District should not close Tiger Mountain High School

Signe Stroming, Feature Editor

High school is a terrifying sea filled with moody teenagers and high expectations. You will rarely, if ever, have another situation where you and over one thousand other teenagers congregate in the same place, for 180 days a year, and expected to learn curriculum, prepare for college, and negotiate the a complex network of social interactions.

And some students need a life raft.

Despite our high schools’ comprehensive support, through student-teacher interactions, support from counselors, Learning Enrichment programs, and Free & Reduced Lunch, not all students thrive in a traditional high school environment. Sometimes language barriers, non-traditional learning styles, special education needs, or situations in students’ personal lives get in the way.

In 1991, Tiger Mountain High School was built to provide a second chance to those students. Now in 2014, the District is considering closing Tiger Mountain and the support net it provides.

Issaquah School District superintendent Ron Thiele told the Issaquah Press that “We believe we can do more and better for that segment of our population.”  The District is considering a proposal to close Tiger Mountain for one school year and build a new campus, and a new curriculum, to open in the 2016-2017 school year.  But the District has yet to decide if current Tiger Mountain students will be guaranteed a spot in the new school.

And what will happen to the current 105 students who attend Tiger Mountain? Well, those who haven’t graduated will be asked to return to the comprehensive high school nearest to where they live—Issaquah, Skyline, or Liberty. But there’s a reason those students left those high schools!

Despite many first impressions, the Issaquah School District is not the homogenously white, affluent, and upwardly mobile community it may seem. There is actually vast diversity—socially, politically, and economically—within our high schools. Diversity is perhaps the greatest learning tool out there, but it also creates difficulty when trying to meet the needs of socially and economically diverse students.

Despite our wonderful teachers, access to counselors, learning enrichment programs, and free and reduced lunch, there is something wrong if a disproportionately high amount of students struggling in traditional high schools are economically disadvantaged. According to the schools profiles on US News & World Report, at Tiger 29% of kids are economically disadvantaged, compared to only 12% at Liberty.

That raises an important question: are traditional high schools meeting the diverse needs of their students? The answer is no. But that’s why, for more than 20 years, Tiger Mountain has provided a safety net, a system of more intimate and personalized support that the three big high schools failed to provide to struggling students. The may not be perfect, but abolishing it entirely is the surest way to let down those 105 students.

The district claims to be trying to better meet the needs of struggling students at Tiger, and at all three major high schools, surely a commendable feat. But closing Tiger, even for a single year, is not in the best interest of its students. Sure, the rest of us might not be affected at all, but we’ve been succeeding in normal high school, or at the very least, keeping our heads above water. For years, the District has provided a specialized support system, a second chance, an alternative, a life raft. Now the District is considering putting those kids back in the water.

Perhaps they’ll learn to swim.

But, more than likely, they won’t.