BISD to explore Odyssey expansion

Rhett Stephens said he knew things had to change when he, along with many other parents, attended a packed open house for the Odyssey Multiage Program last spring and discovered that 113 applications had been put in for just three openings in the program.

So after discussions over several months with other island parents in what he termed a “coffee meeting revolution,” he and seven other families have come together to form the Bainbridge Island Learning Community. The group will work on either expanding the Odyssey program or creating another program altogether.

The effort has been recognized by the school district, with a joint committee now being formed to take on the task.

Stephens said the process isn’t about replacing what the school district is doing, but to help facilitate a solution that works for both sides.

“We like what the school district is doing,” he said. “The Odyssey model is a tested model that’s proven to be successful. We have the state test scores to point to that say it’s clearly working. What we’re hoping to do is to work with the school district to try and create another tool to increase its reach to more kids.”

He said the BILC understands the space and budget limitations the school district is operating under, but they’re trying to work out the costs to where they can make an expanded or new program possible without having to build new space in buildings or increase funding.

Stephens said the expanded program would hopefully keep students from leaving the district and even get students attending private schools or those being home-schooled to join up, thereby increasing the funding the district gets from the state.

If they cannot expand the program, Stephens said they’ll work under a plan to create a new program that will incorporate much of what Odyssey does, such as individualized learning plans, project-based learning, multiage class structure and parental commitment, which means parents who volunteer for 10 hours a month.

“It’s a very basic skeleton, but it is based on what we have seen working well at Odyssey with our own kids,” he said. “A large part of what we are doing is to use our own efforts and energy as parents to remove that academic ceiling and give students as much individual attention as possible to give them a sense of ownership.”

Associate Supt. Julie Goldsmith, who is acting as the liaison for the group, said the plan is to include BILC members, school principals and teachers in the committee. She said the goal for the group is to work over the winter on a proposal and present it to the school board in the spring.

If the proposal is approved, the changes would take place by the 2011-12 school year.

“I hope we’ll make some definite guiding beliefs and principles on what’s important,” she said.

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