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School, district meet overcrowding challenges

 

Last updated 9/2/2016 at Noon

Four of the eight portables at Cedar Wood Elementary sit on a parking lot at the edge of the campus.

Educators have added eight portable classrooms over recent years at Cedar Wood Elementary School in Mill Creek, and converted other space formerly used for other purposes into a fifth classroom for all-day kindergarten.

They’ll be housing an estimated 712 students in a school designed for 562, as well as a staff that has grown to 68 adults. The crush of people, big and small, will be using the same cafeteria, gym, bathrooms and other facilities that were designed to handle a much smaller number.

Despite those obstacles, parents can find comfort that, in the classroom at least, when students begin a new school year next Wednesday, they will receive the same education that has made Cedar Wood an award-winning, magnet school.

But the overcrowding is a challenge that Everett Public Schools is facing throughout the district, particularly in Mill Creek and other south end schools.

According to district spokeswoman Leanna Albrecht, they are projecting an increase of about 284 students district-wide this coming school year. To meet that growth, they added three portables at Forest View, two at Cedar Wood, and one at Silver Lake.

Penny Creek Elementary, which serves part of Mill Creek, is projected to grow to 726 students this year. It has four portable classrooms.

Mill Creek Elementary is projected to grow from 656 students last year to 671 this year, and has five portables.

Heatherwood Middle School has 10 portables to help it house a projected 979 students this year; it’s projected to grow to 1,130 students by 2020 before it begins a gradual decline.

And Jackson High, built to accommodate 1,765 students, is projected to grow to 2,156 students this year and to 2,462 students by 2023.

To address that growth, Albrecht said, they would have to double the number of portables at Jackson from the current 14 to 28.

The district also has hired another 119 certificated staff members and 44 classified staff this year.

The implementation of full-day kindergarten across the district also is adding to the challenges of finding adequate classroom space.

Dr. David Jones, principal at Cedar Wood, illustrated that challenge when he offered an example of a small family living comfortably in a three-bedroom, one-bath house when suddenly they add quadruplets.

Now there’s a lineup every morning for a turn in the bathroom, kids are sharing bedrooms, they convert the family room into a bedroom – you get the picture.

At Cedar Wood and other district schools, part of the solution is the addition of portables. Dr. Jones pointed out that is just a partial fix. They’re expensive – about $150,000+ each, or the equivalent of two teacher salaries and benefits – and require a long lead time, up to a year from order to delivery.

They aren’t convenient to core facilities, like bathrooms, cafeteria and gym, and take up space that previously had other uses. At Cedar Wood, they have replaced parking spaces, but some schools have had to sacrifice playground space.

As noted, all those new students are sharing the same core facilities, too. Whereas staff used to be able to serve lunch in four shifts, now there are six lunchtimes scheduled each day. They can no longer hold one assembly, either, and this year Jones had to move his first staff meeting from the library to the cafeteria to accommodate everyone.

Because the district’s bus fleet hasn’t kept up with growth, and more parents drive their kids to school rather than allow them to walk or ride their bikes because of safety concerns, traffic jams are the norm both mornings and afternoons.

“Our parking lot is chaos in the morning,” Jones said. In fact, he said, they’re “moving a lot of people around all day long.”

It upends the model, that of “a quiet, orderly, safe community where everybody knows everybody else,” Jones said.

Fortunately, he added, voters saw fit to pass a bond measure last spring that addresses part of the overcrowding issue. The district is looking to fast track design and construction of its 18th elementary school.

Like the family that has outgrown its home and has options to build an addition or move to a bigger house, educators can find comfort that some relief is on the way.

“If I know we’re building a house to solve my problem, I can live with what it takes” to get by in the meantime,” Jones said. “The community has voted to support a new school, so that helps, and I thank the community for that.”

Meanwhile, he admits, beyond the classroom Cedar Wood and other overcrowded schools have to make adjustments that affect a student’s overall educational experience.

Cedar Wood, for example, has a robotics program that can’t provide the same hands-on experience that fewer students would enjoy. Clubs, sports, the arts and other programs likewise are going to be compromised by the sheer number of interested students who want to participate.

The silver lining? Cedar Wood and other Everett schools are renowned for providing students well-rounded educations.

“We’re in this situation because we live in a community people want,” Jones said. “They recognize this is a place where kids can succeed.

“Cedar Wood is among the top performing schools in the state, and in family planning, people are doing their research.”

A typical example Jones cited is a family relocating from Texas. They wanted to make sure the house they were looking at was located within the Cedar Wood attendance boundary.

Informing them that their kids would indeed be attending Cedar Wood, the clerk asked them their children’s ages. One was 3½, the other 10 months. Now that’s planning ahead.

 

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