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Originally published November 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 16, 2007 at 12:23 PM

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Federal Way takes tech-school idea that Seattle rejected

Seattle Public Schools rejected a deal with a local nonprofit to start a technology-based school — not once, but three times since...

Seattle Times education reporter

Seattle Public Schools rejected a deal with a local nonprofit to start a technology-based school — not once, but three times since 2005.

So the Technology Access Foundation (TAF) went elsewhere, and now the Federal Way School District is poised to sign a deal this morning for a $1 million annual donation to start a program for grades 6-12 at Totem Middle School. The agreement will almost double the per-student money for kids enrolled in the school, which is in north Kent.

The new program, to be called TAF Academy, will share space with about 700 students who already attend Totem. But TAF Academy students will use a project-based curriculum focused on science and technology.

Paul Teske, TAF's K-8 program manager, used this example: A TAF biology teacher could team up with a TAF English teacher to help students create a computer-animated nonfiction story line about the life cycle of salmon. TAF foreign-language or band students could submit to their teachers recordings of themselves speaking or playing an instrument.

"It is going to provide our students with an exciting option," said Federal Way Superintendent Tom Murphy. "It's going to open the doors to science and engineering and math and technology for careers for a lot of kids who perhaps never thought that was an option for them."

TAF already runs some after-school and supplemental programs in Seattle. Part of its mission is to help underserved kids learn about math, science, engineering and technology. TAF intends to start five academies over the next decade around the region.

Murphy approached TAF director Trish Dziko after reading media coverage about her Seattle proposal. At the time, Dziko was embroiled in controversy with the Rainier Beach High School community, which accused the district of secretly negotiating behind their backs and said Dziko was trying to "take over" their under-enrolled South Seattle school.

Dziko, a Seattle Public Schools parent who left Microsoft in 1996 to start TAF, continued to negotiate with Seattle, proposing a technology academy at African American Academy K-8, another struggling South End school that caters mostly to African-American students. But district leaders didn't want to expand the African American Academy into a K-12 school when other South End schools were struggling to fill classrooms.

Dziko said she spoke briefly with the principal at Cleveland High School before she gave up and offered the opportunity to the Federal Way and Renton districts.

Totem Middle School — where about 60 percent of the students qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program — was a good opportunity, a TAF spokeswoman said. About a third of the students are white and a quarter are Hispanic, according to the district's Web site.

In the fall, the academy will open to students in sixth, seventh and ninth grades. Eventually, the school will grow to include about 50 kids in each of seven grades. The school will hire teachers from inside the district.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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