One of Pasco’s newest schools, Barbara McClintock STEM Elementary, could open as a K-6 next year under a proposal presented Wednesday night by the Pasco School Board.
However, splitting grades between that school and another a few blocks away is still on the table.
Board members presented those scenarios — along with the possibility of McClintock operating strictly as a kindergarten center — at a question-and-answer meeting at McGee Elementary. It was the first of three such meetings scheduled with families as the district seeks to redraw attendance boundaries for the second year in a row.
There are benefits and consequences of each boundary proposal, board members said. But splitting kindergarten through second grade and third- through sixth-grade between McClintock and Rosalind Franklin STEM Elementary School, maligned by many parents when first suggested by the district weeks ago, received a warmer reception from McGee parents.
“I know it splits families, but I think, overall, it has the least problems,” said parent Shannon Hughes.
McClintock is under construction on Road 60 in west Pasco and will open in the fall. It’s one of three new science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, focused elementary schools paid for by a $46.8 million bond approved by voters two years ago. However, it was designed to only house students from kindergarten up to second grade, resulting in smaller than average classrooms and other modifications.
The district’s springboard proposal, released this winter, was to have Franklin, currently K-5, serve third- through sixth-graders while the newly opened McClintock would have kindergarten through second-graders. Whittier and Marie Curie STEM elementary schools on the east side will have a similar arrangement next fall.
That plan was criticized by many west Pasco families, who questioned the wisdom in further dividing families between schools, straining schedules and parent volunteers, and possibly separating siblings.
Each of the district’s latest proposals results in slightly different boundaries. Operating McClintock strictly as a kindergarten center will leave boundaries largely as they are, though all families living north of Interstate 182 would send children there for a year. Opening the school as a K-6 or splitting grades will lead to patchwork boundaries, requiring some students to be bused past Maya Angelou Elementary School. Some McGee students would also have to be bused.
However, McClintock would have to be adapted to work as a K-6 school, said board member Steve Christensen. That can’t be done quickly and would require as much as $5 million to add a bathroom, build a bigger gym and even raise counters to make them suitable for older students.
“Even if we did, it will be a small school changed to a big school,” Christensen said. “It can never be a Franklin or a Curie.”
A decision on the boundaries is expected in mid-April. Board members said they are keen to hear what other community members have to say. They reminded those at Wednesday’s meeting that boundary adjustment is complex and requires more than drawing a line between neighborhoods.
“We can move a block of 100 students that will end up being a fraction of that because of special programs where those students don’t even go to either school,” said board Vice President Scott Lehrman.
Most McGee families would either remain at McGee or move to McClintock or Franklin under the K-6 and split grades scenario. Some McGee parents still questioned the efficacy of splitting grades. It might not even help decrease school overcrowding as district officials suggested, one said, as families in the McClintock-Franklin boundary will be given a choice to transfer to a K-6 school if desired, potentially crowding some schools all over again.
But Hughes and families such as hers, living in the Three Rivers community near McClintock, have rallied to attend one of the newer schools so their children could walk to class.
Parents of those families and some who would stay at McGee regardless of boundary changes acknowledged that splitting grades is not a popular option with some families. However, it could at least lead to a “sister schools” arrangement where parents, teachers and administrators at Franklin and McClintock coordinate activities and schedules.
Board member Amy Phillips said she also was initially opposed to the concept of splitting grades but is less opposed to it after researching its use in other school districts and talking to administrators who have implemented it.