The overcrowding issue at Rosa Parks Elementary School is hindering student development at the Redmond Ridge school and the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) needs to take immediate action in fixing the problem.
That’s what a group of concerned, purple-clad parents and students told the LWSD board of directors at Monday’s meeting during the public comment period.
“This school is very overcrowded,” former Rosa Parks student Kelsey Swenson told board members. “The hallways are like rush hour so it’s hard to get around.”
Swenson, who attended Rosa Parks and will be a sixth-grader at Evergreen Middle School, was one of 14 who spoke in favor of a re-boundary plan formulated by concerned parents to provide relief to the over-filled school. In total, there were about 25 community members all wearing purple — the school’s color — who attended Monday’s meeting to show support for the plan.
Paul Onu, who will be a fourth grader at Rosa Parks, told board members that the overcrowding issue has been hard on students, especially when some students are taking tests while other students from other grades are navigating the hallways and making noise. He said during the state’s measurement exams, the noise from the hallway was “especially disturbing to people who were in the classroom.”
Julianne Bogaty, who has a daughter entering the second grade, said the noise level at the school is “chaotic,” a setting “that is not necessarily conducive to learning.”
ROSA PARKS AT OVERCAPACITY
Rosa Parks’ building capacity is 483 students, but with the addition of 10 portables outside the school the capacity is 713. District officials expect a total of 764 students for the upcoming school year, which is a decline of four students from last year.
LWSD officials were hoping enrollment at Rosa Parks would be lower with the removal of sixth graders for the district’s planned grade reconfiguration to a K-5, 6-8, 9-12 model.
“Clearly the grade reconfigurations did not help our situation,” said Bogaty, who also spoke at Monday’s meeting. “And expect that (enrollment) number to increase throughout this month.”
Kathryn Reith, the district communications director, confirmed that Rosa Parks projected enrollment numbers could increase more this month as other parents register their children for school.
Beth Zimmerman, a parent of two Rosa Parks students, also spoke at the meeting and told board members that the overcrowding puts limits on student development and hinders extracurricular opportunities for students and families.
“The Spring 2012 Lake Washington School District Community Report stated that the school district believes school buildings can help learning – or they can hinder,” she said. “A building can be more or less healthy, easy to maintain and can provide optimal spaces for learning activities. Next month, Rosa Parks will open with 764 students – nearly 300 students over original building capacity. Clearly, the lack of optimal space due to significant overcrowding hinders learning and can be disruptive to student development.”
Despite the high number of students at the school, Rosa Parks principal Tina Livingston said she is “proud of the learning environment at Rosa Parks.”
“As a staff, we work together to schedule the school day so it flows well for our students no matter the size of the school,” Livingston said. “Transitions are minimized, for example. Classes are respectful of the learning environment as they move throughout the building.”
Bogaty said she, along with the rest of the concerned parents, are impressed with the school staff’s efforts, but something must be done at the district level.
“We feel it’s unfair to ask them to do more,” she said. “We feel they have really reached the limits with what they can do.”
DISTRICT TO WORK WITH COMMUNITY
Following the group’s presentation Monday night, LWSD superintendent Traci Pierce acknowledged that Rosa Parks — the district’s largest elementary school — is overcapacity and said that she plans to meet with school community members later next month to explore options and solutions to the growing concern.
“The district team is in the process of exploring possible strategies,” Pierce told the Reporter in an email. “We want to meet with the entire school community in person so everyone has an opportunity to fully understand the implications and impacts related to each of the possible short-term solutions we are currently exploring.”
Pierce said she will solicit feedback from community members with the intent to potentially implement a short-term solution for the 2013-14 school year.
PARENTS PRESENT PLAN
The long-term plan for the district is to build a new elementary school on Redmond Ridge to help accommodate the growing population in the area, Pierce said at the meeting. A new elementary school was part of a failed $234-million bond measure in 2010 and the district has plans of another bond issue in 2014, which will include a new Redmond Ridge elementary school, Pierce said. If the bond passes and a new elementary school is built, “a larger re-boundary process would involve more schools that are currently over or undercapacity.” But there are no guarantees that a 2014 bond will pass, leaving concerned parents to present a plan of their own.
Parents are urging the district to do a small-scale boundary change, just for Redmond Ridge by moving Rosa Parks’ boundary and sending more Redmond Ridge students to nearby Wilder Elementary in unincorporated Woodinville. They say Wilder is at undercapacity and can accommodate more students — and district numbers back that up. Wilder, which has a capacity of 552 students, had 453 students last year and is expected to have 330 in the upcoming school year, according to Reith.
At Monday’s meeting, Pierce said the re-boundary process is complex that involves the entire district, not just Redmond Ridge. She said it is a long-term strategy that the district plans to address once a new school is built on Redmond Ridge. In the meantime, she will work with community members on a short-term solution.
Whatever the solution is, something needs to be done — and done soon, Bogaty said.
“We feel this cannot be put on hold anymore,” she said. “It has to be addressed immediately.”