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Schools brainstorming

Community members help ‘vision’ during a two-day session.

Before approaching taxpayers with a $30-40 million school bond and technology levy in February, the Bainbridge Island School District on Thursday asked more than 100 community members for what they think the local schools need to produce happy, smart, ethical, technologically savvy students in the 21st Century.

The list of recommendations that emerged was long, ranging from programs to build self-esteem, emotional health and cultural understanding, to cutting-edge computer systems, classrooms geared for “hands-on” learning, and improved play fields, parking lots and restrooms.

The brainstorming session was part of an ongoing campaign to engage citizens in the process of improving Bainbridge’s aging school facilities, as well as making the community aware of the financial challenges the district faces in an era of rapid technological advances and declining revenues.

“Student achievement has not changed, but the economy has changed dramatically and the schools have not kept up,” said symposium leader Jim Parsley of LSW Visioning.

A superintendent for 26 years, Parsley is credited with the technological overhaul of the Vancouver, Wash., school system.

While Bainbridge schools recently posted the highest WASL test scores in the state, Parsley said the island’s classrooms are woefully ill-prepared to turn out technologically astute students in the future.

His presentation included a slide show of island schools showing small, 1960s-era classrooms, shabby bathrooms, and cars parked on lawns, compared with light, bright modern classrooms with high-tech equipment and communal areas that look like mini shopping malls, where teens help run an on-campus bank and store.

“You guys have 18-year-old computers,” Parsley told the crowd of educators, business people, and parents, assembled at Kiana Lodge for the day-long “visioning” symposium. “You need to donate them to the Smithsonian.”

Bainbridge High School Principal Brent Peterson told the group that the future success of island students goes way beyond test scores, pointing out that there is a daily struggle to provide adequate resources at the classroom level.

“We have 1,400 students in a (high school) facility built for 800 to 900,” Peterson said, noting that the symposium provided an opportunity to “clarify and recalibrate” how the district proceeds in the next decade.

Even if the district got enough money to reduce the average high school class size to 25 students, he said, there wouldn’t be enough classroom space to do it.

Despite the district’s numerous successes and its aggressive pursuit of grants, money is tight, said Bainbridge Island School District Superintendent Ken Crawford.

Compared to the state’s 296 school districts, Bainbridge Island ranks 271st in per-pupil funding, in a district with among the lowest tax rates in the state.

For much of the day, community members met in small groups to discuss what high school graduates should know to succeed in the 21st century; what instructional elements should be offered at all schools to help students achieve those expectations; and what facility improvements are needed to increase and enhance student learning.

“As always, I am so impressed whenever we bring the community together, because they are always so progressive and positive about how they envision the schools,” school board president Susan Sivitz said.

As several community members pointed out, “the buildings shouldn’t necessarily be about ‘cells and bells,’ when technology allows for greater flexibility” in the way students learn and schools operate, she said.

The symposium continued Friday afternoon at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, where the results of Thursday’s session were presented.

The report will be reviewed for the public at the next school board meeting Nov. 18.

“It’s a big thing to ask a community to participate in a school reconstruction project,” said school board member Bruce Weiland, a member of the district’s capital facilities committee. “The basic concept here is to have a broad cross-section of the community and educators participate in defining what we hope to achieve in the future.”

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