June 17, 2008 · Updated 6:06 PM
There will be no International (Alternative) Program at the Orcas Island School District, at least not for the foreseeable future.
By a 3-2 margin, the school board axed the program which had been proposed by Interim Superintendent Jeff Van Handel. Board Chair Bruce Orchid, Lisa Bronn and Tony Ghazel voted to do away with it. Susan McCaull and Scott Lancaster opted to keep it going. The vote took place at the March 1 meeting of the board.
Van Handel argued that the program would bring many more students to the district, and that it would solve the school's revenue problems. He also contended that an individualized program requiring each participant to study abroad was educationally valid in the global world of the 21st century.
The International Program may have been doomed during a special meeting on Feb. 15, when Martin Mueller, with the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), told the board that such a program could place the district at considerable risk. "You have a handful of issues you need to think about," Mueller said, explaining that the school would have to be able to demonstrate that each student is receiving a quality academic program. "It will mean more bureaucracy and more documentation," Mueller added, noting that each learning plan would have to be clear and specific, and that evaluations would have to be made by certified teachers.
Mueller was skeptical about Van Handel's willingness to enroll students full-time in the public school who are simultaneously full-time in the Salmonberry School. He was particularly critical of the interim superintendent's recommendation that he would direct the program and be paid per student. "This is a risky enterprise," Mueller said, explaining that it could lead to a conflict of interest when the appropriate course of action is to remove a student from the program.
Board member Ghazel, who led the effort to kill the International Program, felt the risks to the district were simply too great. Ghazel charged that many of the details of Van Handel's proposal were "not well thought out," and he said said the board already had "too many things" on its plate at this time to consider something else.
McCaull disagreed. She expressed disappointment that the board would drop the program shortly after getting what she described as a "devastating financial report." She also said that the program had "too many good things to just throw it out."
Orcas will continue to offer some alternative programs, among them the Orcas Association of Student Initiated Study (OASIS), which is geared for home-schooled students.