers during that time, so District Technology Director Cynthia Nelson proposed purchasing 800 Chrome Book laptop computers to be used throughout the district to minimize the impact of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

The school board approved the $460,000 budget for the new laptop computers. Although these computers will fulfill an immediate need, Nelson and the school board discussed ways to incorporate the Chrome Books into regular education starting in fall 2014.

Executive Director of Student Learning Lara Drew said that right now, schools throughout the district have a student-to-computer ratio of about two- or three-to-one. Although Drew acknowledged that lowering that ratio would cause some challenges in terms of infrastructure and instructional adjustments, she does see the potential for bringing the devices into the classroom during the year..

“These new devices would help with the testing but give us a nice enhancement…to really look at them instructionally, how to use them in that model,” she said.

Superintendent Nick Brossoit noted that other districts, including those in other states, have attempted to bring more computers into the classroom with some success, although in some cases the technology ended up burdening the school financially. However, he is not completely against the idea.

“We need to make sure that if we make the decision to do this that it not only fits the test model for right now but also that we have a model for the use of them in the future,” he said.

Discussions around the use of the new computers will continue in future meetings.

About 10 minutes before the meeting began, the room filled with people wearing blue or purple T-shirts labeled SEIU or PSE. Members of the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) and Public School Employees (PSE) addressed the school board at the beginning of the meeting insisting that the board continue to negotiate with the unions.

Special Education Data Specialist Lauri Velasquez read her testimonial.

“I do a job that I’m sure most of you don’t think about or don’t even know exists,” she said. “I think it’s shameful that when so much additional money is available that you’re not willing to share any of it with your hardworking employees.”

Brossoit said that as more state funding becomes available, the school district will increase the salaries of workers. However, he also noted that the district’s budget is approximately $40 million less now compared to 2009.

“We’re trying to take funding and put it back in action but it is not going to happen as fast as we like,” he said.

Board member Diana White expressed her sympathies at the end of the meeting.

“I saw a bunch of faces that I know and love and it just hurts my heart knowing that they think that we don’t appreciate them,” she said.

The unions will continue negotiations with the school district in the upcoming weeks.

Also at the meeting:
-Director of Assessment, Research & Evaluation Nancy Katims presented a State Assessment Report, showing that all grades and subjects performed as well or better than the state average except 10th grade geometry, 10th grade biology, 5th grade science, algebra for grades 7-10, 8th grade math and 8th grade reading. She showed a particular concern for the 8th grade scores because this is their second year in a row of being below average. On the other hand, elementary reading and 4th grade writing have outperformed the state for the past three years.

-In his year-end report for the 2012-2013 school year, District Executive Director of Business and Operations Stewart Mhyre showed that enrollment decreased by 7 percent and that the each school’s Associated Student Body was able to earn all of the money it spent during its respective school year.

-Assistant Superintendent Patrick Murphy showed that the district as a whole had a graduation rate of 77 percent at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, just above the state average of 75 percent. If you look only at the four comprehensive high schools, however (Edmonds-Woodway, Lynnwood, Meadowdale and Mountlake Terrace), that number jumps to 84 percent, he added. Within these comprehensive high schools, there were 33 students who failed to graduate because they fell no more than four credits short of the requirement. If these 33 students had graduated, the percent would likely jump to about 87 percent, making a valid argument for the use of “Success Coordinators” similar to those that have been implemented in Everett schools, he said. These coordinators operate outside the realm of a typical counselor by tailoring a graduation plan and motivating students to finish it primarily through the oddly effective strategy of nagging, he added.

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