‘Are we here to simply meet the minimum standards for education?’

While the Seahawks were squaring off with the Packers last Thursday night, the Long Range Facilities Task Force was once again meeting to discuss the future of our district in the event that our School Construction Bond does not meet the 60% requirement.

Votes are still being tallied, but as of November 19 the bond was failing with 59.19% approval. The final count will be officially certified on November 27.

The Task Force dove right into the controversial idea of moving all of Bethel’s fifth-grade students up into the middle schools, which would create more capacity in our overcrowded elementary schools. By comparison, our middle schools have just enough room to hold all the fifth graders before they are at or over capacity.

University Place School District uses this system, and it seems to be working well for them. However there were questions about whether fifth graders would stay in one class all day, or would change classes like the middle schoolers do. Concerns were also raised about our current curriculum — which is designed for K-5 — and the impact on vertical team teaching at the elementary level.

Like many of the overcrowding solutions the Task Force is exploring, this shifts the problem instead of fixing the problem. But the only real solution — building news schools — was most likely defeated by voters last month.

The Task Force also looked at the option of leasing available retail space, such as the old Kmart building on Pacific avenues. Superintendent Tom Seigel reported to the group that getting these retail locations up to the building codes for an educational space would cost more than it would to simply tear the building down and build a school from scratch.

“Trust me, we’ve looked at every available space around here,” he said.

The Task Force then concluded their evening with a discussion of the future of Elk Plain School of Choice.

The idea on the table was to change Elk Plain K-8 from a “choice school” into a regular elementary school, with its own boundaries. Currently the school accepts students from all over the district for its arts-focused programming.

A change like that would help nearby elementary schools feel an immediate impact, pulling roughly 200 students from the overcrowded Clover Creek and Shining Mountain elementary schools.

But Elk Plain serves a very special type of student, and is one of the unique options our district provides for students in our community. Other programs include the Cambridge program at Bethel High and the Spanish Dual Language Immersion Program and Thompson.

So the Task Force was asked to weigh the ramifications of losing the program, and the impact that would have on the students who were currently thriving in it.

As the meeting wore on, one local parent had a question for everyone involved in the process: “Are we here to simply meet the minimum standards for education, or are we here to help students grow, succeed and excel?”

The next meeting is on December 13. Meetings are open to the public.

More information is at bethelsd.org/TaskForce

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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