The possibility of shifting Richland middle school boundaries has prompted proponents of Chief Joseph Middle School to sing their school's praises after others lambasted it at a recent meeting.
Richland School District officials said boundaries could remain as they are, but if they do change, those at Chief Jo said they're taking this opportunity to put their school's new families at ease.
"It was a God-given opportunity to address the 600-pound gorilla about perception and reality," said Basilios Strmec, co-president of Chief Jo's parent-teacher association, or PTA.
PTA members met with district administrators Monday to correct misperceptions about Chief Jo, Strmec said.
He said there was discussion about improving the "curb appeal" of the school, such as possibly painting the exterior. The district is considering moving more than 100 students assigned to Enterprise Middle School in West Richland and living in areas such as Horn Rapids, which is off Highway 240 northeast of West Richland, to Chief Jo to alleviate overcrowding.
Chief Jo, located at the north end of central Richland at 504 Wilson St., has four empty classrooms and two portable buildings and a declining student enrollment, while Enterprise and Carmichael Middle School, which is on the south end of central Richland off Thayer Drive, are overcrowded.
The issue will be discussed again when the Richland School Board meets at 6:30 p.m. today at 615 Snow Ave.
Some Enterprise Middle School students and their families said they don't like the idea of the boundary shift and said at a recent board meeting they've already built relationships with friends and teachers at their current school. Others criticized Chief Jo's test scores and lack of programs and pointed out the school's low-income population.
Strmec said he thinks some of those comments were made from an emotional rather than a fact-based standpoint. However, Chief Jo students, parents and teachers said they were stung by the comments.
Strmec said the PTA also has asked the district to improve and promote Chief Jo's marquee programs, such as its technology and robotics programs.
Christine McKinnon, who has a sixth-grader at Chief Jo, said the school has the most stable robotics program in the district and her children and others have benefited from it.
Rebecca Hunt, a PTA board member, praised the education her sons received at Chief Jo. She said they excelled academically, participating in the school's highly capable program in math and Spanish. She also lauded the school's music teachers for working with her children, especially her oldest son.
"I know because of middle school, especially the jazz band, he became an excellent pianist," she said.
Chief Jo PTA members said there has been outreach to Enterprise families, with offers of tours of Chief Jo for those who may be sent there, as well as information about the school's programs and other offerings.
Chief Jo parents also said their students are in good hands at the school. McKinnon said students have always been respectful when she's visited the school.
Chief Jo does have a high percentage of students -- 47 percent -- qualifying to receive free or reduced-priced meals because of poverty, compared with the other Richland middle schools, and its test scores aren't as high. However, its supporters said that gives more credence to its success, as it means teachers and students work that much harder.
Kristina Rawlins, who teaches at Enterprise and has a child there but has also had some of her children attend Chief Jo, said the criticisms leveled at the school have been based on superficial data and perception.
"You can't just look at scores, you have to get into the hallways," she said.
School board Chairman Rick Jansons said the board is considering several options beside boundary changes to address overcrowding, including hiring more "tennis shoe" teachers, or teachers who do not have a permanent classroom, and installing more portable classrooms at Enterprise. Board members also have indicated that they don't want to shift students if it can be avoided.
However, he said regardless of the board's decision, no parent should be concerned if their student attends Chief Jo or any other Richland school.
"I'd send my kids to any of our schools," said Jansons, who has two daughters in elementary school.