Lake Washington School District to make grade configuration, feeder pathway changes

In February 2009, the Redmond Reporter broke the news of a proposed change in the Lake Washington School District’s (LWSD) grade configurations, moving away from the current K-6, 7-9 and 10-12 model and putting 9th grade students onto high school campuses instead of junior high campuses.

The initiative was largely inspired by the district’s “Vision 2020” mission — to prepare every student for college, the global workplace and personal success. An added incentive was a desire to balance population growth in the district. Student enrollment in the Redmond and Sammamish areas is growing while enrollment in the Kirkland area is declining.

Effective with the 2012-13 school year, the LWSD will make more efficient use of building space by changing the grade configurations and also shifting some schools’ “feeder” pathways to reduce overcrowding in some buildings.

According to LWSD communications director Kathryn Reith, this was an operational decision made by Superintendent Dr. Chip Kimball. A school board vote is not required, but board members were very supportive of the decision at their meeting on Monday evening, Reith added.

The majority of the district’s growth over the next five to seven years will occur at the elementary school level. Thus, moving to a new system of K-5 elementary buildings, putting grades 6-8 into middle school buildings and grades 9-12 into high school buildings will free up more space at the elementary level, where the need is greatest.

Feeder changes will occur as follows:

• Bell Elementary in Kirkland will feed into Finn Hill Junior High (Kirkland) and Juanita High School (Kirkland) instead of Kirkland Junior High and Lake Washington High (Kirkland).

• Audubon Elementary (Redmond) will feed into Rose Hill Junior High (west side of Redmond, near the Kirkland border) and Lake Washington High instead of Redmond Junior High and Redmond High.

• Einstein Elementary (Redmond) will shift from Evergreen Junior High (east Redmond) to Redmond Junior High but will still go on to Redmond High.

Parents affected by the new feeder patterns have received letters from the LWSD, explaining how, when and why the changes will take place. Three public meetings will be held in the next two weeks, at affected schools at follows:

6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 13 at Audubon Elementary, 3045 180th Ave. NE, Redmond

6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 20 at Bell Elementary, 11212 NE 112th St., Kirkland

6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 27 at Einstein Elementary, 18025 NE 116th St., Redmond

“Making a feeder change is something we very rarely do,” Reith remarked. “Many people buy homes based on specific schools. … We know it’s hard for families who have ties to schools, but we have to look at overall schools’ needs and taxpayers’ needs and what they are willing to fund.”

By making these feeder changes, Reith pointed out, the district will gain around 19 classrooms at the secondary levels.

And according to Kimball, “If we don’t make any changes, we will need over 100 portable classrooms at the elementary level and about 28 at the secondary level to house the expected enrollment and to provide space for all-day kindergarten in the next five years. Changing feeder patterns reduces the need at the secondary level. I know it will be a difficult change for families who have expectations and connections to specific schools, but we have to find the most efficient ways to use our current space and this is one of them. Changing the grade configuration will make another large difference.”

That said, however, the district will still need to fund additional space in junior high and high school buildings to make grade configuration shifts possible.

Reith said a public input process will take place in the fall, to review several options.

A no-cost option would be to impose “double shifts” at Redmond High School and Eastlake High School. That would probably not be a popular choice for many parents or students, although taxpayers might support it.

With regard to the district’s last attempt to pass a bond measure, which would have funded new buildings or expansions, “enough voters liked it, but not a super majority, not enough to pass,” said Reith.

So the district will have to research additional costs to add more space at the Redmond and Eastlake campuses and a Choice high school — and whether to put a levy or bond measure on a voters’ ballot.

But because the configuration changes won’t happen immediately, “this gives families two years to review their options, apply to Choice schools, or get variances to attend any of the four comprehensive high schools (Redmond, Eastlake, Lake Washington or Juanita),” said Reith.

Additional information, including Dr. Kimball’s PowerPoint presentation about the configuration and feeder changes, can be found on the LWSD Web site, www.lwsd.org.

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