Pasco might split grades between three elementary schools

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMarch 21, 2014 

The Pasco School District might take a new approach to school boundary issues by splitting grade levels between three elementary schools in east Pasco.

One school might house just first- through third-graders, and another fourth through sixth grade, for example.

Splitting grades up is just one of several possibilities under consideration, confirmed district spokeswoman Leslee Caul. But she noted that no decision has been made.

The idea was prompted by the construction of Marie Curie STEM Elementary School next door to Whittier Elementary School and just four blocks from Virgie Robinson Elementary School.

"That's where the thought came from. If they're sharing a playground, maybe they can share a student body," said Joy Reilly, president of the Pasco Education Association teachers union.

The Curie school is being built along with two other STEM elementary schools as part of a $46.8 million bond approved by voters more than a year ago.

STEM schools emphasize hands-on learning using a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, curriculum.

The two other schools, Rosalind Franklin and Barbara McClintock STEM elementary schools, are being built in west Pasco. Franklin will open this fall, while McClintock and Curie are scheduled to open in fall 2015.

Sixth-grade students housed in the district's middle schools also will be placed in the elementary schools beginning in 2015 to ease crowding.

"We're beginning the process as we did for (Rosalind) Franklin STEM Elementary," Caul said. "(Splitting grade levels) is one model we're looking at."

Caul said the district has talked with staff about how students could be split up among the three schools. And officials also recently met with some parents, though information on what was said at that meeting was not immediately available.

Reilly said teachers union leaders have attended the meetings with staff. There are questions about how splitting up grades would affect teacher assignments, and that could lead to contract negotiations, she said.

The district has been open with the union about the possible scenarios, Reilly said, noting the idea of splitting up grades among the schools is a creative approach.

District officials have been working on getting the new schools set up ahead of their openings. The Pasco School Board approved Franklin's attendance boundaries about a month ago after a series of public meetings.

Many parents praised the district for providing opportunity to comment on the proposed boundaries and incorporating suggestions, but not everyone was happy.

Some families whose homes are relatively close to Franklin but outside the approved attendance boundary wanted the district to limit the number of students who could "opt-in" to the school so the boundary could be expanded.

District administrators said that wasn't feasible and the board stuck with the recommended boundary.

STEM planning principal Deidre Holmberg will be the principal at Franklin but other administrators already have been assigned to the new schools.

Valerie Aragon, principal of Mark Twain Elementary School, Whittier's former principal and a runner-up to a national principal's award this spring, will be at the helm at Curie when it opens.

Jaime Morales, Whittier's principal, will go to McClintock while his assistant principal, Victor Silva, will take over at Whittier.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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