Population growth, school district reconfiguration to cause overcrowding in middle schools, high schools

Lake Washington School District (LWSD) wants your thoughts on what to do about overcrowding. Public input sessions, with an informal drop-in format will take place from 6-8 p.m. tonight, Sept. 28 at Eastlake High School, 400 228th Ave. NE in Sammamish; from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30 at Juanita High School, 10601 NE 132nd St. in Kirkland; and from 5-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6 at the LWSD Resource Center, 16258 NE 74th St. in Redmond. Information is also online at www.lwsd.org and an online survey is open through Thursday, Oct. 7. Last week's Redmond Reporter featured Part 1 of a two-part series about overcrowding in the LWSD. That story focused on current overcrowding, mostly at elementary schools. Part 2 looks at projected overcrowding in junior highs, middle schools and high schools.

Lake Washington School District (LWSD) wants your thoughts on what to do about overcrowding.

Public input sessions, with an informal drop-in format will take place from 6-8 p.m. tonight, Sept. 28 at Eastlake High School, 400 228th Ave. NE in Sammamish; from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30 at Juanita High School, 10601 NE 132nd St. in Kirkland; and from 5-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6 at the LWSD Resource Center, 16258 NE 74th St. in Redmond. Information is also online at www.lwsd.org and an online survey is open through Thursday, Oct. 7.

Last week’s Redmond Reporter featured Part 1 of a two-part series about overcrowding in the LWSD. That story focused on current overcrowding, mostly at elementary schools. Part 2 looks at projected overcrowding in junior highs, middle schools and high schools.

GROWING PAINS

Enrollment isn’t growing in equal numbers at every school, said LWSD communications director Kathryn Reith.

“Some are now crowded, others have extra space. Right now, the problems are mostly at the elementary level,” she noted.

But in 2012, in line with the district’s “Vision 2020” — to prepare every student for college, the global workplace and personal success — LWSD will switch to a K-5, 6-8, 9-12 model. LWSD superintendent Dr. Chip Kimball has stated that high school freshmen don’t take graduation requirements and college preparation as seriously when they are housed on a junior high campus.

“That will take sixth graders out of elementary schools, but at some point increase crowding at Redmond and Eastlake High Schools,” said Reith. “There are still new kids coming into the schools in the meantime. Junior highs, right now, are fine. Changes there are in the feeder patterns already identified last spring.”

To balance enrollment across the district, starting in 2012:

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

• Audubon Elementary will feed into Rose Hill Junior and LWHS instead of Redmond Junior and Redmond High School (RHS).

• Einstein Elementary will shift from Evergreen Junior to Redmond Junior but will still go on to RHS.

• When the feeder and configuration changes take place, junior high school will be identified as middle schools.

Evergreen Junior High is expected to significantly grow when Rosa Parks Elementary, currently almost 200 students over capacity, begins to feed more kids into its middle school population.

In 2012, RHS is projected to be 500 students over capacity and Eastlake High School (EHS) more than 300 over. By 2014, RHS is expected to be 600 over capacity and EHS 500 over.

IMPACTS OF OVERCROWDING

An unpopular — but possibly unavoidable — way to handle overcrowding at RHS and EHS might be “double-shifting.”

Reith added, “Or we could add lots and lots of portables, but portables are not as durable as permanent classrooms and take up field space. We could build a permanent wing onto Redmond or Eastlake or do a combination of portables and permanent wings. We’d also need to add more cafeteria and gym space to serve larger numbers — or could maybe add another Choice school to draw from across the district.”

Also, said Reith, “The standard of service in this district is to have dedicated, specialized classrooms such as computer labs, science and art labs and music rooms. Many of these are now being converted back to regular classrooms.”

Kimball commented, “Teachers can’t plan in their rooms if space is overcrowded and teachers without adequate space don’t have all the equipment to do their jobs correctly. It compromises their ability to teach and properly plan and affects both general education teachers and specialists.”

Moreover, said Kimball, “With bigger schools, management and supervision of students is more difficult. It compromises student safety. We are using every strategy we can today, to utilize existing space. We are beginning to run out of viable options. We want the community to weigh in. There are extremely unpleasant options such as double-shifting or community members can pay a little more to house students. This is not a luxury.”

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE

Right now, seven classrooms are housed in portables at Evergreen Junior, which is expected to grow when configuration changes occur and the name changes to Evergreen Middle School.

A bigger worry for Evergreen principal Jan Olson is lack of space in areas such the Commons, where students eat. Evergreen now has two lunch periods. If a third lunch is needed, students would be pulled out of a class, take a break for lunch and then go back to the class.

“We want them to have enough time to get through the lunch line and sit and eat,” said Olson. “And instruction time can’t be split for a class like P.E.”

A shortage of lockers could also be a problem. If all kids are carrying bulky backpacks, “there’s just more mass moving through the halls,” said Olson.

Getting kids safely onto buses in a timely matter is another potential problem, said Olson, as well as seating kids at assemblies.

Olson said specialized spaces for music, science, woodshop and technology are “still pretty sacred” at Evergreen but configuration changes might drive classroom facility decisions if middle schoolers have elective classes. That hasn’t been decided yet, but could be another factor, said Olson.

HIGH SCHOOL CONCERNS

“The bigger the school, area-wise, the more difficult it is for those adults charged with supervision to get to every corner of the building,” said RHS principal Jane Todd. “The bigger the school, population-wise, the more difficult it is for adults to know students well. The second is the area of most concern for me. When we are able to know the goals, interests and personalities of our students, we are able to program for them effectively and to respond quickly and appropriately when they need help from us.”

Todd said co-curricular activities such as athletics might suffer if RHS has to double-shift. Both time and facility restraints could mean “either some athletes would not be able to turn out because their practices would be occurring during the time they are in class, we would have to hold practices very, very late or we would have to eliminate some programs,” said Todd.

“In terms of academic learning, I can imagine that there might be some programs for which we would not have the space in the facility in order to honor all student requests — specialty classrooms such as science labs, the theater and other performing arts spaces and the gymnasium,” Todd added.

We asked Todd how she would respond to some adults who might remark, “I went to a crowded school and I turned out fine. These kids have to deal with it, too.”

Todd replied, “Every adult with whom I have talked and who had the experience going to a super-crowded school tells me that they were either ‘invisible’ or hated school, or at least the claustrophobic feel of the hallways. For every person who went to school in the good old days, in a very crowded school, and who ‘turned out fine,’ there are others whose potential went unrealized or who were traumatized by their school experience. Our goals should be that every individual is prepared to be a productive citizen, a contributing member of the community and someone whose individual talents and attributes were nurtured in such a way during the time spent in school so that our city, our state and our nation can benefit from them and capitalize on that nurturing.”

Teacher morale will likely also suffer if RHS is overcrowded, Todd stated.

“K-12 teachers are very connected to the space in which they teach. They put student work, posters, etc. on the walls. All their ‘stuff’ is there. They often have items of personal value on display. It becomes a home away from home,” said Todd.

“Having to share the space with another teacher who has been displaced from his/her own ‘home away from home’ is inconvenient, awkward and difficult from an emotional point of view. … Trying to figure out the master schedule this year, with regard to room assignments, was a nightmare. I can only imagine what next year will bring even before any action may be taken to increase our physical plant.”

LEND YOUR THOUGHTS

At the public input session or online, community members can express their preferences on ways to remedy overcrowding in the LWSD. Among them are three possible funding measures, 6-year levy programs which could be put on the February 2011 ballot.

• Measure 1, for $10 million, would add 4 cents per $1,000 of a home’s assessed value ($20 a year for a $500,000 home). This would add space for 450 more students each at RHS and EHS, in portables with bathroom units.

• Measure 2, for $40 million, would add 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed value ($90 a year for a $500,000 home) and would provide space for 475 more students each at RHS and EHS, in classroom additions and portables.

• Measure 3, for $65 million, would add 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed value ($140 a year for a $500,000 home) and provide space for 250 more students each at RHS and EHS, as well as 675 students to be housed at a new 6-12 campus.

Community members will also be asked if LWSD should consider adding measures to provide more elementary school space and to modernize JHS.

For more information, visit www.lwsd.org.

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