Some families in the Richland School District are protesting the possibility of moving students to Chief Joseph Middle School to ease overcrowding at the district's other two middle schools.
Enterprise and Carmichael middle schools already are over capacity. New housing construction west and south of Richland is increasing enrollment, forcing the school board to look for temporary solutions until a new middle school is built in the coming years.
Board members did not decide how to address the overcrowding at a meeting this week. They did voice an interest in causing as little disruption to students as possible.
"I would prefer if we can keep kids stable even when it's less than ideal for adults," said Chairman Rick Jansons.
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Students and parents, many from the Horn Rapids area, packed the standing-room-only meeting to express their desire to stay at Enterprise. Some questioned the perceived quality of education at Chief Joseph, citing low test scores and fewer program offerings.
"They're fleeing from Chief Jo," said Julie Robertson, whose fifth-grade child is scheduled to go there next year. She wants her child to attend another school. "There's something wrong at Chief Jo and right at Enterprise."
Jansons agreed there is a perception of poor school quality at Chief Joseph. However, he said, the school has an excellent principal and teachers, and the school is a victim of its students' socio-economic circumstances.
"It's not a level playing field," he said, adding that improvement still is important.
Kendell Millbauer, a Chief Joseph teacher, told the board she is aware of the perception but that she and her fellow teachers teach any student who walks in their classrooms.
Many kids at Chief Joseph come to school hungry or arrive late after getting younger siblings off to elementary school, Millbauer said. Some of her students also feel safest there.
"These are the kids who need great teachers," Millbauer said.
Several parents said they bought their homes in Horn Rapids specifically for the schools their children would attend, including Enterprise in West Richland. They are concerned about the tumult any relocation of their students would cause, as it would break up relationships with friends and teachers at a sensitive age.
"Kids at this age need security," said Joy Ham, who has a set of twins in sixth grade at Enterprise.
Enterprise sixth-grader Kevin Yang sighed in frustration at the podium while talking about the possibility of changing schools. A few became emotional, including sixth-grader Zachary Hinton, who attended five schools in two years while his father served in the Navy.
"I got to the point where I didn't want to ask people to be my friend because I didn't want to leave them," Zachary said.
Sixth-grader David Lee said he wanted to stay at Enterprise because of the school's drama program, which has allowed him to be in a play and a musical. He said Chief Jo doesn't offer drama and he would miss it.
"It's been almost the greatest year I can remember," he said of sixth grade.
Enterprise is estimated to have more than 1,000 students next school year and is growing by more than 70 students per year, fueled by housing growth, district officials said. Carmichael is growing more slowly, but it also is running out of room. Chief Joseph, on the other hand, is shrinking each year.
The district would move around 120 students living in developments along Highway 240 and at Horn Rapids to Chief Joseph. About 10 students living near the western end of Columbia Park Trail would be sent to Carmichael.
Relocating students isn't the only option the board is considering. Assistant Superintendent Todd Baddley provided other ideas this week, including installing more portable classrooms or hiring more teachers who don't have a fixed classroom, called "tennis shoe teachers," at Enterprise and Carmichael to keep up with growth.
"That really packs everything in," Baddley told the board, adding it would be workable.
Jansons and other board members brought up the possibility of sending students who move into newer housing developments west of Richland to Chief Joseph rather than Enterprise, a similar approach taken with addressing overcrowding at White Bluffs Elementary School.
Part of the problem stems from not knowing where the district will build a middle school being paid for by the $98 million bond approved by voters in February, Jansons said. Board members said they wouldn't want to move students more than once if they could help it, and it's difficult to know what the future attendance boundaries will be at this point.
The board will revisit the issue at its next meeting in two weeks. Board members tasked district administrators with more research on some of the options, including hiring more "tennis shoe teachers," installing portables or possibly moving up construction of the district's newest middle school.
Richland middle schools by the numbers (2011-12)
Chief Joseph Middle School
-- 8th-graders meeting state reading standards: 66%
-- 8th-graders meeting state math standards: 50%
-- Students who qualify for free or reduced lunch: 47%
Carmichael Middle School
-- 8th-grade reading: 70%
-- 8th-grade math: 58%
-- Free or reduced lunch: 32%
Enterprise Middle School
-- 8th-grade reading: 75%
-- 8th-grade math: 70%
-- Free or reduced lunch: 20%
-- Source: Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Report Card