Lake Washington School District superintendent stuck ‘between a rock and hard place’ with school feeder changes

"Between a rock and a hard place" was how Lake Washington School District (LWSD) Superintendent Dr. Chip Kimball described himself as he faced a barrage of questions and criticisms at Redmond's Audubon Elementary School Thursday evening.

Lake Washington School District Superintendent Dr. Chip Kimball described himself as 'between a rock and a hard place' at a Thursday evening meeting at Redmond's Audubon Elementary. Many Audubon parents were upset about a school feeder change that will affect them in the fall of 2012

“Between a rock and a hard place” was how Lake Washington School District (LWSD) Superintendent Dr. Chip Kimball described himself as he faced a barrage of questions and criticisms at Redmond’s Audubon Elementary School last night.

Concerned parents were there in response to last week’s announcement that, beginning in fall of 2012, the LWSD will change some of its school “feeder” patterns, to reduce overcrowding in some parts of the district.

At that time, Audubon will feed into Rose Hill Junior High (RHJH) on the west end of Redmond and Lake Washington High School (LWHS) in Kirkland instead of Redmond Junior High (RJH) and Redmond High School (RHS) on Education Hill.

Redmond’s Einstein Elementary and Kirkland’s Bell Elementary will also undergo feeder changes because enrollment is increasing on the east end of LWSD and declining on the west end.

The Audubon parents seemed not so concerned about the distances between their neighborhood elementary school and RHJH/LWHS as they were about other factors. In fact, the current and new junior high/high schools are about equidistant from Audubon and the LWSD will still provide bus transportation, regardless.

But many were upset that Kimball had made this decision without a public or school board vote.

Others voiced perceptions, based on such data as WASL scores, that the academic qualities of RHJH and LWHS were inferior to that of RJH and RHS.

Kimball said the topics of enrollment imbalance and how to address the problem have been studied and discussed at public board meetings for more than a year and that no other viable or fiscally responsible solution had been presented.

Operating smaller schools on the west side of the district could result in limited program options such as AP classes and electives, reduced staffing and reduced athletic programs — or could even necessitate school closures, Kimball said.

If schools on the east side of the district are overcrowded, the community must fund new property purchases, construction costs, portables and traffic mitigation measures, he explained.

“I know changing feeders is awful … awful for parents, awful for me, too. What’s worse is closing schools,” Kimball stated.

In an effort to solve the complicated problem, Kimball said the district has tried to “minimize the scope … provide time for transition … offer flexibility for grandfathering so we don’t split families … provide equity … and keep communities together.”

Kimball repeatedly emphasized the word “equity,” making it fair for all students in the district to have access to programs that they want and need.

“We’ve talked about this for several years and resisted it — but we’re out of space and out of options,” said Kimball. “If you’ve got a brilliant idea, bring it on.”

In response to parents’ doubts about RHJH and LWHS, Kimball said “test scores don’t tell the whole story” and “none of our schools are perfect.”

He asked Audubon parents to consider the positive features at RHJH and LWHS.

RHJH will have a new building in fall 2013, was the first LWSD school with full implementation of 1:1 technology (laptops) for 7th graders in fall 2010, has Microsoft Math Project programs and programs such as Robotics, Digital Media and Foods/Culinary Arts articulated with LWHS.

LWHS will open a new, $100 million facility in the fall of 2011, will have a “multi-house” model breaking core subjects into smaller units and will pursue a new charge of Rigor and Relevance.

According to Kimball, LWHS currently has more AP enrolled students than any other high school in the district as well as outstanding Culinary Arts, Video Production and Broadcasting programs.

The changes, Kimball suggested, “can be seen as a great opportunity or ‘I’m really upset because I got hosed.’ This is done — unless there is a brilliant idea that address growth and imbalances.”

Kimball invited parents to fill out comment cards and encouraged them to chat with RHJH principal Laurynn Evans and LWHS principal Brad Malloy, both of whom were in attendance.

Details about the LWSD’s feeder school changes and its impending grade configuration changes in the 2012-13 school year can be found on the district Web site, www.lwsd.org.

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