Common Beliefs, Framework to Guide Educational Program as LWSD Shifts Grades

Principals, district administrators develop framework for middle schools, four-year high schools

With less than two years to go before Lake Washington School District shifts its grade configuration, principals and other district educational leaders have been working since fall to outline common beliefs and basic frameworks to guide the district’s educational program. This work takes into account state requirements. It ensures that students will be on their way to meeting the district’s Student Profile, the document that describes the knowledge, skills and attributes students need to graduate, prepared for college, prepared for the global workplace and prepared for personal success.

The district will move to a grades K-5 elementary school, grades 6-8 middle school and four-year high school system in the fall of 2012. The current system includes grades K-6 in elementary school, 7-9 in junior high school and grades 10-12 in high school.

“I’m very proud of the thoughtful work that our educational leaders have done,” noted Dr. Chip Kimball, superintendent. “They have spent significant time in research and substantive discussions. The results will ensure that we will go forward to develop an excellent instructional program for each school in our district that works within our new grade configuration.”

The middle school framework marks a significant shift from a junior high model, which emulates a high school model as students have different teachers for different courses. The middle school model offers a program that helps students transition from an elementary experience to a high school experience.

The framework outlines the average minutes per week devoted to major subject areas (Math, Science, Social Studies and Literacy) and how health and fitness instruction will be included. It also outlines the philosophical approach to electives.

Sixth through eighth graders will all have access to “honors” through their regular courses, as teachers offer different levels of challenge based on each student’s needs.

Sixth and seventh graders will have fewer class transitions, ideally seeing no more than three teachers for their Literacy/Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies instruction. Eighth graders will ideally see no more than three to four teachers for these subjects.

Each school has begun to develop their own program based on these agreements. Depending on their approach, the average student’s schedule may look different from school to school, as it does now.

“This process has been a good opportunity for schools to examine what they are doing now, what is working and what is best for students,” noted Dr. Traci Pierce, Deputy Superintendent. “Each school community is taking the time to thoughtfully develop the program they believe will work best for their students.”

High schools are also preparing for the grade shift, adding ninth grade to the high school program. High school administrators have also taken time to develop their own belief statements about what works best in high school programs.

Work at the high school level has focused on the state and district graduation requirements and how best to ensure that students not only meet those requirements but leave high school prepared for college, the global workplace and personal success. Now that all four grades are within one school building, it provides an opportunity to work with students from ninth grade on to develop a high school academic program that speaks to the individual student’s interests and/or career goals.

As sixth graders shift to the middle schools, elementary schools will also look at the impact, particularly with regard to student leadership and transitions.

Additional work will take place over the next school year to ensure that operational plans are in place for facilities, transportation, staffing and other items to ensure a smooth transition to the new structure. A section on the district website devoted to these changes has been set up: parents and community members who are interested can visit there frequently to keep up with the progress. Questions or feedback may be sent to gradeshift@lwsd.org.