Changes ahead for Sunnyside High students, staff

The Sunnyside School Board gave a thumbs up to longer days and a closed campus at Sunnyside High School.

That's the result of action the board took last night, Thursday, during its regular meeting.

Extending the school day by an hour and closing the campus at lunch time were requirements in order for the district to receive a $2 million school improvement grant for SHS.

The federal grant is intended to address low graduation rates at the high school, as well as the school's ranking in the bottom 5 percent.

Prior to board action last night, Sunnyside High School students Meagen Meyers and Abby Ramos spoke out against the longer school days and closed campus.

They provided a petition signed by more than 500 SHS students, as well as established research documenting that a longer school day doesn't necessarily translate into improved student achievement.

They also expressed concern about having a closed campus during the school day, noting high school students feel they've earned the privilege to go off campus for lunch.

While a longer school day and a closed campus may require adjustment for students and staff, those are just scratching the surface of far-reaching changes students and staff will face at the high school this fall.

Under the grant requirements the high school will have a new principal, Gonzaga University professor Charles Salina. The board approved a related agreement with the university last night.

Current principal Brian Hart was removed from the post because of low graduation rates, as required by the grant.

The board has also approved the high school to switch from two semesters to a tri-mester school year. As a result, students can earn up to 7.5 credits each school year instead of six as is the case now.

Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole said after last night's meeting that the change means some students may be able to graduate early.

It also means those struggling to earn enough credits to graduate will have a better chance to receive their diploma. That in turn may help the school graduate more than 60 percent of its students.

In another action related to the school improvement grant, the board hired Eric Sylling to serve half-time as the secondary schools director and half-time as coordinator of the district-wide Summit program.

Sylling had been on staff full time under the Summit grant program to improve student learning in the district. The $2 million school improvement grant also provided for a full-time secondary education director.

Cole explained that rather than have two different full-time administrators it is better to have the same person coordinating both the Summit and school improvement grant programs.

The money unspent on administrators in the two grants will instead be used for staff professional development.


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