Reeves Middle School parents question staffing reduction proposal


Parents expressed concern about the proposed staff reduction at Olympia’s Reeves Middle School, saying the cuts would have an extraordinarily high and unfair impact on students.

“Eliminating nearly three full-time employees at Reeves is a painful and palpable loss,” Rochelle Potter stated in her written comment submitted and read during the Olympia School District (OSD) meeting on Thursday, May 26.

Potter, whose two children attend Reeves Middle School, criticized the OSD’s decision. She accused the district of triplingits headquarters-level staffing and then prioritizing the elimination ofalmost three full-time teaching positions at the school to solve budget issues.

According to Communications and Community Relations Executive Director Susan Gifford, OSD hired 66 staff over the past three years to serve in schools. These include, for example, instructional coaches who work directly with teachers in the schools on instructional practices. They also include family liaisons – 11 total, one at each elementary school, to support students and staff.

“These are not people who work in the district office. They work in schools,” Gifford clarified to The JOLT in an email.

She added that the 66 employees are instructional coaches who work directly with teachers in the schools on instructional practices. “Instructional coaches are teachers, not administrators.”

Gifford also shared that the district has hired 8.4 staff who have a role in coordinating the work of these staff, supervising them, and who also provide direct service. Four of them are district-level administration, who have the role of coordinating and supervising staff. Others are supervisors in schools or technical staff, accounting and human resources personnel.

Reeves librarian position

Potter commented that the district’s plan to cut 2.7 FTE (full-time equivalent) positions at Reeves Middle School would mean eliminating a teacher-librarian position and displacing a Social Studies teacher who currently teaches both 6th and 8th grades.

Potter added it would also mean five periods would be condensed into four periods, and class sizes would increase significantly.

“The elimination of the teacher-librarian position means that Reeves will be the only school in the district without a teacher-librarian,” Potter remarked. “Students will not have access to the collaborative enrichment, instruction, and resources a qualified and experienced teacher-librarian can provide.”

Gifford refuted the parent’s claim, saying the allocation for a teacher-librarian at Reeves Middle School remains the same. 

Reeves Middle School teacher-librarian Emily Waugh participated in the public comment during the meeting, saying the district’s proposal would mean an 11% reduction of the school’s 25-member teaching staff. Current enrollment at Reeves is 373 students in Grades 6, 7 and 8.

“It is brutal, and it brings Reeves close to a breaking point,” Waugh said, adding “how can even the most distinguished teachers confidently and competently carry out this vital equity work in a classroom of 30 plus students? Simply put, they can’t.”

Increasing class size

Waugh said class size is an equity issue.

“I am heartened to see OSD developing an equity policy, [but] the impending school staff cuts undermine these efforts,” Waugh commented.

Waugh reminded the OSD officials that research firmly established the link between class size and student achievement.

“Smaller class sizes enable greater flexibility, engagement or enrichment, more enriching student-teacher relationships, critical differentiation, accommodation, timely students support and vital culturally responsive approaches in the classroom,” Waugh pointed out.

Another parent, Melanie Webb, also questioned the district’s proposal to cut teaching staff at the school. “I also worry that such cuts will force more parents to withdraw their children from the public district and seek alternative education, she said in an email she sent to OSD”

Jennifer Huntley, who has two children in Grade 7 and Grade 6 enrolled at Reeves the coming school year, claimed in her email that OSD’s staffing level has tripled in size “despite little to no evidence that district-level staffing advances student outcomes.”

“We should not be in a position where we are cutting core and vital services that directly impact students while growing and expanding the central district office,” Huntley said.

Huntley said the public school children face a crisis on so many levels. “They are stressed, anxious and falling behind. At this time, we need to put all the resources we can toward supporting all students in school. We urge you to examine the district office level positions before reductions at Reeves Middle School that will undoubtedly have an immediate and long-term impact on students.”

“The reduction in staffing allocations to schools for the SY 2022-23 is directly tied to resizing staffing using our historical staffing ratios, but adjusted for the lower enrollment,” Gifford said.

Gifford said the OSD annual average enrollment in the 2019-20 school year was 9,678. They projected that for the 2022-23 school year students enrollment will be 8,985 – a reduction of 693 students.

“Olympia SD enrollment in the current school year was below projections, which resulted in lower class sizes. Olympia experienced about a 5% reduction in enrollment since the beginning of the pandemic,” Gifford added.

“Even with staffing allocation re-sizing districtwide, at the K-3 level, average teacher-student ratios will meet the state mandate of 1 classroom and specialist teacher for each 17 students,” Gifford stated in her email.

“We project a grade 4 and 5 ratio of 1 classroom teacher for each 25.8 students,” added Gifford “We project secondary ratios at 1 classroom teacher for each 27.4 students (higher at the high school level and lower at the middle school level).”
At the elementary level, Gifford stated, the projected number of students results in a reduction of 14 classroom teacher positions. At the secondary level, the projected number of students results in a reduction of 12.6 teacher positions.

According to Gifford the district has seen a higher number of resignations and retirements this year. “Therefore all reductions will be absorbed from these vacancies and all permanent contract teachers who would like a position next year will be employed with the district.”

OSD Superintendent Patrick Murphy clarified that the district is proposing a staffing reduction because of the decline in enrollment. “We are not making any cuts because of any budget [situation].”

Murphy said he would work with Reeves Principal Aaron Davis to discuss the library situation and other things. “Every student deserves to have an outstanding educational experience.”

CLARIFICATION: JUNE 10, 2022  -- A previous version of this story indicated that  OSD hired 66 family liaison staff. The district clarified that of the 66 staff hired to serve in schools, 11 are family liaisons.  The district further clarified the role of the 8.4 staff mentioned above and we updated the story. 


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