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Originally published December 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 13, 2007 at 1:21 AM


Kirkland international school breeds culture of success

Everybody takes AP and honors classes, there are no sports, no vocational electives and getting into college is a top priority. But Kirkland's International Community...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Everybody takes AP and honors classes, there are no sports, no vocational electives and getting into college is a top priority.

But Kirkland's International Community School is no "nerd school," students say.

Whatever you call it, the school's 380 seventh- through 12th-graders are performing better than most students in the country. About 95 percent go on to college and 100 percent of 10th-graders meet the standard for the WASL reading and math tests.

The numbers were enough to earn the school a 17th-place ranking in U.S. News & World Report's first listing of top public high schools in the country. The ranking, announced last week, is based on college readiness and measures the degree to which schools provide access to challenging college-level coursework.

"We've grown this culture that every student can be successful, and will be successful," Principal Cindy Duenas said.

Created in 1997 by a group of parents looking for a smaller educational format, ICS was modeled after Bellevue's International School, which was ranked fifth in the magazine listing. All students take six core subjects the first four years: humanities, international studies, art, math, science and Spanish. Beginning in 10th grade, only honors and Advanced Placement classes are offered.

By the junior year, students choose their own schedule. Traditional electives such as auto shop are not offered, but many students take two science classes or an extra art course to fill their load.

"It's the norm," said Sean Jobes, a 17-year-old senior. "It's probably harder than what you'd get elsewhere, but it's what we're used to."

The school is housed in a former elementary school building in a quiet Kirkland neighborhood. Inside you'll find students stuffing 8-inch book stacks into lockers, waving at teachers in the hallway and checking out college advertisements on bulletin boards.

Any students from the Lake Washington School District may apply to attend the six-year secondary school. Admission is by lottery.

The U.S. News & World Report ranking was partially determined by the performance of economically disadvantaged students, including black, Hispanic and low-income. Minority enrollment at ICS is about 2 percent, while disadvantaged student enrollment is 0.5 percent.

When students struggle with their courses, Duenas holds weekly group meetings to help with time management and encourages peer tutoring.


Science instructor John Heil said it's the integrated learning that makes ICS different. Because students are taking the same courses, teachers can build on topics being discussed in other classes and prepare students for the next step. Heil, for example, uses the second semester of his chemistry class to focus on biochemistry, which he said provides a transition into the next year's class: biology.

Drew Schwitters, a 17-year-old senior, said the fixed schedule is sometimes frustrating, but he values the core skills it gives him.

Both Schwitters and Jobes said they doubt they'd have the same motivation to succeed at another school. "This school pushes you so hard and gives you ambition to do well," Jobes said. "I know all my teachers here, whereas at another school, I might not and they wouldn't push me to keep succeeding."

Because ICS has no interscholastic sports program, Schwitters runs for the Redmond High School track and cross country teams — and even wears his RHS letterman jacket during class.

The school offers after-school programs for drama and music.

Bellevue's International School also has 100 percent passage for the 10th-grade WASL test in reading and writing, and 98 percent in math. .

It was mistakenly left off the original ranking list last week, but U.S. News & World Report editors apologized for the omission Wednesday and said the school qualified for fifth place.

Founded in 1991, the school has also been ranked among the top 100 high schools in the nation by Newsweek in 2003, 2006 and 2007. The U.S. Department of Education named it a "Blue Ribbon" school in 2004.

Meghan Peters: 206-464-8305

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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