Superintendent's Message, December 9, 2015

  • Dr. Cohn
    Dear Everett Public Schools families and staff,
    At its Dec. 8, 2015 meeting, our school board approved two separate, but interrelated actions that impact how we deliver middle and high school coursework and revise our systems to better prepare students with the skills and knowledge they must have to be college and career ready.

    One decision makes it possible for eighth-grade students in Everett Public to choose to take Spanish as an elective class starting in fall 2016. In doing so, those students could earn high school credit toward graduation and start on a path to five years of Spanish language study, including two Advanced Placement Spanish Language and Culture courses.

    The second decision extends the district’s timeline for requiring 24 credits to graduate by two years. Instead of this year's freshmen needing to earn two more credits to graduate, that requirement is extended until the class of 2021 - this year's seventh grade students. In taking this action, the district joins nearly 80 other school districts, which have already decided on a two-year extension. Together, these districts represent nearly half (46 percent) of the state's students.

    The state passed a law in 2014 that requires 24 credits in specific subjects in all Washington State school districts. The law gives districts an option to extend the requirement by one or two years beyond the class of 2019.

    Our district's decision to extend is based in large part upon time now available within a high school student’s schedule. We are funded for six high school class periods in four years. 6 X 4 = 24. There is no room for failure in this 6X4 box. The students now struggling to achieve 22 credits are those for whom we have an even higher obligation to rethink how we deliver rigorous course work and the support necessary for each student to graduate college and career ready.

    Systems designed for students to earn 22 credits will not meet the needs of all students to earn 24 by 2019, which is when we had originally planned to institute the new state law and 24-credit requirement.

    Adding more classes at middle school that can count as high school credit is one way of “enhancing” our systems to support students. The new 24-credit requirement includes two years of world language. Students who choose to take and pass Spanish as a middle school elective will have a jump start on that requirement. This continues our strategic work  to make more high school classes available to middle school students, for example Washington State History, freshman English, and advanced math and science classes.

    However, this middle school Spanish elective and extending the timeline to implement the 24-credit requirement another two years are not the only steps we must take to rethink and revamp our systems.

    We already know it’s not enough to simply ‘require’ students to get the credits; we must make it possible for them to do so and challenge and encourage them to take advantage of that possibility. Requiring more world language, more science and more math is the right thing to do to prepare students for their futures. It’s our obligation to do so. Doing this well requires more time, stable, ample funding and stakeholder collaboration.

    What I mean by “stable and ample funding” relates not to just our district’s concerns, but state-wide concerns about Supplemental Levy Funds that sunset at the end of 2017. (You may recall the voters approved an additional 4% Supplemental Levy in the summer of 2010; it expires in 2017.) That levy reduction could cost our district $10.1 million unless the legislature takes corrective action, hopefully this session.

    When we embarked on the 24-credit design process, we counted on the legislature making progress to fund schools as required by the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Given the slow progress to that end, we know it would be irresponsible to implement the greater requirements as originally planned, and then have to eliminate ways for students to meet those requirements because of state funding cuts.

    For these reasons, our school board, cabinet members, and I have been actively engaging elected representatives in conversations about the need for stable and ample funding for K-12 – until the Legislature actually complies with McCleary to amply fund education (not just creates a plan, or promises to fund our schools). The stakes are too high for us not to be spending as much time as possible explaining this complex issue to those who hold the power to make positive decisions and changes.

    Thank you to those who are joining that effort to communicate with our representatives and for the support you give to our communities’ children.