Evergreen students say they want to graduate together

Several years ago, the Highline School District broke Evergreen and Tyee high schools into small schools.

Evergreen in White Center was divided into Arts & Academics Academy (AAA), Health and Human Services High School (HS3) and Technology Engineering and Communications High School (TEC.) They are all housed on the Evergreen campus but have separate classrooms, separate students, separate teachers and separate principals. The schools even have separate graduation ceremonies.

The idea was students would do better in school if they had teachers and classmates who knew them well and cared about them personally.

On Oct. 10, three students, with the support of a former school board president, pleaded with Highline board members to allow Evergreen campus students to graduate together in a joint ceremony.

They presented a petition they said was signed by 500 people, including 95 percent of Evergreen seniors.

Senior Sinamarietta Vili said the students feel like one family and refer to themselves as Evergreen students.

“We are not divided as friends and family,” Vili declared.

She emphasized that she was not criticizing the small schools concept but added the students want to graduate “under one roof.”

Huy Huynh said a joint ceremony would not take recognition away each individual school. He noted students don’t feel they are competing against students in the other schools and are happy for their successes.

Jack Huynh added that students in one school often have family members in another campus school.

Former school board president Sili Savusa decried comments she said were made by Evergreen staff members saying one Evergreen campus school was better than another. HS3 recently received a 2011 Washington Achievement Award for improving its extended graduation rate.

Savusa declared such staff comments “destroy the culture we are trying to achieve. It is not only demeaning to students but not what the district is about.”

Savusa, executive director of the White Center Development Association, continued, “If you don’t believe in the kids in the school, get another job.”

Board president Angelica Alvarez reassured students the district was looking into the students’ request.

Vice president Bernie Dorsey added this was the first time he had heard about the graduation controversy. He warned that staffers should not implement policies because “the board said so” when board members have not addressed the issue.

Superintendent Susan Enfield added her senior leadership team is looking at options. She noted there are many different opinions on joint graduation.

Board members also heard a presentation on the district’s proposed principal and teacher evaluation system.

Deputy Superintendent Carla Jackson said the new system emphasizes improving professional growth and practices over “gotcha” evaluations.

Highline Education Association president Stacie Hawkins and Human Services director Don Waring noted the proposed evaluation system for teachers will have four tiers, instead of the previous “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory” rankings. Student academic progress will be a factor in the evaluations.

Plans are for the teacher evaluation system to be agreed upon by the teacher’s union and board this spring.

Limited evaluation would begin in the 2013-2014 school year with district-wide evaluations in the 2015-2016 school year.

On evaluations of principals, Highline is a getting a jump on other districts in the state with most principals being evaluated under the new system this school year. By the 2015-2016 school year, all state districts will be using the evaluation system for hiring and retention of principals.

Enfield noted the new evaluation plan is a “profound shift” in school districts’ practices and culture.

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