Since 2010, parents and community members in the East Valley School District have been talking about the transition to K-8.
Tuesday at the district’s school board meeting, community members turned out to discuss the transition, fully implemented since the beginning of the school year. The board is looking at the direction of K-8, whether they should keep it or wind it back to a more traditional model, with elementary and middle schools. So many people came to the meeting it was moved from the district office to Trent Elementary School’s auditorium.
Almost 40 people spoke to the board, many of them praising the work the district has done, many more asking the board to slow down and make thoughtful decisions.
The speakers were a mix of staff members, K-8 supporters, families with students who attend the Washington Academy of Arts and Technology (WAAT), and opponents of K-8. WAAT, which is the umbrella of the district’s alternative programming and includes the Homelink program, Parent Partnership and more, could lose its location at the Enrichment Center – the former East Valley Middle School – if the district returns to a K-5 and middle school system. There are currently 560 students in WAAT in kindergarten through the 12th grade.
Leslee McLachlan, president of the teachers union, said she believes the district could lose more than $3 million if it loses the WAAT programs.
“Please, please, please be wise,” she said. “This is a huge decision that you are undertaking.”
Alahna Menter, a 14-year-old student in the homeschool program, said she is excelling in an environment where she can move ahead at her own pace. She said when she first attended a traditional school, she was frustrated her classmates were learning reading and math she already knew; she was sent to the library often for walking around the classroom when she became bored. Since entering the homeschool program, she has been able to work at her own pace and is now a 10th-grader, studying for her GED and is hoping to enroll in classes at a community college.
She is able to join in with other students with similar backgrounds and experiences.
Laurie Nesselrode said she has a child who did not do well in a traditional setting and is now a junior in the WAAT program.
“Keep this program open,” she told the board. “Do not do away with WAAT. It’s a very good program.”
“I am very proud to be a homeschool mom,” said Jenifer Robison, who has children in the Parent Partnership. She said her son loves going to school and can be himself at WAAT.
“The WAAT program is a viable program, it contributes to the district,” she said.
Parents, teachers and students also spoke about K-8.
John Savage, career and technical director for the district, made an emotional plea to the board, choking back tears several times.
“Slow down and look at the facts,” he said.
Otis Orchards parent Ryan Roslak said he was on the committee that originally pitched the idea of K-8 to the board and he has kept up with research that has come out since East Valley began the transition.
“I strongly support that we continue with the K-8 model,” he told the board. “It really is serving the majority of the kids the best.”
He asked everyone who is in favor of K-8 to stand and about half of the audience did.
Mindy Stewart, an outspoken critic of the district, said she felt anyone with concerns about the K-8 transition has been dismissed and opponents have been intimidated.
Last year, she said many people begged the school board to slow down before moving forward.
“That was ignored,” Stewart said.
She said the board needs to work on restoring trust with the community. Important issues should be over-communicated by sending out emails, backpack mail, putting them on Facebook and the district’s website.
“There is a very, very, very long history of distrust,” she said, noting that changes have pitted “parent against parent and teachers against teachers.”
Stewart did say, however, that she agreed with parents who want the board to slow down.
Board chairman Mike Novakovich said new board members promised they would discuss K-8 because there was a level of frustration in the community. He believes this was why voters replaced several incumbents in November.
“We need to go out there and do our due diligence,” he told the board. He said he has been visiting the schools and reading up on K-8 research.
Board member Justin Voelker said he was concerned that he didn’t hear from parents from Trentwood or Trent schools. His worry is that many of the complaints come from the Trentwood area – mostly about facilities or overcrowding – but he would love to hear positive stories from the school.
The board talked about completing a survey of parents, students, staff and community members to learn about their experiences and positions.
Mike Harris, a longtime board member, said he heard from the audience that “there are a lot of things that are positive as a result of seismic change. I don’t believe we lose all of that if we move back,” he said.
Harris also worried about the timing of any decision. If the district waited one or two years to decide it would create an atmosphere of uncertainty.
“That kills my productivity at work,” he said, arguing the board needed to act quickly.
If the district needs to lay off staff, they must be notified by May 15.
Superintendent John Glenewinkel said the district stands to lose $500,000 to $2.5 million if the district dismantles K-8. He and his staff have been crunching the numbers for days, looking at different factors.
“Factors that if I’m not telling you about, I’m not doing my job,” he said. But if the board directs him to make the change, he will make every effort to do so.
Glenewinkel suggested to the board they find a time for a retreat so the board could really hash through the issues.
The next East Valley School Board meeting will be at 6 p.m. Jan. 28 in the district office, 12325 E. Grace Ave.