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School growth woes at Jackson High a puzzle for district

EVERETT — Concerned parents outnumbered chairs, and administrators raced to add seats, at the start of a May 29 forum on managing enrollment growth at Henry M. Jackson High School.
Overcrowding was not a new challenge for Jackson staffers: the campus is so far past capacity that parents said some students sit on the floor in hallways for lunch.
The boom in students was the topic of the Everett School District’s third community conversation. The meetings were needed after plans to build a fourth high school fizzled with a failed February bond measure. More than 200 people came to hear and share about alternatives, after sparse turnout at the two earlier meetings.
The district presented three options to deal with rapidly rising enrollment, but the only consensus was that there was no consensus.
Attendees learned there were 5,459 students enrolled in Everett high schools in 2017. There could be 800 to 1,000 more by 2023 according to projections by consultant William Kendrick and the superintendent’s office, respectively.
Jackson is already 378 students over capacity, Cascade High School is 52 students under, and Everett High is 532 short of capacity.
Option A would shift high school boundaries, creating a northward migration of 375 Jackson students to Cascade, and 375 Cascade students to Everett.
Moving boundaries means extra busing and longer commutes for some students. Parents such as Cora Gefter worried that a realignment would put more new teenage drivers on the road.
Some people worried that new boundaries would break up peer groups midway through high school, said assistant superintendent Sally Lancaster.
Option B would keep students and boundaries in place, but mean adding 13 portable classrooms to the 17 already cluttering the Jackson
campus. The additions would trade half of
Jackson’s tennis courts for teaching space, but the impacts would also have deeper consequences.
Administrators shared that overenrollment wasn’t just about physical space, but access to resources, from tutoring to counseling.
The effects would be felt most at Jackson. Demand there—for gym space, offices, and even bathrooms—is outpacing supply. Access to sports teams would be more limited. Lunch periods would have to shrink, too.
Packing in more students at Jackson would require nine additional buses and overwhelm already teeming parking lots.
Option C would change schedules.
High schools could teach more children without extra space if they started school in shifts, staggered start times, or kept schools open year round.
But expanding hours or terms could put some students at a disadvantage in sports and other extracurriculars, parents feared, said Heatherwood Middle School principal Laura Phillips. A year-round option could scramble family vacation plans and summer camp schedules. It would also complicate logistics for parents with kids at high school and middle or elementary levels.
In the absence of the $216 million administrators hoped to invest in a new high school, solution pickings seemed slim. Parents contributed some creative plans, though.
“Kick students out of Heatherwood” was some parents’ feedback,
Lancaster said. Some locals could see the benefit of Jackson co-opting space at Heatherwood Middle School, which is practically next door.
Some attendees saw repurposing all middle schools as more practical; they would keep middle schoolers at their campuses through ninth grade, was feedback shared by deputy superintendent Joyce Stewart.
A new school is not out of the question, but is out of the picture for now.
The school board has not decided about a future bond measure: The administration could put a construction bond back on the ballot as soon as April 2019 but even if it passed, a fourth high school would not be ready before 2023. A November 2019 or April 2020 bond measure would
mean a new school opening in 2024 according to district spokeswoman Leanna Albrecht.
District staff will review community input before making their recommendation to the board at its June 19 meeting. Families will have more chances to provide feedback from July through September. At its Sept. 11 meeting the board is scheduled to decide
on the plan for the 2019 school year.
Short of pulling a rabbit, or a new school, out of a hat, the district may not find a way to please most parents. “There is no really good solution,” Gefter said, a sentiment shared by many there.
If boundary changes are in its future, high schools will have help from the team already working on them at the elementary school level. A successful 2016 bond effort there means a new school is coming to 180th Street SE in the North Creek and with it, changing boundaries.

 

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