The Tacoma School Board adopted new middle school boundaries Tuesday that offer a partial compromise to parents from a Sherman Elementary School neighborhood in the city’s North End.
Some Sherman parents had objected to their kids being switched from the Mason Middle School boundary, where most Sherman kids now head for middle school, to Truman Middle School, where they would be redirected beginning in the fall of 2021.
The school district previously estimated that the change, which would impact many families living north of North 37th Street and east of Orchard Street, would have involved about 70 students.
But the board agreed Tuesday to allow students in the affected area who have an older sibling at Mason when the switch kicks in, or who live at the same address as the older child, to be given priority for optional enrollment at Mason.
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The temporary “grandfathering” would apply to students who are now in kindergarten or higher grades at Sherman, and who have older family members, district officials said. But younger kids from the affected area would be redirected to Truman for middle school, starting in the fall of 2021.
School assignments in Tacoma aren’t rigid. Under optional enrollment, parents can ask to have their child attend a school outside their designated boundary, as long as there is space at the school of choice and parents provide transportation there. If parents want to enroll their student next year in a school other than their assigned neighborhood school, the deadline to apply is Jan. 15.
Under the plan adopted Tuesday, boundary lines for middle schools will shift in many parts of the city. Initial changes will take place in fall 2017. They include:
▪ Moving nearly 200 students from part of a neighborhood on the city’s East Side, which currently lies in the First Creek Middle School catchment area, to Stewart Middle School, on Pacific Avenue. A new Stewart is scheduled to open in September.
▪ Shifting some of what’s now Stewart territory south to Baker Middle School. That would involve an estimated 38 students.
▪ Moving an estimated 75 students from Stewart westward to Giaudrone Middle School.
The boundary changes are driven in part by new construction in the school district, including a remodeled and modernized Stewart, and a new Hunt Middle School, scheduled to open in the city’s West End in fall 2021.
A boundary advisory committee made up of parents and educators from throughout the city, was charged with developing a new middle school map and bringing recommendations first to Superintendent Carla Santorno, then to the board. Their work began in September.
District Chief Financial Officer Rosalind Medina, who headed the effort, said the goal was to make adjustments that made sense. The committee attempted to balance the number of students from school to school, lowering enrollment at overcrowded schools and ensuring that no middle school was too small. At the same time, committee members tried to impact the smallest number of families.
But Tuesday’s board decision left some families unclear about how they will be affected, and critical of the process used to arrive at the new boundary lines.
Before the board vote, some Sherman parents objected to what they called a last-minute decision by the district boundary committee that left them little time to voice their opposition.
Parent Ruth Greenfield asked why other, more impoverished, neighborhoods such as the Hilltop had their concerns addressed during the boundary-drawing process, but that Sherman parents weren’t heard.
Several said they had purchased homes in the Sherman area with an eye toward their child one day attending Mason.
“I am not affluent,” said Cory Greenfield, Ruth’s husband. “I took a financial hit to try to get my daughter into a great school.”
Parent Myria Stevens said the move will split Sherman kids in half between two middle schools, disrupting childhood friendships that are important as kids enter middle school.
“I cannot understand why we would ever want to split an elementary school, especially at a very important time in an adolescent’s life,” she said.
She and other parents also noted that while many of their kids can walk to Mason, moving to Truman would require them to travel along busy streets that lack sidewalks. School officials said that students would be able to ride a school bus to Truman.
Board member Karen Vialle took Sherman parents to task. She said Truman parents were upset about some of the discussions, which they considered demeaning to the Truman school community.
“Truman is not an underperforming school,” Vialle said. She urged Sherman parents to think about how they can unite and become part of a new school community.
“We are one school district, one city,” she said. “Our kids need to learn to get along and make new friends.”
Board member Debbie Winskill proposed an amendment that would have left the affected Sherman families at Mason. But it failed on a 3-2 vote.
The boundary measures were finally adopted Tuesday by a vote of 4-1, with Winskill voting against it.