The Apple Leaf

Controversy surrounds bell schedule focus groups

Bailey White and Xavier Martinez, Features Editor and Editor-in-Chief

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Senior Rigoberto Ayon

Sophomore Christian Cutter

Junior Ellie Toth

Junior Elizabeth Dominguez

Sophomore Jose Julian Cabrera

chee High School’s 4×4 block schedule has been a magnet for controversy since the day it was announced. In an effort to analyze its impact, the Wenatchee School District hired independent consultant Dr. Janet Gordon of the Gordon Group. Students, parents and teachers participated in focus groups organized by Gordon and her research assistant.

However, there have been questions about the methodology used to select participants in the focus groups. At an April 23 school board meeting, board member Laura Jaecks read a letter from herself and fellow board member Walter Newman. They questioned whether the board’s involvement in the focus groups was consistent with school board policies 1005, 1220, 1240, 1620 and 1810. In an interview with The Apple Leaf, Jaecks stated that she had not been given any specific information regarding student selection, the timing of the focus groups or the scope of the questions.

Rather than use one student focus group, Gordon opted to divide the participants into two sub-groups: Caucasian students and Latino students. Gordon was unavailable for an interview but shared a statement with The Apple Leaf prepared by “WHS administration, Board Members and Independent Researcher.”

“To comply with federal regulations and requirements, a maximum total of nine parents and nine students attended the focus groups,” read the statement. The Apple Leaf was able to confirm that only five students participated: two Caucasian and three Latino students.

WHS migrant graduation specialist David Vasquez said Principal Eric Anderson asked fellow graduation specialist Lorena Pulido and himself to select Latino students for the focus group. Sophomore Carmen Valencia, junior Elizabeth Dominguez, senior Rigoberto Ayon and sophomore Jose Julian Cabrera confirmed that they were asked to participate. All but Valencia were able to attend the focus group meeting on April 24. Additionally, each of their parents was asked to join the group to provide input.

The Caucasian focus group was selected entirely differently. Sophomore Christian Cutter, junior Ellie Toth and senior Lauren Thompson were not chosen by staff but volunteered to participate. Cutter and Toth confirmed they attended the Caucasian focus group on May 2. Thompson said that she was supposed to attend but was unable to. The two other students who were invited have not yet been identified by The Apple Leaf. Cutter, Toth and Thompson volunteered by emailing school board president Michele Sandberg, according to documents obtained by The Apple Leaf. These emails were sent on April 18, 19 and 20, respectively. Unlike the Hispanic group, no parents were asked to attend.

Gordon’s statement cited the rationale behind splitting the group along ethnic lines was “to be responsive, respectful and to honor culturally appropriate mores of each participants’ [sic] background.”

Although the participation of these five students was ultimately approved by Gordon, Sandberg did present the opportunity for volunteers at a school board meeting.

“[The student selection process] wasn’t really determined upfront. At the end of a board meeting several months ago, I said, ‘Hey, if any people are interested in being in a focus group…’ But later on, we were told that we could not advertise,” Sandberg said.

From the beginning, however, Gordon requested a diverse group of participants for the focus groups.

“You can move forward to identify a diverse group of parents and their students (ethnically and academically diverse) and teachers to participate in the focus group,” she wrote in an email addressed to Flones, Anderson, Sandberg and board vice-president Sarah Knox.

However, according to Vasquez, he and Pulido were not given any specific academic criteria to use when selecting students.

“[Anderson] didn’t necessarily say they have to be high-end students or low-end students; he said to just find four students that you think would be good for this,” Vasquez said. Pulido said the two tried their best to choose an academically and socioeconomically diverse group of Hispanic students, but that this was of their own accord.

Similarly, Toth, Cutter and Thompson, the three identified Caucasian focus group members, were not selected based on academic or socioeconomic diversity: they volunteered. All three are enrolled in Advanced Placement classes.

In addition to the data from focus groups, Jaecks and Newman requested at an April 10 school board meeting that parent and student surveys be conducted. The board approved the surveys in early May, and they were emailed to all parents and made available in the front office. Student surveys were conducted at school to ensure the integrity of feedback, according to Anderson.

“We did not send out a link because we wanted to control who had access to the survey,” Anderson said.

According to Anderson, parent surveys will close on June 8, so the results will most likely be available at the end of the month at the earliest. In the meantime, questions are already arising about the methodology used in obtaining stakeholder feedback. The Apple Leaf will continue to report on the study methodology, results and implications for WHS.

A listening forum hosted by the school board to discuss the bell schedule and the failed bond measure will be held in the Wenatchee High School commons at 7 p.m. this evening.

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