Short on classrooms, Spokane Public Schools seeks input on grade configuration

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Spokane Public Schools may need to add several more elementary schools to alleviate overcrowding. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
  • Young Kwak photo
  • Spokane Public Schools may need to add several more elementary schools to alleviate overcrowding.

In 2003, when Spokane Public Schools was coming up with a long-term plan for construction, the task was simpler.

Enrollment was declining at the time, so they didn't need to plan to add more school buildings — just better ones.

Two things have put a hitch in that plan. First, in the past few years, enrollment in the district has increased by a couple of thousand students. Second, districts across Washington have been mandated by the state to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.

The class size reduction alone, says Spokane Public Schools associate superintendent Mark Anderson, means the district would have to add more schools — around five new elementary schools just for the K-3 size reduction.

So the district is trying to find a way to configure the grades in a way that will cost less for new buildings and make sense for the community. The best way to to do that is up for debate.

Currently, the grade configuration goes like this: elementary schools have students in grades K-6, middle schools 7-8, and high schools 9-12.

Most districts in the state, however, place sixth graders in middle school instead of elementary school.

"We're kind of the minority in the state and across the nation," Anderson says.

Keeping the existing grade configuration is one option, but that would require more new school buildings to be built in the next bond compared to other alternatives.

The second option would be to move sixth graders to middle school. That could make more sense academically for sixth graders, and it would extend time in between transitions. It would also reduce the number of new buildings that would have to be constructed. Salk Middle School already uses this model, with few issues. Until now, there hasn't been a need to move to this model districtwide.

The third option would be to eliminate middle schools entirely and merge all kindergarten through eighth-grade students together. The K-8 model would mean that students would transition to a new school only two times instead of three, but would require major facility changes, according to the district.

There is little research to indicate that one model is particularly better than another for students, the district says. District-wide changes would not be made until 2021. But no matter what, boundary changes will be required in every model to handle the enrollment growth and class size reductions.

The good news? Spokane Public Schools wants the community's input on the potential changes. Find some handy information on the possibilities here, then go to one of the six community forums to discuss it. The first one is today, April 25, at Glover Middle School in the cafeteria at 7 pm; the next is at the same time on Thursday at Sacajawea Middle School. You can find the other dates here.