Puyallup won’t switch to middle schools
The Puyallup School District won’t move to a middle school grade configuration anytime soon.
The five-member School Board voted unanimously Monday to leave the district’s junior high configuration alone and disband the committee that has been studying a possible switch since 2010.
Officials said the district already has implemented some reforms based on the committee’s work, and it doesn’t have space in the high schools to add ninth-graders.
“We’re starting to (overcrowd) the high schools even with the (existing) 10-12 configuration,” said Greg Heath, School Board president.
Chris Ihrig, the board’s vice president, said he wasn’t “willing to have more kids in portables. I’m not willing to cram our high schools with more kids when they’re at capacity, all of them.”
The board’s decision means Puyallup soon will be the only large district in Pierce County using the junior high model, in which students attend elementary school through sixth grade, junior high in grades 7-9 and high school in grades 10-12.
The Bethel School District will start its transition to middle schools during the coming school year.
The middle school model is the most common one among larger districts nationwide. Puyallup began researching a possible switch in fall 2010; then-Superintendent Tony Apostle commissioned a committee to do the work.
There was fairly immediate community pushback at the time, with some parents worried about overcrowding at high schools, among other issues.
Supporters pointed out potential benefits, such as freshmen having greater access to accelerated classes.
On the district’s Facebook page Monday, most commenters praised the board’s decision, though a few said they were disappointed.
The 15-member committee had been given until next year to complete its study. But Heath said the facility issues were the “elephant in the room.”
The district has roughly 21,300 students, the second-largest in the county behind Tacoma. Puyallup already uses more than 200 portable classrooms. Reconfiguring the grades would require even more portables, officials said.
The district says it would cost millions to equip high schools to handle more students at a time when it needs to make investments at elementary grade levels.
Apostle recently retired after eight years as the district’s top administrator. In his farewell message in the June newsletter, he was still anticipating a switch to a middle school system and said “the district is well-positioned to offer sixth- and ninth-graders greater academic opportunities and exposure” in subjects such as science, technology, engineering, math and world languages.
The new superintendent is Tim Yeomans, who came from the Meridian School District in the Bellingham area.
Yeomans and other Puyallup school leaders said Monday that the committee’s work isn’t wasted. The district already has started implementing changes, such as a greater focus on team teaching in junior high, that grew out of the roughly two-year study, they said.
Heath and Ihrig said the board may look at grade reconfiguration again, but likely not soon.
“It was absolutely worth it for us to ask the question and research it and have the committee to do the work we did,” Ihrig said. “I think we’re in a better place in the district. Those are the kind of questions we should be willing to ask, put in the hard work and make the decision.”