Sunday, February 1, 2009

School Choice in Federal Way
... by Charles Hoff

This article is primarily for parents, or those who have some influence on parents, and are concerned about the education of children.

This is the “Choice Season” in the Federal Way School District. Those of you who live in the district are so fortunate to have some choices in the education of children. Sadly most of the parents, and others concerned with the education of children, have left “choice” up to the District, or the friends of their children. I have often said “You can get some of the finest education in the State of Washington in the Federal Way Schools. I did not say you will get the finest education.” It is a matter of choosing the education you are getting.

Let’s first look at those students who are now in the 5th grade and moving on to the “Middle School Years.” This is a time period where “things go wrong” for a large portion of children. Parents seem to “sign off” from supervision and leave some major decisions about their children’s future to others. Kids who have done well in elementary school often do not make a satisfactory exit from the middle school years.

If parents leave it up to the school district, the needs of their children will be subjugated to your address! Your child will be assigned to the closest school as school administrators will tell you that “all schools are good.” This reminds me of “Animal Farm” where “all were equal, but some were ‘more equal.’”

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides all parents with a “School Report Card” that will tell you a great deal about the “equality” of schools. They don’t make it very easy to find this “Report Card,” but here is where to find it for any school in Federal Way.

I would encourage all who are concerned about the education of children to explore this web site in detail to determine “how equal” all schools are in Federal Way.

If you are not satisfied with your address being the best indication of which school is best for your child, you may still defer to your child’s demands “that they go to school with their friends.” Friendships change over the years, or days, and peer pressure is a major factor for success in middle schools. Unfortunately some of the friends that kids make in middle schools are not focused on success in school. This is one of the major reasons for lack of success in middle schools. If you feel that your 5th grader is capable of making decisions that are life changing, why don’t you let them make this choice and also give them your check book? They certainly can’t make any worse decisions with your finances than they might make about friends!

What are the other choices? I don’t believe the school district does a very good job of making every parent aware of these. If you are concerned about the success of your child you should be able to defend your decision, in my mind, not to have enrolled in one of these options:

1. Federal Way Public Academy. One look at the report card for this school should convince you these people are serious about your child getting a great education. In the 10 years that this school has been open, it has educated some of the most accomplished students in South King County, if not the State. Admission here is limited by lottery. If you are not in the lottery you can’t win. If you lose the lottery I would suggest that you band together with the rest of the losers, and march to the next school board meeting demanding that more capacity be made available. This education is available to 6th through 10th graders.

2. Technology Access Foundation Academy. In conjunction with the Technology Access Foundation, the school district has begun a program to educate children in not only the fundamentals of a proper education, but in the latest technology. This program is a program for grades 6 through 12. While it is in its early stages there is little doubt that graduates of this program will be far better educated than those who went to a school based on their address.

3. Cambridge Program (Checkpoint). In conjunction with Cambridge University, it doesn’t get much better than this, Federal Way School District has offered a middle school program that is aligned with the admission requirements of Cambridge for the past two years. Since they have been in the education business since 1209, and set the standards for most education offered outside of the United States, this program will allow your child to develop into a fine candidate for admission to any competitive college in America, or elsewhere. This program is housed in two of the district’s middle schools.

4. K-8 Programs. Two of our elementary schools, recognizing the shortcomings of middle schools, and following the actions of some of the major school districts of America, have started programs that allow students to remain in their schools through the turmoil laced middle school years. Woodmont School will be in its third year of this program, and Nautilus School will be in its second year of this program. You may request your child join in either of these two programs.

Where will your 6th grader go to school? It is up to you to decide. I do believe that you should be able to defend your decision after a serious investigation of these alternatives, if you are serious about your child’s education.

Next week. Choices for 8th graders.

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