Foss sets out to evolve as its neighborhood changes

// Meeting at Foss: 4:30 January 8th - School seeks 'magnet' status

  • REAL CHANGE. Foss High School is only about two-thirds full after its feeder schools closed and the rise of SOTA chipped away at its student base. Enrollment is about half of what it was just 10 years ago. Now, an effort is underway to bring student numbers up. (Steve Dunkelberger)

Foss High School officials are aggressively learning a lesson first championed by British Naturalist Charles Darwin more than a century ago. The school either has to evolve and change with the times or die by standing still. School officials gathered parents, neighborhood boosters, business leaders and academics earlier this month to start discussions of how the school could increase innovation and become a magnet school that draws students from around the district. The school has just 1,000 students, which is about half of what it had just 10 years ago, principal Bonnie McGuire said. The closuring of its nearby feeder schools, as well as the rise of the district’s specialty schools such as the School of the Arts and the Science and Math Institute, lowered Foss’ enrollment. That drop has put it on a list of possible school closures in recent years but its doors remained open following a vocal outcry by parents and students who wanted it saved. Rather than risk being listed again, the school is seeking ways to return to its tradition of being a magnet school that draws students from around the region. “Foss was initially THAT HIGH SCHOOL,” she said, noting that Foss was the first high school in the state to offer the International Baccalaureate diploma program, which is known for its academic rigor and global focus. That effort was borne from a need for innovation. And that innovation is needed again. The first brainstorming session to find that educational niche centered on discussion about possibly making Foss a “school within a school” by adding middle school students to parts of the campus as a way to ease them into high school life, or focusing on the school’s technology program or becoming a high school center for classes on international business since Tacoma is an international port city. “There are a lot of different discussions about a lot of different concepts,” McGuire said. The effort now is to whittle that roster of ideas into a short list of three or four concepts that can be presented to the superintendent and the school board in the spring. Once those concepts are determined, the school will spend the 2013-2014 school year drafting a work plan to put the effort into action. The innovation meetings come after the Tacoma Public School District adopted an innovation policy in November, making it one of the first districts in the state to do so. The policy allows individual schools to look at options for themselves that would lead to increased student choice and achievement, district spokesman Daniel Voelpel said. “Ultimately, whatever this process yields in terms of recommendations go to the superintendent and school board for consideration,” he said. “Nothing is guaranteed.” The next set of public meetings have been scheduled for 4:30-7:30 p.m. on Jan. 8, 22, Feb. 5, 19, March 5, 19 and 26 at the Foss High School Library.


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