I attended a rally this morning at the John Marshall building where Loyal Heights is being housed as their new school gets built. There were at least 40 parents marching. When I arrived, the PTA president, Julie Giebel, was in a meeting with LH principal, Wayne Floyd, as well as Jon Halfaker, the Executive Director for the region and SPS Communications' Luke Ducey. So I spoke with some parents.As you may know, kindergarten classes are overcrowded with 31, 29 and 28 students per classroom (the new state recommendation is not to exceed 22). The district is considering not meeting our staffing needs based on our overall school enrollment and funding. Instead, the district may ask us to "absorb" the additional kindergarten students by creating multiple split classes throughout the entire school. This will impact every student and staff member at Loyal Heights. There would be a split class at every grade level and many students would be reassigned to a new classroom.
“shame the administration and the legislature and the mayor, for the fact that a private citizen and parents are putting up money to support children, because they’re doing nothing,” according to KIRO News."
And now this issue has come to their child's school and no, they are not putting up the money again (on principle.)
I have to say that on top of being in an interim building clear across town that currently has no security system (see photo below) and at least one bus has been late every day since school opened (with one pulling up with kids as young as kindergarten on it more than 45 minutes late when I was there), asking every classroom to split seems like a lot. Not to mention the fact that the teachers did not even have time to prepare for this event. It sounds like a recipe for a lot of confusion and lost learning time.
Here's another interesting fact - the district's enrollment number on Loyal Heights was nearly right on. BUT, that's only because 4th and 5th grade was underenrolled while kindergarten was overenrolled. So why so many students leaving the upper grades? Parents I spoke to said that they believed it was the crosstown commute coupled with some degree of chaos over the last few years that sent other parents to private schools.
But if those 4th/5th graders hadn't left? The school would get a new teacher.
The principal did come out and talk to the meeting as well as Mr. Halfaker. Mr. Jones tried to ask Halfaker a question as the media got settled and Halfaker refused to answer and we were told the media has deadlines. (Later on, Halfaker did take questions from parents.)
Mr. Halfaker did make the statement about the district's projected number for LH being almost right on and noted that the district only has 140 students than they had projected (also very close.)
He said it was a challenge for a public school system because they have to take everyone who comes thru the door and it can't be predicted. Except that Michael Tolley said this to LH kindergarten parents on Sep 6th:
"On paper we have up to 30 students signed up for each class. Not all will be in class on the first day but all have a space reserved at this time. I am working hard to get these numbers in the proper range." If the numbers stay where they are, he goes onto say he "hopes" to hire a 4th kindergarten teacher "ASAP."I'm guessing they didn't know the 4th/5th grade would be underenrolled but it seems wrong to tell parents one thing and do something else.
He said that headquarters staff would be making the staffing decisions this Friday, the 23rd, and sending that decision to principals on Monday, the 26th.
I asked about mitigation funds, given LH's situation at John Marshall but he said those funds are not built in.
He went on to say that there are other schools in the system also affected and that they have an "equity toolkit" lens that they view all of this thru. I asked him if LH was a Title One school, would this kind of drastic schoolwide impact be happening. He didn't quite answer my question but said that staffing considerations happen at all schools.
I reminded him of the $2M left over from last spring's budgeting that was still being talked about as late as the last Board retreat a couple of weeks ago. He said he didn't know. Halfaker conceded the Board did have to power to decide how to use that money.
One parent said she was considering a private school and this whole thing "felt like this is being done to me."
I did get to speak to PTA president, Julie Giebel, who let me know that the PTA funds a half-time counselor and school secretary.