A recent decision by the North Kitsap School District to move its Options program from Richard Gordon Elementary School to David Wolfle Elementary has got parents of students in the program up in arms.
The NKSD Options Program was established nearly 30 years ago by a group of parents who wanted more educational choices for their children. Options is a K-8 signature program that acts as an alternative education program that encourages multi-grade learning, family involvement in a child’s education, and learning based on a child’s interests and needs. The program has been based at Gordon Elementary for the last 26 years, with its first four years at Suquamish Elementary. Students that participate in the Options program share some classes, lunch, recesses, and assemblies with Gordon students and Options teachers are part of the Gordon staff.
In late January, NKSD announced that it would be moving Options from Gordon Elementary to Wolfle Elementary, an announcement that came as a shock to many parents of students in the program, as well as the parent group that has maintained a partnership with the district for the last 30 years.
According to NKSD Superintendent Dr. Laurynn Evans, the choice to move the program came out of discussions following a demographic study conducted in 2018 that forecasted enrollment in the district in the next three, five and 10 years. The study found many of the district’s elementary schools were operating at or above capacity and would need more space, while other schools were operating at or well below their capacities.
This school year, Gordon Elementary had 30-40 more students than it had originally anticipated and anticipates to have a similar turn out the following school year which will require the school to obtain more space to accommodate those students.
“So all of that leads to a difficult decision. Which is we have schools like Gordon, Poulsbo Elementary, Vinland Elementary all running above capacity and then we have a couple of schools like Wolfle and Suquamish that are running very low… What makes sense is to move some students from a facility that has too many to a facility that has room to accommodate more,” Evans said.
The district determined that moving the Options program from Gordon to Wolfle made the most sense logistically.
“What we realized is that the Options program— one, it’s an opt-in program that families choose to be in. Two, two-thirds of the students in the program do not live in Gordon’s attendance area. So we began thinking about how might we look at repositioning that program at a different site,” Evans said.
The district briefly considered redrawing lines to draw more kids to Wolfle rather than move the Options program but quickly realized that that was not a realistic endeavor.
“We would have to do things like relocate some fragile special needs students, some of our ELL students, kids who are experiencing poverty who rightfully live in the Gordon attendance zone and when it comes between that or moving a program, it started to make sense to move the program,” Evans said.
Other things that made sense to move the program were the conditions of the portable classrooms at Gordon are deteriorating, whereas the portables at Wolfle are pretty much brand new.
In response to the announcement, the North Kitsap Options Parent Group (NKOPG) drafted a letter to the school district voicing concerns about the move and has subsequently made statements during the public comment period at NKSD board meetings.
“This was a complete surprise to all stakeholders – the students, teachers, parents, and school communities — as none had been engaged in any way by the district prior to this announcement. This stands in stark contrast to all four of the pillars of our Strategic plan “All in for All Students,” reads the letter.
The letter also alleges that the district is trying to avoid a potentially difficult process by eliminating stakeholder involvement.
“It was stated more than once that none of the stakeholders were involved in the decision because the district did not want to waste our time in a process where our input was not going to matter … it seems the district wants to avoid a difficult process by simply eliminating any stakeholder involvement in the decision. As the primary stakeholders in the Options program, we expect the district to follow its own core principles around stakeholder engagement in decision making, as stated in the NKSD Strategic Plan,” the letter reads.
Aware of these claims, Dr. Evans noted that stakeholders were not consulted in the decision-making process for a number of reasons but primarily because after discussions and studies, there was really only one way to go. Evans said she believed it would have been disingenuous to engage in discussions with stakeholders, already knowing the outcome wouldn’t change.
“I could’ve gotten parents and faculty together and gone through months of meetings knowing the entire time there was really only one way to solve the problem. That’s disingenuous. I just don’t see the value in leading people through a disingenuous process that ultimately is going to lead to the same decision. At some point I would have to break it to the group that we’re going to have to go to Wolfle, that’s the only logical solution given all the other things that we have in front of us,” Evans said.
Evans did note that whenever possible she seeks input or consensus in decision making, but in this case, she says she just had to make the call.
The letter also notes the potential logistical issues and dangers that come with the move to Wolfle, specifically when it comes to traffic and parking, which is already an issue at the school.
Mark Miller, an Options parent, outlined some of these concerns.
“Access is dangerous: Wolfle Elementary, which is accessed via Highland Drive off Highway 104 already gets traffic backed up to the highway during drop off and pick up times. Adding an additional 80 cars to this backup will make an already questionable intersection dangerous. The location, with respect to downtown Kingston, is a factor also,” Miller said.
Dr. Evans is a self-proclaimed “data junkie” and when the conversations surrounding the logistics of this move began, she began to identify the pinch points.
“One of the things that we are going to be doing is working with the county and the state to look at trying to get some type of mitigating going on for that intersection [HWY 104 and Highland Road]. At the same time I know the same issue was happening at Gordon for years, where traffic was stretching out on to Barber Cut Off, quite a bit during drop off and pick up and it was quite a problem. They’ve done some rerouting at Gordon to help with that. I believe that if we look at some strategies about how to help with pick up and drop off at Wolfle that we’re going to be able to mitigate that significantly,” Evans said.
Evans said she has been out to visit Wolfle during pick up times and noted that the traffic clears in about the same amount of time as other schools in the district and doesn’t believe an extra 50-80 cars is going to have much of an impact on that.
Since the announcement was made, Evans has met with teachers of the options group to go over what they will need to make Options work at Wolfle and is organizing a time for parents to come and view the facilities as well.