To address school overcrowding, former Woodway Elementary to house kindergarten students from Sherwood, Westgate

Edmonds School District Superintendent Helen Joung briefed the council on the Capacity Advisory Committee recommendation to open a kindergarten campus. (Image via Youtube)

Aiming to address overcrowding at both Sherwood and Westgate elementary schools, the Edmonds School District Tuesday announced its plans to repurpose the former Woodway Elementary School campus to house kindergarten students from both schools.

The district’s Capacity Advisory Committee recently voted to recommend that the superintendent approve the creation of a kindergarten campus in the former Woodway Elementary School building, located at 9521 240th St. S.W. in Edmonds. The site will open its doors to students at the start of the 2021-22 school year.

While other school buildings may be struggling with capacity issues, Assistant Superintendent Helen Joung said needs at these two schools were dire.

“These two schools have pressing needs that will impact the educational needs for kids next fall,” she said.

In recent discussions, district staff has used the terms “hub” and “campus” interchangeably to describe various forms of in-person learning sites. During the Tuesday meeting, Joung said the future kindergarten site is not to be confused with other learning hubs like the Edmonds Hub located at the former Alderwood Middle School Campus, which serves McKinney-Vento students.

“We called it a ‘kinder hub’ but it could be called a ‘campus’ — we just called it a hub for that moment,” she said.

The 26-member Capacity Advisory Committee included parents, teachers, the Edmonds Education Association president, and school building staff and administration. It reviewed short- and long-term plans for addressing overcrowding in the schools, some of which are at more than 110% capacity, according to district data.

During its work sessions, the committee also discussed moving Sherwood and Westgate elementary sixth-grade students to College Place Middle School. However, that idea came with a variety of concerns. First, the move would have displaced Edmonds eLearning Academy, which is currently based on the College Place Middle campus and serves 200 full-time students and 1,100 total students each year.

“We really need to make sure that, as we think about a move like this, we don’t just ignore the eLearning Academy,” said Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab. “They are a really vital program in our district and…it would be difficult to find them a new home.”

Finance Director Lydia Sellie said moving sixth-grade students could also have conflicted with any future plans to transition to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school model, which staff have been considering for some time and would require passing a voter-approved bond first.

“We ideally want to reconfigure middle schools to a six-eight (grade) model, which will alleviate overcrowding at the elementary schools by moving sixth graders to the middle school models,” she said.

By shifting the kindergarten students to a separate school, the district will also be able to create more space in the overcrowded schools. According to Sellie, moving kindergarten students will free up four classrooms in each school versus two classrooms if sixth-grade students were moved.

As part of the 2020 bond, a Middle School Exploratory Committee recommended creating a Reconfiguration Task Force to focus on six aspects identified as critical to a successful transition to a sixth- through eighth-grade model. 

“There’s some work ahead of us and we want to make sure we do it well,” Schwab said. “I think one of the things that we don’t want to do is not support a good transition for our sixth graders to middle school.”

Assistant Superintendent Helen Joung at the Feb. 23 meeting explains community survey data collected by the committee.

Moving sixth-grade students would also present some challenges for those enrolled in special education programs. Since not all Sherwood and Westgate Elementary students transition to College Place School, Special Education Director Hayley Etnier said relocating could negatively impact sixth-grade students enrolled in intensive support (IS) programs.

“Our students have the right to receive programming at their neighborhood school,” she said. “If we have a student who is attending IS programming and they go to Sherwood…and the sixth-grade (students) don’t transition (to College Place Middle), then we have an issue.”

Etnier added that sixth-grade students at those schools would no longer be around their developing peers.

Using a survey, the committee collected data from parents, staff and community members near four schools that would be most impacted by the move. Survey takers for each school were asked whether they supported moving kindergarteners to the Woodway Elementary campus or preferred moving sixth-grade students. According to their data, most of the more than 200 respondents favored the proposed kindergarten campus.

At Sherwood Elementary, 57.7% percent of respondents favored the kindergarten campus and 53.6% were against moving sixth-grade students. At Westgate Elementary 43.8% favored moving sixth graders to College Place Middle and 45.3% opposed moving kindergarteners.

At College Place Middle, 56.3% favored the creation of a kindergarten campus and 50% also said they would support sixth-grade students moving. At Edmonds eLearning, 64% were in favor of moving kindergarten students while 40% were opposed to moving sixth-grade students.

Staff also asked Westgate and Sherwood Elementary students to share their thoughts about the move, which Joung said she was proud to include in the district’s decision-making process. Out of nearly 100 responses, 58.6% of fifth-grade students said they would be okay moving to College Place Middle in the fall. Conversely, 41.4% said they would be opposed to the move.

Since having younger students around would impact their learning experiences as well, seventh- and eighth-grade students were asked for their feedback and 57.6% of respondents said they would not mind having sixth graders on campus. 

The presentation Tuesday night also included data from an anonymous survey taken by committee members prior to making their recommendation. According to feedback from 19 of the 26 committee members, 73.7% favored the kindergarten campus over moving sixth-grade students. Central office staff and the Edmonds Education Association president abstained from the vote.

“Not everyone, I know, is happy about the outcome because it’s a sensitive one and I completely understand that,” Joung said.

As one of the district’s smaller school buildings, former Woodway Elementary School has a 350-person capacity and 20 classrooms. For its age, staff said the building was in relatively good shape. The last time the building was used was during the 2017-18 school year as a transition site. The school also recently had a new roof installed.

“The facility — the structure — is in great shape and we would be ordering furniture and needed supplies for it,” said Finance Director Sellie.

During the discussion, Director Ann McMurray asked for more details about the number of classrooms being freed up and the number of students the campus would serve. In response, Joung said the specifics would have to be worked out during bargaining negotiations between the district and teachers’ union, but said roughly 160-180 kindergarteners would be in the building using half (10) of the building’s classrooms.

“The building has room,” Joung said, adding that it would require some sprucing up before bringing students on campus.

In addition, McMurray asked if the campus would be used if the district was to return under a hybrid learning model, to which staff replied it would.

Joung also stressed that this would be a temporary solution to alleviate overcrowding, until the district was ready to transition to a sixth- through eighth-grade model.

“That needs to happen and (committee members) were very loud and clear that they want it done right and in due time,” she said. “I don’t want our community to feel like we’re not for sixth graders going to middle school at all, that’s not the case.”

As the district prepares for the move, Joung said staff would continue to work with the capacity committee and hoped that the campus would be able to establish its own community by establishing a PTA to work alongside the committee.

“We have some amazing parents who are going to support this as much as they can and so we need to utilize their support,” she said.

During their meetings, Joung said one of the teachers on the committee tentatively suggested the school be renamed Westwood, combining the name of the two schools.

Before ending the discussion, Joung announced the district is already preparing former Woodway Elementary for YMCA to offer all-day child care starting March 22 under stage 2 of the district’s school building re-entry plan. According to Joung, all-day child care will be offered five days a week.

–By Cody Sexton

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