How a new Tahoma High School could become a center for community learning

A new high school in the King County-owned donut hole wouldn’t just be for the Tahoma School District’s students.

Conversations with King County about building a new Tahoma High School in the donut hole continue to progress, according to Tahoma Superintendent Mike Maryanski.

This effort ties into a larger picture for the district of helping Tahoma students become future ready, to help them have plans for life after school and possibly offering educational opportunities for them after graduation at a site in the heart of the city.

“It’s a high school for us, but we’d like to see it become a learning center for the community where adults have the opportunity take classes through Renton Technical College and Green River Community College,” Maryanski said. “For us, the situation that we’re in, it was definitely an opportunity. It made sense for us to look at the possibility of locating instead of taking the 30 acres we have west of the junior high and developing it.”

Two factors played into the start of this conversation. First was the failure of the district’s construction bond measure in April 2011.

Second, a few months later, King County began an effort to change its policy on school construction outside of the urban growth boundary.

Tahoma Junior High is outside the urban growth boundary but was built because a tight line sewer system was put in to serve the school, and only the school.

As district officials began evaluating the impacts of the failure of the bond and the proposed change to county policy, a whole host of creative, out of the box ideas emerged.

Among those was the idea of a land swap, the district’s 30 or so acres next to its junior high for land inside what’s known as the donut hole, a 156-acre piece of county-owned property — which is located off Southeast Kent-Kangley Road and 228th Street Southeast — that is designated rural and unincorporated yet wholly surrounded by the city of Maple Valley. It is home to nine holes of Elk Run Golf Course, a 13-acre county transportation maintenance facility and a large stand of trees.

Maryanski was serving on a rural school siting task force in 2011 which was created by King County Executive Dow Constantine to evaluate the issues surrounding construction of schools in rural areas.

The superintendent planted the idea of the land swap which would allow the district to build a brand new high school that would accomplish a number of things such as addressing its crowded classrooms and high use of portables while also help TSD work on its new initiative to help students become not just ready for college but ready for the future, whatever that holds for them after high school.

That conversation seems to be going well so far, Maryanski said.

“We’ve had a number of conversations with (county staff) and looked at how we might be able to move in that direction,” Maryanski said. “Certainly there are hurdles that we have to overcome but they’ve been working closely in providing information and answering our questions. They seem to be open to moving in that direction.”

At the same time, Maryanski said, district staff has been taking steps to get community support for its new high school concept as well as its future ready initiative.

In August Maryanski and district representatives met with a variety of community members including the executive director of the Greater Maple Valley-Black Diamond Chamber of Commerce, representatives from both Green River and Renton Technical, principals, students, and others from the private sector to share the vision Tahoma has for its students.

“We brought the community in, shared that vision and asked the people in the room if their organizations’ goals aligned with that,” Maryanski said. “We left with everyone in the room saying that they were. To have a diverse group of people in that room say they would support that … was one of the most encouraging conversations.”

In addition, a large committee of community members presented its report on college and career readiness to the Tahoma School Board of Directors in August, which is another critical piece in the larger picture for the district.

This committee, which had 49 members, first met June 6. The purpose was to understand how the district was serving the post-secondary planning needs of its students.

Turned out it was not quite what anyone expected. Tahoma does a great job, based on its graduation rate and number of students going to college, helping students get into school.

But, that may not be enough, as 40 percent of students who go to two-year or four-year schools finish in six years.

“We want to move to a system where we recognize that there are a lot of pathways to life and you need to choose a pathway that fits for you,” Tahoma Assistant Principal Diane Fox told the Reporter in late August. “What’s the first thing we ask high school seniors in the spring? ‘Where are you going to college?’ The fundamental shift is (asking), ‘What’s next for you and why did you choose that?’”

The opportunity to bring together all these issues — helping students prepare for life after high school, tackling the issue of crowded classrooms in a cost-effective way that is acceptable for the community while providing more opportunities for the entire community — opened up as the conversation turned toward the donut hole, Maryanski said.

“This mental model that people have, the only way to success is through a four year school, is deeply held,” Maryanski said. “And there’s data that supports that if you get a degree in the right area, you’ve positioned yourself for success. It’s not that we don’t want kids to go to college, in fact, we would like to see more kids go to college. It’s about more kids learning about who they are … and opening up possibilities. We just want every kid to have options for success.”

It is possible this concept of a building a new Tahoma High School to replace the existing, aging, crowded one could also bring a little peace to the ongoing debate over what should be built on the county-owned property.

“The vision that the city and the county have for the property hasn’t always been in alignment,” Maryanski said. “We’re entering into this conversation with the potential hope that we can possibly change that vision for all of the entities involved.”

And possibly change the mental model that all high school graduates should march off to a four-year university along the way.

Now it’s time to take this vision and work toward making it a reality. Conversations with the county need to continue, Maryanski said, while the district takes the recommendations from the committee on college and career readiness on how to engage the community from business owners to parents to students in an effort to get buy in.

“We’ve given ourselves three months to make a decision about the likelihood of being able to secure the property,” Maryanski said. “We’re talking at the board level about the possibility of a bond measure next fall. We’re going to begin to make some decisions about where it would be possible to carve out a location for the high school.”

By the end of November, the board will have made some decisions on what to do next.

Regardless of what happens with the proposal for a new high school, the district will continue its work to help students become future ready and communicate that vision to the community.

“We have a wonderful opportunity here,” Maryanski said.




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