Education

Tacoma middle school boundary changes could start in fall 2017

Students head to Mason Middle School in Tacoma’s Proctor District in November. Final recommendations for new attendance boundaries would shift some neighborhoods from Mason to Truman Middle School at the start of the 2021-22 school year.
Students head to Mason Middle School in Tacoma’s Proctor District in November. Final recommendations for new attendance boundaries would shift some neighborhoods from Mason to Truman Middle School at the start of the 2021-22 school year. dperine@thenewstribune.com

Final recommendations for new attendance boundaries at Tacoma’s comprehensive middle schools have been presented to the Tacoma School Board, which is to vote on the proposal Dec. 8.

Under the plan, initial changes would take effect with the 2017-18 school year, while a second round would occur at the start of the 2021-22 school year.

Among the proposed changes for 2017-18:

▪ A slice of the neighborhoods now assigned to First Creek Middle School would shift to Stewart Middle School.

▪ Some Stewart territory would shift to Baker Middle School, while another piece would go to Giaudrone Middle School.

Proposed boundary changes are driven in part by the district’s ongoing school construction projects: Stewart Middle School, Wainwright Intermediate School and Hunt Middle School

The second shift would take place after a new Hunt Middle School is built and opens in September 2021. Hunt’s boundaries would include part of the west side of the school district, including Fircrest.

In addition, some neighborhoods now in the Mason Middle School boundary would shift to Truman Middle School for the 2021-22 school year.

A district committee, which includes parents and principals from throughout the city, was assigned to develop boundaries that balance enrollment (both in terms of numbers and demographics), affect the smallest number of families and can remain relatively stable into the foreseeable future.

“We tried to make adjustments that made sense,” said district chief financial officer Rosalind Medina, the administrator in charge of the committee. “We wanted to make sure not to disadvantage any population in any one place.”

Some parents have expressed concerns about the proposed boundary shifts — most recently at Sherman Elementary School.

They said they were told of proposed changes — a shift from Mason to Truman in 2021-22 — too late to offer official comment. In response, Medina and a committee member met with the parents Nov. 21 to hear their concerns.

Stefanie Davison has a child at Sherman who would be affected by the shift. She says the proposal would fracture the tight-knit Sherman community, sending about half the Sherman kids to Mason and the other half to Truman for middle school.

She also maintains the change would shift some moderate- to low-income neighborhoods out of the Mason boundary and into Truman’s. Truman already has a higher percentage of students who qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, a widely used marker for poverty.

Several Sherman parents said they did not learn of the changes until after Nov. 6, when the boundary committee proposed the switch. Some parents said maps the school district posted online were inconsistent and that initial emails from the district did not mention the change.

Parents said many Sherman parents remained unaware of the proposed changes until it was nearly too late to offer comment.

“Boundaries change. I understand that,” Davison said. “But when you are a parent and you find out at the last minute, it just doesn’t sit well with you. I wish it could have been handled in a more respectful way.”

Davison and other parents point out that Truman has lower test scores than Mason. They say they bought homes in their neighborhoods in the belief that their kids would attend Mason.

“Schools are fluid, and schools can change,” said Sherman parent Megan Luce. “I’m sure Truman is a great school.”

But she believes her oldest child, now in second grade at Sherman, as well as her two younger children, would have more opportunities at Mason.

Luce is circulating a petition to keep Sherman kids within the Mason boundaries for middle school. So far, she’s gathered about 75 supporters, and parents were going door-to-door Monday with the petitions.

Earlier, some parents from the Hilltop neighborhood raised concerns about a draft of the plan that would have had some kids catch a bus to attend Giaudrone, across state Route 16.

They said they preferred to remain at Jason Lee Middle School, which is within walking distance. In the end, Medina said, “we made no adjustments to Jason Lee.”

Students from McCarver Elementary School, also on the Hilltop, can choose to attend Jason Lee under the plan. They will have the option of catching a bus to Giaudrone if their parents choose to have them continue in the International Baccalaureate program.

McCarver offers the program, which focuses on rigorous coursework with an international focus. So does Giaudrone.

School assignments in Tacoma aren’t rigid. Parents can ask to have their child attend a school outside of their neighborhood boundary, as long as there’s space at the school they choose.

In most cases, parents also must be willing to provide transportation for their student to the out-of-area school.

 

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At a School Board meeting Nov. 21, board President Karen Vialle said she was pleased with the plan, which balances enrollment numbers.

“We had some schools that were over-enrolled, and we had some schools that were under-enrolled,” she said.

Board member Catherine Ushka said she was glad to see the plan follows major transportation corridors and gives some relief to schools such as First Creek, which has been operating at 120 percent of its planned student capacity.

The committee is recommending that students who will be eighth-graders in the 2017-18 school year remain at their current middle schools. Incoming seventh-graders can apply through the optional enrollment process to also remain and would be given priority in that process.

The same options for seventh- and eighth-graders would apply for the second phase of boundary revisions in 2021-22.

The school district redrew attendance boundaries for elementary schools in parts of the city last year and began this year to remap attendance areas for middle schools.

The proposed boundary changes are driven in part by the district’s school construction projects, which include:

▪ A remodeled Stewart Middle School, scheduled to open in September 2017

▪ A new Wainwright Intermediate School (which will include middle school grades, as well as grades four and five), set to open by January

▪ A new Hunt Middle School, scheduled to open in fall 2021.

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, 2017.

We had some schools that were over-enrolled, and we had some schools that were under-enrolled

School board President Karen Vialle

Why so early?

“We are already planning for the 2017-18 school year, in terms of staffing, in early February,” Medina said. And staffing depends on how many students enroll at each school, she added.

School Board member Scott Heinze said he is concerned about asking for public input on the boundary plan during the busy holiday season. But district officials say the Jan. 15 deadline needs to hold.

The boundary committee will meet again at 6 p.m. Wednesday to further discuss points raised by Sherman parents and to consider revising its recommendations.

Medina said the committee won’t take public testimony at that meeting, but the public may attend. Medina said parents can comment online or by email until noon Wednesday. The committee will consider comments at its meeting later that day.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635, @DebbieCafazzo

Learn more

The boundary committee will reconvene to consider concerns raised by Sherman parents at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the Tacoma Public Schools Administration Building, 601 S. Eighth St. Although the committee does not plan to take public comments during the meeting, it is open to the public.

You can learn more at the Tacoma Public Schools website: tacomaschools.org/boundaries.

To submit a comment online, click on the “Ask a question” link, or email info@tacoma.k12.wa.us.

Where the kids are

Middle school

Current attendees

2017-18 estimate

Giaudrone

658

669

Baker

696

674

First Creek

814

711

Gray

554

605

Jason Lee*

555

563

Mason

799

746

Meeker

637

628

Stewart

346

538

Truman

816

908

* Includes middle-schoolers who will attend Bryant Montessori.

Middle school

Currently attendees

2021-22 estimate

Hunt*

0

490

Mason

799

550

Truman

816

558

* Includes middle-schoolers who will attend Wainwright Intermediate

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