Public clamor anew vs OSD schools' possible closure


In a packed room at the Olympia School District (OSD) board meeting held on February 8, emotions ran high as students, parents, and teachers aired concerns about the possible closure of McKenny and Madison elementary schools.

Students were encouraged to speak at the beginning of the meeting. At the same time, parents and other community members were allowed to offer public comments towards the end of the session.

Jodi Boe, President of the Olympia Education Association, highlighted the impact that the potential closures were having on staff morale, underscoring the ripple effect on teachers' mental well-being

“The staff at McKenney and Madison are grieving,” said Boe. “They live in a world of sadness, worry and fear. They're living with a huge unknown elephant in the room.”

Boe urged the board to consider the well-being of teachers, counselors, and librarians through “these very troubling times.”

“Good generation isn’t cheap”

Ariana, a student at McKenny Elementary, appealed to the board to think about the community’s future.

“People make decisions, and they think they know how much it hurts, but they don't,” said Ariana. “Grownups don't understand what is going on inside a kid's brain.”

The child also emphasized that a “good generation isn't cheap,” adding that the board should think about that “when you take away our schools that give us those good generations.”

Kirsten, another student, expressed the sentiment of many in favor of maintaining smaller, community-oriented schools.

"We like our community…[we] feel seen and heard like we matter.,” said Kirsten. “I don't feel like we're going to get that with much larger schools.”

Teachers’ plight

Mindy Swedberg, a teacher at McKenny, raised practical concerns about the potential impact on physical education programs in larger schools.

"Space to teach is a primary concern when our schools get bigger... I don't see why we can't continue to have super quality programming with our smaller schools," Swedberg asserted, advocating for other creative solutions to retain quality education.

Miriam Hathaway, a parent of Madison students, emotionally recounted the pivotal role the school played in her children's lives amidst the challenges of the COVID pandemic.

"These teachers have been burdened with too much already over these difficult years," Hathaway lamented, urging the board to prioritize transparent communication in the event of closure.

Bailey Simpkins, parent and alumna of Madison Elementary, passionately advocated for preserving the school's legacy.

"I really wanted my daughter to get to go as well... I've seen so many kids get so excited to learn going there," Simpkins shared, reflecting on the impact the school had on her family and the wider community.

In January, OSD Superintendent Patrick Murphy presented four possible consolidation scenarios. The options ranged from closing one or both of the elementary schools and consolidating with neighboring institutions to keeping all schools open.

Murphy emphasized that the decision would not be finalized until at least March 14, with ongoing input from stakeholders.


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  • jimlazar

    I'm a little mystified and dismayed by the performance of OSD on this issue.

    Several years ago, when a new development (Trillium) was planned for the land that is now LBA Woods Park, OSD told the city that there was not enough room in McKenney, and the kids from Trillium would have to be bussed to Garfield. A few years later, there is talk of closing McKenney.

    Then, last year OSD begged the City of Olympia to share the Yelm Highway park site (strawberry fields in the interim) for a new secondary school, one that would take 5-10 years to build. Now they are talking of closing two elementary schools --- which tells anyone who can do arithmetic that in 5-10 years they will have FEWER, not MORE high school students.

    Early in this process, there was talk of closing Boston Harbor Elementary. I did not grieve about that too much, because almost every one of those students was already being bussed somewhere, and changing the destination of a bus does not seem like such a big deal. But both Madison and McKenney have surrounding populations where kids can walk (as I did through 6th grade) or bike (as I did starting in 7th grade) to school. That's a bigger deal to me.

    It's been known for decades that the fertility rate has been declining. China had an actual decline in population last year. Japan has been shrinking. This is good. The planet really cannot handle billions more of us. But, for demographers and school facility planners, this is just data, and one needs to use that data to make rational decisions. Those rational decisions can include making a portion of schools available for other uses, or closing some entirely. But we don't yet know if this was a failure of the elected school board, their selected Superintendent, or lower level capital facilities planners within the OSD staff. We do know that the declining student population was predictable.

    In my opinion, OSD needs to name the people responsible for flawed analysis, and those people need to be replaced if they have not been. This is a failure of management and a failure of analysis. The public has a right to know whose mistakes these were, and be assured that the human resource problems that led to this have been addressed. To date the Olympia School Board has not come to grips with the underlying failed analysis.

    Friday, February 9 Report this

  • JW

    What better time than now with soaring costs, declining student population, and an ever-growing bloat of school system bureaucracy to tear down the dinosaur school system and replace it with something geared for the modern age.

    Saturday, February 10 Report this

  • MartyKenney

    Has anyone asked Waldorf or Montessori if they want to take over these schools? Also, I’d love to see a breakdown on how much each of these schools costs the district and how much administration costs plays into this.. cut the fat from the system.

    Sunday, February 11 Report this

  • blahblaher

    your daily reminder, coming from a student that went to all 3 local districts, our school districts are CORRUPT. Corrupting your children, embezzling your funds, doing nothing for the sanctity and security, physically and mentally for the youth. this is a nationwide issue, particularly prominent in leftist states. Not saying that right wing states are any better but at least they don't sexualize children from K through 12.

    Monday, February 12 Report this