Critical comments filled the public comment section during the Olympia School District meeting on Thursday, October 13, regarding Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA).
Around a dozen parents, guardians, and students raised their issues with the sudden changes in ORLA’s class sizes, teacher shuffling, and others.
“I'm here to voice my unhappiness with decisions made that have affected my child. I have asked in the past about more transparency and communication with the community and parents involved,” Natalie, a parent, said,
“This is why I'm here. I would like to hear how you're actively working on plans to better communicate with parents when you make system-wide changes that have drastic effects on our children,” Natalie added.
Another parent, Analisa, pointed out that during the September 22nd OSD meeting, it was noted that ORLA had experienced a great deal of change over the last three years, and it hasn’t stopped them from making more changes.
“The latest change to collapse the classroom is one of the most significant in terms of impact to students’ social and emotional well-being and disruption to the continuity of their daily education, which will lead to poor results,” Analisa said.
Analisa added that the originator of the plan in collapsing classes was praised, while the students and parents were all taken aback by the changes announced just a week before it took effect.
“It was called a quick and easy win meant to avoid an upcoming cost, and the originator of the plan was offered kudos,” shared Analisa. “That sort of response shows how detached district leadership is. No thought was given to operations, change management, or communication, let alone the children’s experience.”
Class size dissent
Parents dissented over the decision to collapse classes into fewer sections– making the number of sections fewer with more students and just a single teacher without an assistant or support.
“Here's my problem. My kids are being negatively impacted by the decisions in class. Three classrooms down to two classrooms. 31 kids in 3rd, 4th, and 5th, and they're stacked in the classroom for half of their educational day. We didn't even know this, not for a month's end, and this came up. Imagine that one teacher in 31 kids in the classroom with no pair of support,” John, a parent of three kids, shared.
Another parent, Adrian, added to the issue of class sizes, “II chose to enroll my children into ORLA programs because of [the] smaller classroom sizes. It has been proven that students learn faster and perform better in smaller classes. For both of my children now, it seems that the setting is in jeopardy without warning or notice.”
Adrian also pointed out that the classroom sizes, although modeled from Montessori classrooms with smaller sizes, are now even bigger than traditional class sizes.
“These decisions are based on numbers and budget. What about the development of our children? I understand that changes might be necessary, but I sincerely hope a different solution can be found, one that will not only negatively impact our children's education,” he added.
A student, John, shared his additional concern about student loans, stating that unlike how it was great in helping students before, it now burdened them by not letting them attend classes on campus any longer.
“I've been in ORLA for longer, and this program has always been focused on [supporting] me. Unfortunately, [this] has changed dramatically,” John shared.
John went on that he used to love playing soccer and board games, but now he had to spend the most time on his computer, and he expressed how bad that is for his eyes and body.
“I'm no longer allowed on campus and [in] classes. It also means I can't spend non-class time with my classmates I used to have. I can't use the library, study cards, [or] the playground,” John exclaimed. “Instead, I have to connect with my peers online. I need to exercise and connect with other students.”
“If we're lifting the mask environments, why aren't we lifting the other restrictions?” asked John.
The public comment section had a minor disorder from the angry parents, but the board quickly moved on as the meeting discussed the next agenda items.
Public members who wish to raise concerns to the board have three ways to send comments– register and attend the meeting in person, send the written comments by email, or send the written comments by postal mail.
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