There were far more seats available than people filling them at Pasco School District’s first public input meeting on proposed school boundaries at Whittier Elementary School on Monday night.
About a dozen parents and children attended the Spanish-language portion in the east Pasco school’s gym. Few asked questions, other than what schools will have sixth-graders and how students could be split between Whittier and Marie Curie STEM Elementary School being built on just the other side of the playground.
“It seems logical,” Juvenal Herrera, whose son attends kindergarten at Whittier, told the Herald.
A handful of school staff attended the English-language meeting in an upstairs Whittier classroom. They had more pressing concerns and issues, specifically on the possibility of Captain Gray Early Learning Center being converted to a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, elementary school.
“My heart really, really hurts, and I don’t agree,” one teacher said of the proposal.
The district unveiled the boundary realignment proposal last week as it prepares to open Curie and Barbara McClintock STEM Elementary School, which is scheduled to be an early learning center for west Pasco, next fall.
The proposal has Whittier becoming part of a two-school system, with kindergartners through second-graders attending Whittier and third- through sixth-graders attending neighboring Curie.
Students for both schools would come from Whittier’s attendance area but also some areas served by Emerson, Rowena Chess and Virgie Robinson elementary schools.
Captain Gray as a STEM elementary school would take territory from neighborhoods currently assigned to Longfellow and Emerson elementary schools. Robert Frost Elementary School’s boundary would shrink the most, with some of its students sent instead to Emerson or McGee Elementary School.
The proposal leaves Robinson Elementary School’s main attendance area virtually unchanged except for a few blocks between A Street and Ainsworth Avenue being reassigned to Longfellow Elementary.
District officials clarified to one parent in the Spanish-language meeting how students would attend both Whittier and Curie as they moved up. Sixth-graders also would be in the elementary schools, a move intended to free up space at McLoughlin, Stevens and Ellen Ochoa middle schools.
Herrera said he doesn’t have many concerns about the district’s proposal. However, with his son starting school only this year, he isn’t familiar with how the district and schools work.
“That keeps me in a bubble,” he said.
The teacher critical of converting Captain Gray to an elementary school said she understood the district’s reasoning as based on enrollment figures and other data. But a lot of work has gone into making the early learning center into a great place for students, she said.
“I’ve cried more in recent days than when my father died,” she said. She declined to speak further with the Herald.
The district presented the boundary proposal to teachers and district staff at a Nov. 26 meeting. Most feedback at the meeting was positive, said Assistant Superintendent Liz Flynn, though the possible changes at Captain Gray have upset some staff.
“Change is hard,” she said, noting the proposal could still change.
Monday night’s low turnout wasn’t unexpected, district officials said, given the cold weather and people’s schedules. More meetings are coming this week and next week so the opportunity to comment is still there, they said.
Herrera plans to attend more of the meetings, he said, in an effort to better understand how the boundary changes could affect his son. He hopes that more in the community show up as well so they can be heard.
“We don’t get involved as much as we should in our kids’ education,” he said.