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.”
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.”
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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