Foss students swing into action
DEBBIE CAFAZZO; Staff writer
Students at Tacoma’s Foss High School returned from a four-day weekend Wednesday to news that the future of their school was in doubt.
Tacoma School Board members on Saturday heard a proposal from Superintendent Art Jarvis for dealing with anticipated state budget cuts.
One part of his solution – a move that could save the school district an estimated $2 million of the $5 million Jarvis said is needed next year – would temporarily mothball Foss beginning next fall.
Like a lot of Falcons, 16-year-old Foss junior Tori Agnew initially got the news on Facebook, followed by a text message. She didn’t believe it at first.
“You’re in high school – how many rumors go around?” she said Wednesday after school.
But when she arrived on campus that morning, she learned that closure was a real possibility.
Students and teachers gathered for an all-school assembly, where the mood was subdued and full of uncertainty, students said. After the assembly ended, the discussion was on.
“It’s all we talked about all day,” Tori said.
Students at the school, located in the shadow of the Cheney Stadium reconstruction project, were busy creating posters protesting the idea. One student made a video. Others planned to circulate petitions to the school board.
Derek McKee, a 15-year-old sophomore, switched to Foss this year from the Franklin Pierce School District.
“I’m still kind of trying to get used to a new school,” he said. “Why shut the school down based on population, instead of importance?”
School board members have taken no action on the proposal.
Additional savings under Jarvis’ plan could come from temporarily shuttering several small elementary schools, increasing class sizes and asking administrators to find more cuts.
Although the district hasn’t said for sure which elementary schools might be targeted, a memo from Jarvis to school staff members lists seven with enrollments below 300: Franklin, Lyon, Roosevelt, Stanley, McKinley, Wainwright and Geiger. But because Geiger has been growing and is planned for a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade Montessori school, the district is not considering closing it, the memo said.
Middle schools are full and likely won’t be closed. The district already closed Hunt Middle School this year – another temporary move.
Jarvis and the school board are reacting to some drastic state cuts aimed at education in the governor’s proposed budget. But the Legislature must debate and act on that budget before it impacts school districts across the state. That discussion is now under way in Olympia.
Tacoma school administrators say they want to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Of Tacoma’s five comprehensive high schools, enrollment at Foss is the lowest. District officials say there’s room for Foss’ 1,134 students at the other schools. As of Oct. 1, Stadium had 1,682 students, Mount Tahoma 1,602, Lincoln 1,513 and Wilson 1,440.
Details of the district’s proposal have yet to emerge. Among them:
• How would Foss students be divided among Tacoma’s remaining four high schools?
• Can Foss’ prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) program be transplanted wholesale to another school, or must it undergo a recertification process first?
• How would the move affect teachers and other staff members at Foss? Would they simply follow the Foss students to other schools?
• What happens to special education students?
Jarvis said the district must either make some large cuts or it will be forced to cut programs districtwide. Shuttering Foss for the duration of the budget crisis, he maintains, means students will still be able to get a comprehensive high school education; they’ll just attend school in another building.
But the big question on the lips of Foss students and parents Wednesday was this: Why us?
Parents are swinging into action. The PTA is holding a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the school’s Little Theater.
“We are certainly not going down without a fight,” said PTA President Chris Hall, who said she’s heard from many parents. “We do not intend to just sit back and let them close our school.”
Foss attracts families from all over the city, parents say.
Darla Medina is in her 11th year as a Foss parent. Her son, a junior, is her fourth child to attend.
“We live in Northeast Tacoma,” she said. She said her family opted out of attending Stadium – a school often sought out by parents citywide – because of the IB program, which is recognized worldwide.
She said her son also values Foss’ racial diversity and relaxed atmosphere: “He says the nerd table is right next to the cool table (in the cafeteria).”
Medina said that if she and other families can’t save Foss, she will likely send him to school in another district.
Other Foss students also say that if they can’t return to Foss next year, they won’t be back in Tacoma schools.
Tori Agnew said she’ll likely check into online school options – even though she’s a social person.
Dre Hardy, a 17-year-old Foss junior, believes his school isn’t as “rowdy” as the schools some of his friends attend.
He lives on the city’s East Side, but chose to attend Foss.
Moving to a new school, he said, “would be harder on my parents.”
Foss has been through a lot, parents say. In the last decade alone, the school has weathered a bitter debate over changes in IB and in how grant money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was spent. In 2007, there was a fatal shooting at the school.
And despite it all, said Medina, “the community at Foss kept coming back stronger.”
To close the school now, she said, “is really sad.”
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 email@example.com