It was billed as a public forum for South Kitsap School District’s Boundary Review Committee.
But it was a proposed grade reconfiguration that appeared to garner most of the public’s attention Thursday at John Sedgwick Junior High.
Under the BRC’s proposal, which would go into effect for the 2016-17 school year, ninth-graders would attend South Kitsap High School. The change also would transform the district’s three junior highs — Cedar Heights, John Sedgwick and Marcus Whitman — into middle schools with sixth-graders moving up from elementary schools.
SKSD officials have mulled the transformation dating back to 1992. When it was discussed in 2009, district director of facilities and operations Tom O’Brien said it would make sense because it followed a national trend.
There are four main models for educating the cluster of middle grades: fifth through eighth; sixth through eighth; seventh and eighth; and seventh through ninth.
According to the Middle Level Leadership Center research, 45 percent of schools featured the seventh through ninth option in 1970. That fell to just percent to just 5 percent in 2000. During the same span, sixth through eighth schools rose from 16 to 59 percent.
That trend only has increased in recent years. In 2013-14, all SKSD ninth-graders were eligible to compete in athletics at the high school for the first time when the junior-high league that SKHS participated in disbanded because there no longer were enough schools. In addition, many students participate in other extracurricular activities, such as band, that require they be bused to the high school.
Along with added transportation expenses, Maggie Geisler, who is among about 30 parents on the BRC, said that creates a scenario where those students struggle with whether they fit at the high school or junior high.
SKHS principal Jerry Holsten said keeping freshmen at the junior high also limits their educational opportunities. For example, ninth-graders who attend high school in many school districts have the opportunity to take German. But that language is not offered at any of SKSD’s junior highs, which means students either must choose another foreign language or wait a year to start studies.
In addition, Holsten said, advanced algebra is not offered at the junior highs because ”they don’t have the numbers and staff to offer those classes.”
“They are being limited right now with some of those advanced classes they can take,” he said. “This is strictly academically what is best for students.”
But several parents expressed concern about the size of the high school, which has 1,936 students this year, according to the BRC. Greene Gasaway Architects of Federal Way, which SKSD retains to project future attendance, foresees enrollment increasing to 2,627 for the 2016-17 school year if the grade realignment is approved.
A report released in October 2013 by SKSD showed that 692 students living within its boundaries who elected to attend other schools or Internet programs outside of the district. More local students migrated to the Peninsula School District (222) than any other. Central Kitsap (85), Bremerton (84) and Vashon (40) were the next-biggest beneficiaries. Among Internet-based programs, Washington Virtual Academies (79) had the most SKSD enrollees.
Multiple parents indicated they knew people who either sent their children to neighboring school districts or elect not to move into the area.
But Burley-Glenwood Elementary School principal Darek Grant, who also serves on the BRC, said the current structure also hurts SKSD when new families move into the area.
“We’re losing kids just for the same reason that we don’t have ninth-graders,” Grant said. “They’re choosing to go another way.”
One suggested solution was to build a new high school. SKSD still is making loan payments on the site of the proposed second high school — the district purchased a 56-acre plot near the intersection of Old Clifton and Feigley roads in 2003.
Multiple SKSD officials told concerned parents that the district would like to build a second high school on that site.
“There’s a long-range facilities review committee,” Holsten said. “That always has been the long-range goal of the school district.”
A project of that magnitude likely would require a capital bond. SKSD last put a bond issue before voters in 2007. At that time, district officials asked for a $163.2 million capital-facilities bond that would have paid for a new high school, rebuilt South Colby Elementary and improved technology infrastructure, roofing, heating and cooling systems, and physical education and athletic programs. It failed by about eight-percentage points of the required 60 percent to pass.
For now, Holsten said SKHS is capable of handling the influx of students. He noted that when the high school had that many students in 2002, there were not as many that left campus for Running Start — 125 students participate in that program at Olympic College — or at the West Sound Technical Skills Center. The latter, which is run by the Bremerton School District, has 25 SKHS students. Holsten also noted that enrollment at the high school is projected to decrease to 2,479 in 2019-20, even with freshmen on campus.
While the proposal would increase enrollment at the high school, transportation director Jay Rosapepe said it would relieve some of the burden at the elementary schools. He said Greene Gasaway projects that SKSD will add 500-600 students in kindergarten through sixth grade by 2020, which would “put some of our elementary schools over capacity.”