Foss going strong into new school year

// Tacoma's lowest enrollment high school opens for business after fighting proposals to shut it down

Nine months ago, Henry Foss High School was in danger of being shut down.

As Tacoma’s smallest comprehensive high school, a budget crisis and low numbers put Foss on the chopping block.

The community spoke out, and Tacoma School Board listened. More than 1,000 students will walk into the halls of Foss on the first day of school, ready to take on another year of serious Falcon Pride.

“It was sad when they talked about closing Foss,” said junior Justin Vo. “I moved every year during school, but I haven’t moved since I started at Foss."

“I’m going to graduate from Foss.” 
Principal Bonnie McGuire is leading the way this year, after spending the last two years as principal at Tacoma’s Oakland High School, her most recent position during her varied, 34-year career in education.

She will be heading up an optimistic student body for the 2011/12 school year, made up of more than 1,100 students: 237 freshmen, 345 sophomores, 273 juniors and 207 seniors, according to the latest enrollment data Aug. 24.

However, this year’s budget cycle will inevitably be even more dire than last year’s, which means there is a chance that Foss could find itself on the chopping block – again.

But McGuire and her students are not worried.

“Foss is a shinning star school; it’s a school that hasn’t reached its full potential for lots of different reasons. But it certainly can. The previous principal, Thu Ament, did a great job and set a great table for me. I think we'll be able to build on what he put in place here,” she said.

Foss’ strong International Baccalaureate (IB) program has consistently drawn students to the school from beyond neighborhood and district lines.

McGuire said other magnet programs are also in the works to keep Foss’ numbers growing, which means more funding, and more stability for the future of the school.

“The IB program is a district wide-program held at Foss. We would love it if people didn’t think about it as a Foss program, but as a district program,” McGuire said.

One enrollment-increasing idea that was implemented during last school year is to designate Foss as the hub for all of Tacoma’s online classes. Because Foss is home to the “virtual learning program,” any student from any Tacoma high school who is enrolled in even just one online class is counted as a Foss student because Foss staff handles the credit tracking and student data.

Another possibility to bump up Foss’ numbers and campus usage is the development of a night school program that will launch at the beginning of the next semester.

The night school, which will be open to 16- to 20-year-olds from throughout the district, will offer students a more flexible high school schedule to accommodate internships and work schedules.

This semester, McGuire will be working closely with a community, parent, teacher and student committee to create the exact outline for how the night school will work and what it will offer.

“We need to find out what kids need, and we will build it as they come,” McGuire said. “We hope to marry up opportunity with students needs.”

A middle school feeder program, which would be held at Foss and have a focus on the International Baccalaureate program, is also something that is in the development stages.

That idea is playing off of one of Foss’ already successful and longstanding magnets that has pulled students to Tacoma, like sophomore leadership student Jessica Orozco.

“I live in Lakewood and I come here because of the IB program,” she said while working at freshman orientation Aug. 24.

“If they closed Foss, I might go to Wilson, or to (Lakewood’s) Clover Park.

“It wouldn’t be the same at other schools. Foss is a family. You don’t see that at a lot of other schools.”

A week before school starting, McGuire could point to more than 1,000 kids who would be starting up classes at Foss Sept. 1. She said this preliminary number is expected to grow during the first few days and weeks of school, as well.

“We’re alive and well, and hopefully we’ll continue to attract kids,” McGuire said.

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