This is the final installment of our three-part look at an idea to merge Longview’s two high schools, based on interviews with Superintendent Suzanne Cusick and school district consultant Scott Rose.
Q. Some say Mark Morris and R.A. Long have class and demographic differences. Is that an accurate perception, and if so, how are you going to overcome that?
A. “Are there still some differences? Absolutely,” Cusick said. “Do we need to get over it? Yeah. My obligation as superintendent is to make sure every kid gets the best education they can. I have very little patience with an attitude of elitism.”
Rose said embracing diversity is gaining emphasis in schools. “You have diversity in the workplace,” he said. “It needs to start with early childhood education on up.”
Q. When you merge two schools, you lose half the sports teams, reducing the number of students who can play. Do you worry that sports concerns will be too big an influence over the merger decision?
A. “Football you typically don’t cut,” Cusick said. She said instead of playing both sides of the ball, as the teams do now, there would be separate offensive and defensive squads. Basketball is limited to 12 players on the varsity, but there would be stronger participation on the JV and C squads, she said.
“And we could add other emerging sports, such as lacrosse,” she said.
As to whether sports may be too big a driver in the process, “I don’t really fear it,” Cusick said. “Obviously people are passionate about it and will be concerned, but I believe our community will make the best decision for our kids. And if the community says two high schools are best, we’ll do that.”’
Q. What would be the merged school’s mascot?
A. Students of the combined school would decide mascots and school colors.
Q. Is R.A. Long the best choice for hosting a single high school? If it wasn’t historic, would we be looking at that campus or would we go to the other?
A. “I see no architectural advantage of Mark Morris over R.A. Long,” Rose said. Despite RAL’s age, the building has “very good bones” that make it more adaptable than it may seem.
“R.A. Long has tremendous opportunities for offering an enriched environment,” said Rose, who praised the stately campus. “When you walk through that campus, what better way to prepare you for collegiate education?”
Q. By making Monticello part of a single high school campus, doesn’t that abandon the three-middle-school model to have smaller schools?
A. “I believe the community expected to have Mount Solo Middle School at 600 (students) or larger,” Cusick said. “We’re now at 490. When and if we go to two middles, they would each be 700 students. That’s not a large middle school; it’s a small one.”
Mount Solo was built to handle 700, and Cascade to hold 780. The citizens committee is considering adding extra classrooms to both for growth.
Rose said the committee and the district want to preserve a small-school environment. Incorporating Monticello (capacity 1,100) into the high school campus would give the district “the opportunity to create smaller learning communities.” One scenario is placing juniors and seniors in RAL, freshmen and sophomores in Monticello.
Q. What if the economy and the community grow and one high school is not big enough?
A. “I was principal of a 2,000-student high school. It doesn’t worry me at all,” Cusick said. It’s unlikely a single major new employer will bring hundreds of new jobs to town, said Cusick, who is on the Cowlitz Economic Development Council. But the RAL/ Monticello campus has plenty of room for expansion.
Q. What is the timeline?
A. The Facilities Planning Committee meets next on Jan. 10. It will draft a recommendation, then take it to the school board Jan. 28.
Once the board takes up the matter, a 90-day public hearing process will take place. Rose said it will probably be in mid-spring before the board makes a decision. From there, it would take about three years to start the actual merger of schools.
“The fall of 2016 is a reasonable expectation, but a lot depends on your community and how it leads that process in the district,” he said.