Some Fircrest-area parents say they’re battle-weary after years of school closures and threats of closures from Tacoma Public Schools.
But others who gathered this week at Whittier Elementary School in Fircrest say they’re willing to accept the olive branch school officials have extended to them.
Ten Whittier parents have volunteered to serve on a new district task force that will explore options for Whittier and nearby Wainwright Elementary, which was one of two elementary schools closed by the Tacoma School Board in 2011 to save money.
Whittier parent David Stemp called the task force “a great opportunity. We need to come to a clear, concise vision of what we’d like. We can come up with several options.”
The group is scheduled to begin meeting this month. Parents from neighboring elementary schools, including DeLong and Geiger, have been invited to join. The group’s mission will be to look at possibilities for new school programs, grade configurations and other ideas.
Options will be presented at public meetings; then the task force will make a recommendation to the superintendent and school board.
School board member Karen Vialle said the state’s designation of Tacoma as an innovative school district provides a chance to re-imagine schools with a goal of either improving academic achievement or sustaining high achievement at schools that already excel.
While there was optimism for a fresh start among the Whittier group this week, the ghosts of recent school district actions hung in the air.
In 2010, Tacoma Public Schools closed Hunt Middle School after it landed on a state list of low-achievers, based on test scores. And in 2011, residents had to fight to keep Foss High School open after the district proposed closing it to save money.
Whittier and Wainwright have served as “feeder schools” for Hunt and Foss over the years. Students from the area are now split among several Tacoma middle schools and high schools. Other Fircrest families have opted to send their children to the University Place School District.
After closing Wainwright, the district now says it might rebuild it. Wainwright is one of 14 schools on a list of major construction projects that will be funded if voters approve a proposed $500 million bond measure Feb. 12.
Katie Dorsey asked what will happen if the bond is not approved. Vialle said that’s hard to say. But she said that if it fails, “we are not going to abandon you guys. We will figure out another option.”
She explained that new projections predict that the west side of the school district will grow quickly in the coming years. She said the district will also rebuild Hunt, but not immediately.
Some parents remained skeptical.
“We have been down this road before,” said Phaedra Miller, whose children attend Mason Middle and Stadium High schools. “I was told we would have a new middle school, and we don’t. Then they closed Wainwright.
“The story keeps changing. It’s tough for me to put my faith in this again.”
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635