Seventy-one people registered for public comment at the Olympia School District (OSD) Board’s regular meeting on Thursday, November 9, to rally against the possible closure and consolidation of some schools in the district.
Most members of the board’s School Facility Efficiency Review Committee would like to consolidate several elementary and middle schools in the district to save costs.
At last night’s meeting, which lasted around five hours, some emotional exchanges took place inside the board room as students spoke against their schools' closure.
The first part of the public comment was reserved for testimonies from students, several of whom shared their experiences with the schools, staff, and schoolmates.
Maebel, a seventh grader from Jefferson Middle School, said she spoke on behalf of her peers from Jefferson and LP Brown Elementary School.
“Both schools have so much diversity, and taking the schools away would take that diversity away. I am lucky enough to have parents that can drive me to school, but I have peers that are not that lucky and have to either walk to school or take the bus,” Maebel told the board.
Maebel added that the possible consolidation of Boston Harbor, LP Brown, and McKenny Elementary Schools with Jefferson Middle School would raise bussing costs for the district. She emphasized that this will also impact the theater, robotics, and algebra students from Jefferson who currently walk to nearby Capitol High School to participate in these activities at no extra cost.
Carter, a seventh grader at Reeves Middle School, described his dismay upon hearing of the school’s proposed closure.
“I was devastated. Reeves Middle School is not just a school with a certain number of students and staff – it is my community. I've had an amazing experience with teachers, staff, and other students. You can’t just pick that experience up and move them to Washington and Marshall,” said Carter, referring to middle schools in the district that aren’t on the chopping block.
Edison, a student from Olympia High School who is an alumnus of both Reeves Middle School and Boston Harbor Elementary School, shared how small community schools impact students positively compared to larger schools.
“For anyone on this board who wants to know the value of a neighborhood school versus an efficiently large school, I can tell you – you can't make up the positive experiences or the relationships you build and the experiences you have. Small neighborhood schools do impact a kid's time throughout their academic career,” Edison attested.
Rina, a graduate of Lincoln Elementary School, described how the sense of belonging at Lincoln Elementary School makes her look forward to visiting it.
“Belonging is taught at Lincoln, and it's what makes it so special,” Rina said. “You can assume it would be devastating for the students, staff, and alumni who return [to] school whenever they can.”
Nicole, a parent of a Lincoln student, emphasized how important Lincoln Elementary School’s alternative program (Lincoln Options Elementary) is for students with special needs.
“There was an impression that if options programs do not exist, students will simply go back to their nearby schools, and attendance will increase in those schools, and everything will balance out. I can speak on this topic from experience,” said Nicole. “Lincoln Options is the best choice that I'm aware of in Olympia for neurodivergent students and those that need additional social-emotional needs met. It was obvious that the program at Lincoln was committed to educating all types of students.”
Tara, a mother of two who has been associated with Lincoln for nine years, highlighted how Lincoln “nurtures curiosity and cultivates generosity.”
“When considering consolidation, please utilize Lincoln's unique draw to the school district and bring more children to our school. Lincoln draws in families from outside our district and brings them to our community, which also brings their dollars,” said Tara.
Celeste, a St. Martin’s University professor of education, emphasized how vital Lincoln Options is for the university’s pre-service teachers' practicum.
“I hope my students get to do their practicum and their student teaching at Lincoln. Aside from having options for students to experience different kinds of education, different ideological foundations for education, it is vitally important for student teachers to be able to experience that as they are learning to be teachers, especially when we have a critical teacher shortage.”
Elizabeth, a parent from Jefferson Middle School, questioned school board decisions made in the name of “efficiency.”
“Can we stop using the word ‘consolidation’? We are talking about our closures. We are not talking about bringing kids together; we are talking about splitting them apart. There is no evidence that large schools produce better outcomes than small schools. The scenarios you're describing are inequitable, short-sighted, unnecessary, and bad for kids,” said Elizabeth.
Darren, a parent of students from Lincoln and Reeves, stated how essential community schools are for struggling students.
“When I worked as a paraeducator, I met many students who had left high school because they felt overwhelmed and lost in such a large school. Some students need small schools to thrive,” said Darren.
The School Facility Efficiency Review Committee met eight times and concluded their work November 1, then held a work session with the board on November 2.
The board will have another work session on November 30 to talk more informally about concerns raised in the last work session, including all of the data and feedback received from email and comments.
All issues will be narrowed down through “community cafes” slated for the first week of December. The board will hold a work session on December 7 and finish the narrowing-down at its December 14 meeting.
Over the next 90 days, the board will schedule hearings with school communities where closures or consolidations are being considered.
These public hearings are projected to take place in January. The entire process is expected to conclude in March.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Maebel's name. We regret the error.
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