The Pasco School Board has unanimously agreed to welcome students in kindergarten through sixth grade to Barbara McClintock STEM Elementary School when it opens this fall.
A plan to open it as a K-2 school had drawn ire from many parents. Public discussions about attendance boundary adjustments had been tense and angry at times.
One parent, Shannon Hughes, said that tension and stress evaporated when the school board made its decision Tuesday night.
“This board worked long and hard for us,” Hughes said.
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McClintock will largely draw students from the neighborhoods east of Road 68 between Burden Boulevard and Powerline Road. It’s one of three elementary schools being built with money from a $46.8 million bond. It will be located on Road 60 in west Pasco, only blocks from Rosalind Franklin STEM Elementary School, which opened this year.
Those schools, along with Marie Curie STEM Elementary School opening next fall in east Pasco, all have science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, focused curricula.
McClintock was designed to only house students from kindergarten up to second grade, meaning it has some features not typical to elementary schools, such as individual restrooms for each classroom, a smaller cafeteria and low counters.
The district will still need to make some modifications to the school to make it more amenable for older students and it will always have a relatively small enrollment because of its design, district officials said, but changing the configuration was the right decision.
“One of the things we’ve heard from our community clearly is they want neighborhood schools and that drove the decision,” said board member Steve Christensen.
The district’s springboard proposal, released this winter, was to have Franklin, currently a K-5 school, serve third- through sixth-graders while the newly opened McClintock would have kindergarten through second-graders. It’s a similar arrangement as what the district decided for Curie and Whittier Elementary School, which sit right next to each other.
Many west Pasco families criticized the district’s proposal, saying dividing up elementary grades would strain family schedules, separate siblings and make it harder for parents to find time to volunteer.
District staff had said McClintock could be converted to handle older students but it would likely not be able to open with those changes in time for the fall. Christensen and board Vice President Scott Lehrman were appointed by board President Ryan Brault to investigate and make a recommendation to the board.
While it is easier to make building changes earlier in the process, Christensen said further review found McClintock will be able to function well as a K-6 school this fall with some changes, such as adding some hallway-accessible bathrooms and raising counters. The cost for the changes wasn’t immediately available but were previously estimated to cost as much as $5 million.
“Right now we’re just going to open it as it is and see how it goes,” Christensen said.
The board conducted three additional public forums to hear the public’s thoughts on boundary realignment, noting they also have to consider the benefit to the entire district and the issue of overcrowding in Pasco schools.
Sara Dodson, whose son attends first grade at Franklin, wasn’t able to attend Tuesday’s meeting but heard from parents later that they were pleased the board listened to their concerns.
“I can tell you that everybody is really, really happy about it,” Dodson said.
Hughes’ family lives in the Three Rivers neighborhood, blocks from Franklin but assigned to James McGee Elementary farther south, requiring many students to be bused or driven while their neighbors walked to class.
“They always felt a little left out,” Hughes said of her two older children at McGee.
Now her kids will be able to walk to school in the fall and she’s also happy about the school’s small size.
“I think it will help establish the school and keep parents better connected,” she said.