Education

Lakewood school district plans for elementary boundary shifts this fall

Six years ago, the Clover Park School District thought it had figured out a way to build for the future.

The Lakewood district planned to close two of its older elementary schools, Oakwood and Southgate, and consolidate both populations into the new Four Heroes Elementary. It’s scheduled to open in September near the intersection of Lakewood Drive and Steilacoom Boulevard.

Now the future has arrived, and it’s carrying several hundred extra students that officials say they had no way of anticipating.

Clover Park’s overall enrollment has stayed fairly even, at roughly 12,000 students. But the age and location of kids in the northeast corner of the district have shifted.

That’s why officials are contemplating a redrawing of elementary school boundaries that could happen this fall. The school board will have the final say as soon as next month.

“Our demographics have changed in that region of the district,” said Superintendent Debbie LeBeau. “Oakwood and Southgate Elementary schools, especially Southgate, have significantly more students than they did in 2009.”

In that year, Oakwood had 302 students and Southgate 437. By January of this year, Oakwood had climbed to 371 and Southgate to 643.

The district is now proposing new attendance areas that will affect students at four elementary schools: Park Lodge, Lakeview Hope Academy, Southgate and Oakwood.

Six years ago, district officials thought their school consolidation plan would require shifting fewer than 90 students to new attendance areas. Now, they say, the plan will probably affect more than 370.

LeBeau said the district hired a demographer in 2009 to forecast enrollments. She said educators asked for another expert review last year, and were surprised to learn of a population shift.

“It is not new housing,” she said. “The demographer told us that some of it is families moving in together.”

That could be a lingering effect of the recession, she said.

Other factors have also changed since 2009. The state is funding more all-day kindergarten classes, along with smaller class sizes in kindergarten and first grade, which has triggered the need for more classroom space in Clover Park and in other South Sound school districts.

District officials say they want to minimize disruptions, keep neighborhoods intact and maintain as much as possible the relationships between elementary, middle and high schools.

Nikita Black-Neal, whose two daughters attend Lakeview, would like them to stay there. Her older children attended Lakeview as well.

But when she moved to the Park Lodge area a few years ago, she didn’t want to move her youngest children to a new school. She prefers Lakeview, and she likes that her children can walk to the adjacent Boys & Girls Club after school.

Black-Neal is hopeful that her daughters will be able to stay.

The prospect of moving to a new school “sounds so scary,” said her third-grade daughter, Blessed.

Black-Neal said if she has to move back into the Lakeview attendance area to keep her kids in their school, it will be worth it. But she’s hoping she won’t have to.

“I always want the best education for my kids,” she said.

District officials say they can’t use the old schools for K-12 classes, because they have already accepted state construction funding for both Four Heroes and for the new Harrison Preparatory School, which opened in January. To gain access to those dollars, the district must declare that its old schools are no longer in use for K-12 students.

The state could allow Clover Park to use the retired buildings for preschool programs, however, and the district plans to ask permission to do so. That would free up several classrooms. The district also plans to build a $3.6 million, nine-classroom addition to Lakeview.

LeBeau said the planned boundary shift will require more buses and bus drivers, but the district doesn’t yet have cost figures for that.

The school board has already looked at the proposed changes and could vote for them at its March 9 meeting.

Once a plan is adopted, LeBeau said parents will be able to go to the school district website, www.cloverpark.k12.wa.us/, type in their home address, and learn which attendance area they fall into. Information about bus routes will be available in late July. She said parents will also receive phone calls, and the plan will be publicized in a district newsletter.

“This is the administration’s proposal,” LeBeau said. “It’s the least disruptive way to house all our students.”

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