Challenge courses to be retained for Northshore middle school students

Challenge courses will be retained for Northshore School District middle school students after the School Board voted to preserve a modified version of the program.

Nortshore School District - Contributed art

Challenge courses will be retained for Northshore School District middle school students after the School Board voted to preserve a modified version of the program.

The five-member board voted 3-2 to keep dual track regular and Challenge course options for 7th and 8th grade students, while making all classrooms teach on par with Challenge-level classrooms for 6th graders. An option which was strongly opposed by the Northshore Education Association (NSEA), the district’s teachers union and which could be a lynch pin in possible strike negotiations.

The Challenge courses are more rigorous classes which students may opt into at the beginning of the year. Though they use the same curriculum, teachers encourage students to explore the material more thoroughly.

School Board president Amy Cast said the decision was a compromise, but the best current option.

“I do believe that it addresses concerns of staff and concerns of parents,” she said.

The issue drew battle lines between the teachers union, who said the Challenge courses had the unintended consequence of discriminating against some minority groups, and parent activists who argued providing the option of selecting Challenge courses helped all students.

NSEA had hoped all 6th through 8th grade classrooms would have been combined and consequently provide all students with a more in-depth education, which they said would help close the achievement gap.

NSEA president Tim Brittell said educators were heavily opposed to keeping Challenge courses.

“[The School Board] ignored the professional judgment of the teachers, the administrators and the head researchers and chose to continue a program that is detrimental to students,” he said. “We don’t believe in segregating schools by ability at the ages of 11 to 13, it’s not appropriate, these are kids that all of the research says need to be taught together in heterogeneous classrooms.”

Parents argued ending the courses would only punish students who wanted to delve into the material, and would do little to close the achievement gap, which they said starts well before middle school.

Cast agreed the district should address the gap but that it should be done on what she calls a ‘continuum’ from kindergarten through high school.

But Brittell said the board should have listened more to what teachers were saying.

“They chose to listen to a vocal minority and disregard the opinions of the professional educators,” he said.

At the meeting, board member Ken Smith said he would like to see the Challenge courses evaluated more thoroughly, but ultimately supported keeping them.

The Bellevue School District used to have a program similar to Challenge courses, but due to the high enrollment in them, all classes were switched to the more rigorous classes.

Cast said this would be the ideal solution and hopes the NSD School Board could achieve something similar in the future, though she said during the next school year they will be busy facilitating massive grade and district boundary adjustments.

“We really understand that we have to help our students prepare for an increasingly rigorous career pathway,” she said. “We are asked, as a school district, to prepare our students to enter an increasingly technical world.”

Brittel said as contract negotiations approach, the approval of Challenge courses would be a key issue. While he would not say if the union would strike because of it, as well as for higher pay for para-educators and smaller class sizes, he said NSEA was preparing for the “best” and the “worst.”

“If the Northshore School District would move on a few issues, we could move on a few issues,” he said. “Right now we seem to be staring at each other.”

During the 2017-2018school year, 9th grade students will be moved up to high schools, creating 5th through 8th grade middle schools and district boundaries will be redrawn, routing some students to different schools.

More in News

The Council recognized the AFIS program as it celebrates 30 years of assisting law enforcement throughout King County. Councilmembers, AFIS staff and King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht join AFIS regional manager, Carol Gillespie. Photo courtesy of King County.
King County Council recognizes county’s Automated Fingerprint Information System

For three decades, AFIS has helped law enforcement solve thousands of cases.

‘This might have been a once in a generation opportunity’: Kenmore’s Lakepointe deal grinds to a halt

City officials unsure of what comes next for the more than 50 acre industrial site.

King County Flood Control District approves 2019 Budget on Nov. 5. Photo courtesy of King County Flood Control District.
King County Flood Control District approves $93 million budget

The 2019 District Budget will maintain current flood protection services.

Student veterans receive new resource center at UW Bothell

The Veterans Resource Center at UW Bothell was created after student veterans indicated they wanted a space designated for themselves.

Bothell voters approve public safety ballot measures

As of election night on Nov. 6, both the levy and bond were passing.

Democrats lead in 46th Legislative District

Voters are sending David Frockt, Gerry Pollet and Javier Valdez back to Olympia.

Democrats lead in 1st Legislative District

Derek Stanford and Shelley Kloba were successful in their re-election bids.

DelBene leads in 1st Congressional District in early returns

As of election night, incumbent Suzan DelBene was leading with 69 percent of the vote, to Jeffrey Beeler’s 31 percent.

UW Bothell Student Veterans Services held an Open House and Coffee event during this year’s Welcome Week and remains the main arm in helping veterans. The new resource center adds to this support. Photo courtesy of Marc Studer, UW Bothell
UW Bothell opens new veterans resource center on campus

The new Veteran Resource Center is designed to connect veterans and build relationships.

In Kenmore, the SMP applies to Lake Washington, Sammamish River, and Swamp Creek and associated wetlands. Bothell’s SMP, which was last updated in 2013, also governs development next to the Sammamish River (pictured) and Swamp Creek, along with North Creek. Photo courtesy of Mark Hussein
Bothell, Kenmore look to protect shorelines

Shoreline master programs protect and restore valuable aquatic resources for future generations.

Ashe joins Bothell as new economic development manager

She will work cooperatively with both long-time and future business owners in the city.

Said Farzad reportedly called in numerous bomb threats to state agency offices in Olympia. No bombs have been found, but the state agencies are increasing police presence and bomb-sniffing dogs. Reporter File Photo
Suspended psychiatrist suspected of making bomb threats

The suspect was previously convicted of telephone harassment of a Bothell insurance company and has reportedly called in numerous threats from various countries. No bombs have been found.