Tahoma community prepares to welcome Rainier after closure announcement
By Yesenia Lara, Sean Moser, Analisa Sofia Perez, Sol Perez and Christina Velez
The days following the announcement that Summit Rainier would be closing down next school year proved to be turbulent and stress-inducing for its community. The sense of not knowing what could come next for Rainier families and faculty has created a wide sense of worry, expressed through campus conversation, survey results and concerns raised at parent meetings.
However, the opposite could be said for Tahoma, where the mood communicated by the students and faculty we interviewed was positive and hopeful.
What were the reactions coming from Tahoma?
Tahoma students and faculty were given about as much notice of the two schools consolidating as the Rainier student body, with the faculty receiving an email on Nov. 14.
As of now, both KIPP and Summit Public Schools directors have decided on having Summit Rainier integrate with Summit Tahoma, leaving the current space that Rainier takes up on Mount Pleasant High School’s campus for KIPP Navigate College Prep (currently located with Tahoma at Oak Grove High School).
KIPP Navigate has been on the campus of Summit Tahoma for two years now; it currently serves only grades 9-10.
Some students at Tahoma feel that, in the past, it has been difficult to form connections with members of the KIPP community. “We don’t really interact with KIPP,” Tahoma junior Brian Arias Lopez said. This lack of interaction has led to a few students feeling positively about the forthcoming transfer of KIPP to the current Rainier campus.
Tahoma junior Noa Billups expressed his excitement about the replacement of KIPP with Rainier and said that he was “pretty happy that KIPP is leaving.”
Lopez shared his thoughts on the incoming Rainier students, saying, “Honestly, I’m pretty excited about it … Hopefully, I can meet new people, new friends, and that’ll be a great experience.”
At Summit Public Schools, the mentoring system is one of its defining factors: The official school website states that mentor groups are designed to have students “form strong bonds with twenty other students over their four years together” where they “support each other academically, socially and emotionally.”
Summit’s mentoring program has been one of the main reasons parents choose to have their children attend a Summit Public School, which is why many students and parents at Rainier are worried about the possibility of this experience being taken away.
Both Tahoma students who were interviewed agreed that the addition of students to their current mentor groups would not be an issue. They called the addition of incoming students a positive change.
Although the Tahoma community seems to have a positive outlook on the schools combining, a question posed by many is whether or not this change will benefit the student body. It is also a question as to how the transition will be handled by Tahoma faculty.
What benefits does this transition bring?
While the students at Rainier have been offered a spot at Tahoma, some worry about the transition these students will face when coming to a new school. Some believe it will improve the sports teams by adding more players and and improve facilities by expanding the Tahoma campus.
Tahoma science teacher Morris Shieh mentioned these possible advantages: “Tahoma is getting some benefits from the transition … This means if people transfer there will be more talent for sports teams, and KIPP is moving out to Rainier, which means we will have more space.”
Mr. Shieh later stressed his concerns about “making sure that Rainier students that come to Tahoma feel welcomed and at home.” Mr. Shieh then emphasized the importance of students feeling “safe and comfortable and completely supported” throughout the transition.
In addition to Mr. Shieh, Tahoma math teacher Doug Willis said, “I try not to treat my students differently from each other,” in order to create a welcoming environment for the incoming students.
According to Tahoma Executive Director Johnathan Stewart, new facilities such as classrooms would be added next school year. However, it is unclear exactly what new additions will be made. “We know that we’ll be adding classrooms next year, and adding space … It hasn’t been decided exactly what upgrades will be happening to the campus,” Mr. Stewart said.
Currently, Summit is in the early planning stages regarding construction, “figuring out the amount of money that we want to put toward new construction and also prioritizing what should be constructed,” Mr. Stewart added.
What is the history behind Rainier and Tahoma’s relationship?
The long history between Summit Rainier and Summit Tahoma means the decision to close Rainier raises strong emotions. In the past, Summit campuses in San Jose have been unable to find a long-term facility, and the organization has at times had to locate both Tahoma and Rainier schools at the same location.
Click on the interactive story map below to see the history of Summit campuses in San Jose:
In an interview with Rainier Executive Director and former Tahoma history teacher Edwin Avarca, he spoke about his feelings back in 2011 when Rainier and Tahoma had first separated: “I think I was mostly sad at that point … I was mostly sad about the faculty and the fact that I wouldn’t be planning, co-planning, with some of the faculty that I would use to because Rainier and Tahoma were like one faculty,” he said.
Similarly, former Assistant Director of Summit San Jose Pam Lamcke spoke about both schools’ reaction to that separation: “Because the two schools had started together and the students and faculty worked together, um, it was sad and challenging to move to different locations.” She added, “Even though it was sad and challenging, everyone understood that there were benefits to separate,” explaining those benefits included the campuses becoming less crowded and each individual school getting additional space.
Now, as Rainier faces their new challenge, the PDF sent to parents about Rainier closing discussed how both schools have a lack of necessities and want to work on getting a facility that covers all of Summit’s needs. San Jose Summit Public Schools have been on the campuses of Mount Pleasant and Oak Grove High School due to the lack of available space at other schools.
Mr. Avarca briefly summarized how he remembered the conflict back in 2016 as Summit continued searching for space: “I remember that at the time they told us it was basically because we were running out of space for Rainier and Tahoma to be at the same place … we had to reach out to the district to give us more space, and this is the space that became available,” he said, referencing the Mount Pleasant location.
Due to their shared history, Ms. Lamcke expressed her belief that merging both schools will result in a united community.
“I believe so — when both schools were on the same campus it didn’t really feel like two schools. It felt like one community and actually really nice to have that sense of community that two schools. I feel confident that that will happen again as the two schools come together,” she said.
Current Expeditions teacher and former Rainier math teacher Jane Rieder then expressed how she feels about both schools uniting into one facility and the thoughts that might be going through students’ minds, “Having taught at both now as an Expeditions teacher, I think the cultures of the schools are somewhat different. But, I mean, our students are awesome and I have no concern that that’s going to become, like, a long-term hurdle.”
Ms. Rieder added, “If anything, I think the two communities are going to really, really appreciate each other.”
Many have differing views about this new change, but Mr. Avarca spoke about how he does not see it as a mix of the schools but more as an option to go to a new school: “I don’t see it as a combination. I see it as being Rainier shutting down and Rainier students can choose to transfer to Tahoma if they can. I think that this is a tremendous loss to students who really believed in our mission, which is to be prepared for college and to be in a very supportive environment that allows them to feel like they can become contributing members of society,” he said.
Mr. Avarca spoke about the loss Rainier community members are feeling: “There’s a lot of grief that people are feeling, and with grief comes anger, comes sadness, um, comes personal reflection of your relations and the space with people that you feel a loss for.”