Any changes to Kent School District boundaries and moving sixth graders to middle schools from elementary schools won’t happen until at least the 2023-2024 school year.
District staff recommended waiting to make a decision, and the Kent School Board agreed.
“We want to be certain you guys are comfortable moving this direction of sixth grade in middle school, clear feeder patterns and to balance out elementary enrollments is where we want to be going,” said Randy Heath, district interim chief of school operations and academic support, during a November presentation to the board.
Heath said staff knows the planning work and making decisions will take time.
“The more we looked at it and to do it in a purposeful way with the community engaged in the work, 2023-2024 would be an appropriate time,” Heath said at the Nov. 10 board meeting.
That plan worked for the five-member board.
“I appreciate the time extension,” Director Joe Bento said. “It was going to be for next school year, so I thank you for that.”
Board members emphasized they want to be sure to involve community residents in the decisions about where to draw school boundaries, feeder patterns and whether sixth graders should be moved to middle schools.
“The last time we had these conversations my concern was equity among the voices heard,” Director Denise Daniels said. “We had pretty vocal parents that knew who to talk to. I’m not sure there was the opportunity for other neighborhoods that also were impacted. …We need all input, not just certain groups of parents. We need to hear from a multitude of neighborhoods.”
The district said in a statement that it will be convening subcommittees comprised of community members, parents, staff and administrators to conduct additional analysis and help create effective implementation plans. An application process will be identified for those interested in becoming a subcommittee member and a timeline established to move this work forward. The subcommittees will provide regular updates to the school board throughout this school year on the progress of its objectives.
The board in February approved boundary changes for certain schools to feed students into the new River Ridge Elementary that opened in August on the West Hill in the city of SeaTac.
But the board decided earlier this year against voting on other changes recommended by MGT Consulting Group that would move sixth grade into middle schools, reopen the former Kent Phoenix Academy (previously Sequoia Middle School) as a new middle school, aligning school feeder patterns and adjusting school boundaries to help balance enrollment districtwide.
Heath told the board a number of reasons support moving sixth graders to middle school.
“It’s the most appropriate placement of sixth graders academically and socially,” Heath said.
He said state guideline standards favor dividing students into the sixth through eighth grades. He said it gives students a chance to have three years of lab science to better prepare them and that most elementary schools do no have labs. It also gives students increased opportunities for academic acceleration and electives.
“Instead of math at the sixth grade level they can take a higher math level,” Heath said. “They have more electives at middle schools, which could be band or choir.”
The clear feeder patterns are an effort to keep more students together through elementary, middle and high school. Right now, 80% of students at one middle school might go to the same high school but another 20% are sent elsewhere.
“Students and families want to travel with peers to new schools,” Heath said.
The change in elementary school boundaries would help reduce overcrowding at certain schools and curtail the use of portables.
“We won’t make every school 450 students but we can keep within capacity of the school and allow us to make decisions on needs of students in programs and not where we have physical space,” Heath said.
The district plans to hold meetings in neighborhoods that would be impacted by any changes.
Despite pushing out changes to the 2023-2024 school year, Heath said it’s still going to be important to hit deadlines.
“We will come back to the board and share recommendations by fall of 2022,” he said. “We will need decisions by September or October of next year to implement changes for the following school year.”
People with questions for the Kent School District about the boundary changes can email [email protected]