Many West Richland parents want to know whether their kids will go to the same school as their neighbors across the street.
Jamie Steelman and her family live on Kona Drive, a street proposed as a boundary line between Enterprise Middle School and a new middle school under construction less than two miles away.
Does that mean the boundary goes down the middle of the street with kids on each side going to different schools, she and a few other parents asked during a recent school district forum.
Some parents also expressed concern that the proposed boundaries would divide students leaving Wiley Elementary School for middle school.
“I think our biggest issue is that Wiley has already been broken up once and now it’s happening again,” another parent said, referring to an elementary boundary shift years ago that moved some Wiley students to White Bluffs Elementary School.
Richland School District officials said they expected some criticism of the boundary proposal, as changes inevitably make some people unhappy. But attendance at the most recent forum and two others has been sparse, with about a dozen or so parents showing up. All questions and comments made at the meetings and submitted through the district’s website will be provided to the school board ahead of its decision, expected sometime in the coming weeks.
Much of the feedback is neutral or positive, said Assistant Superintendent Todd Baddley, even with an additional proposal to assign specific middle schools to either Richland or Hanford high school as “feeder schools” and doing away with current attendance areas.
“I thought we’d get a lot of push-back on that,” Baddley told the Herald.
But Steelman and others did raise concerns about the proposed boundaries not directly related to their own children, most notably that the new middle school likely will serve mostly higher income families, possibly setting up a system of schools with the “haves” or “have-nots.”
“I don’t know how you divide it but I definitely think there needs to be some economic diversity,” Steelman said.
Richland’s unnamed fourth middle school, near the intersection of Belmont Boulevard and Keene Road in West Richland, is scheduled to open in August 2017. District officials and an appointed boundary revision committee have worked for more than a year on how to adjust attendance areas to accommodate the new school.
Every middle school would be affected, with Chief Joseph Middle School taking students living in Horn Rapids and many between Highway 240 and the Yakima River. Carmichael Middle School would lose some of its south Richland students but see its attendance area creep further north in central Richland to include those living near the Queensgate Drive shopping area.
Enterprise would be affected the most. All the students it currently serves south of Keene Road would head to the new school, as would about half of the families served by Wiley north of Keene Road.
Steelman said she expects Enterprise, where she already has two students, and the new middle school will both be great and her youngest child, still at Wiley, would do well at either.
But she and other parents noted that the new middle school would mostly serve students from the new Orchard Elementary School as well as White Bluffs and Wiley, some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the district. Meanwhile, Enterprise would have a more even mix of students from high-, middle- and low-income families from the rest of West Richland.
That concern extended to Steelman’s view of changing to feeder schools for determining which students are sent to Richland and Hanford high schools. The proposal has Carmichael and the new middle school going to Richland High and Chief Joseph and Enterprise going to Hanford High School.
Richland High currently serves all of south Richland but also most of central Richland, which is dominated by middle- and low-income families. That dynamic would change with feeder schools, as about half of central Richland would instead head to Hanford High.
Baddley acknowledged that feeder schools will limit transfers to Richland High because of crowding. But the district anticipates some West Richland students living in the area served by Wiley will want to transfer to Hanford High so they can attend school with neighborhood friends, and feeder schools open up space at the school for that purpose.
Feeder schools also would allow teachers and student groups at the high schools to work more closely or reach out to their assigned middle schools as they know they’ll be receiving those schools’ students as freshmen.
For parent Charlie Joiner, the feeder system looks good. He’s considering trying to keep his sixth-grade daughter at Enterprise after the boundary change becasue they live in the area tentatively assigned to the new middle school. But he sees a lot of benefits to having all the students from a school move on to another one together.
“Middle school can be tough,” he said. “If they’re all familiar with each other and go through it all together, it’ll be easier.”