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Full-day kindergarten a no-go for Sequim schools

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With only Helen Haller eligible for funding and a short timeline to implement program, board declines state dollars


 
Heartbreaking.

That’s how Sequim School Board president Virginia O’Neil describes the board’s July 25 decision to ultimately turn down state funding that would help establish a full-day kindergarten program in Sequim.

“The only logical, hard decision to make is this one,” O’Neil said. “We have to think of the whole district and parity between the two elementary schools.”

Board members followed superintendent Kelly Shea’s recommendation to decline that state funding because of a number of logistic roadblocks and potential fairness issues, not the least of which is that just one of Sequim’s two elementary schools is eligible for those state funds.

On June 30, Gov. Jay Inslee signed the biennial state operating budget that affords school districts partial funding — about 44 percent — to establish full-day kindergarten programs. Sequim traditionally offers half-day kindergarten to about 165 students, split evenly between morning and afternoon classes, at both Helen Haller Elementary near downtown Sequim and Greywolf Elementary in Carlsborg.

The state funding, however, comes with a catch: To qualify, individual schools have to meet a certain percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch rates, set at 55.8 percent. Initially, neither Greywolf (48.6 percent) nor Helen Haller (55.7 percent) qualified, Sequim superintendent Kelly Shea said. (Sequim’s Olympic Peninsula Academy did qualify for funding with 58.5 percent, but because the academy has just two incoming kindergartners, Shea said, the district declined state dollars. “Our biggest concern,” he said, “is it would create transfer issues. It would also create space issues for OPA. They don’t have the space.”)

As school districts across Washington accepted or declined full-day kindergarten dollars, the free and reduced lunch threshold was lowered. Sequim schools administrators recently were notified Helen Haller Elementary now qualifies, but that Greywolf does not. Districts were then given a July 31 deadline to accept or decline the state dollars.

Shea informed board members of a number of barriers to creating a full-day kindergarten program just six weeks from the start of school. Each incoming kindergartner and their parents or guardians would need to be surveyed and given a choice between full- and half-day kindergarten. Then, each kindergarten teacher would need to have a personal meeting with each kindergartner’s family. Teachers would need to attend a two-day training seminar, Shea said. Based upon the number of students requesting full-day kindergarten, new teachers would need to be hired, new kindergarten-specific furniture bought, lunch time extended and specialist teachers’ schedules revised.

Bus schedules would need to be revised as well, Shea noted.

And then, there’s the space issue at the elementary school.

“Right now, there are no open spaces at Helen Haller,” Shea said.

“It’s ridiculous the state wants all this done in six weeks,” board member Bev Horan said.

Shea said that adding full-day kindergarten at Helen Haller but not at Greywolf would create inequity within the school district.

The four Sequim School Board members present at last week’s meeting — board member Sarah Bedinger was absent — each expressed disappointment in turning down the state dollars, but also reluctance to have staff scramble try to put together a full-day kindergarten program in a little more than a month.

“I would really like to offer all-day kindergarten,” board member John Bridge said. “(But) I don’t know how you can do this in six weeks.”

The board voted unanimously, 4-0, to reject the state funding.

“Legislators fought hard for that (full-day kindergarten) money,” O’Neil said. “We just don’t have the infrastructure to use it. School districts are not nimble, fast-moving things. They’re behemoths.”

Brian Lewis, the school district’s business department manager, said there is no guarantee the state would offer funding for full-day kindergarten for the next (2014-2015) school year.

“It might be an unpopular decision,” O’Neil said, “but I believe it’s the right decision given the parameters. Half-day kindergarten, it’s acceptable, but it’s not my first choice.”

By school year 2017–2018, the state is requiring school districts voluntary offer full-day kindergarten, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.


Sportsmanship plan A little too aggressive?

Sequim High School athletics reached a dubious standard after earning five game ejections in various sports in 2012-2013, including ejections of three players and two coaches.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the governing body for high school interscholastic sports in Washington, requires school districts to develop a sportsmanship plan when a school reaches five ejections, Shea said.

He said district officials, including athletic director Dave Ditlefsen, are working on what that plan would look like.

“It’s embarrassing and unacceptable,” Shea said.


At your service
School districts in Washington soon must offer an “incentive program” for students to get involved in community service projects.

Board members examined the suggested policy at last week’s meeting. Shea said the district plans to form a task force for what an “incentive program” for community service would look like in Sequim. He said that could mean anything from simple recognition by the school or board, a letter (such as an athletic letter students earn for attaining certain landmarks), or class credit.

The state requires school districts approve a policy by September, Shea said.


The Big Apple
The school board unanimously approved out-of-state travel for Sequim High School choir members to take part in a Heritage Festival program and performance in New York.

Choir members will fundraise for the trip, scheduled for March 2014.

Choir director John Lorentzen said those making the trek will miss two days of school and another two days of spring break.

Lorentzen said students will train under the direction of Andre J. Thomas, Director of Choral Activities and Professor of Choral Music Education at Florida State University, in preparation for a concert at Carnegie Hall that will be open to the public.

He said students also will have a chance to see two Broadway musicals and visit such tourist sites as Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the former site of the World Trade Towers.


Other board action

On July 25, the Sequim School Board also voted for the following actions:

• spend $500 to become a sponsor for the Dungeness Kids Fair, set for Aug. 24 at the Sequim Boys & Girls Club;

• change regular meeting dates in September to the second and fourth Mondays (Sept. 9 and Sept. 23) the normally scheduled first and third Mondays;

• video record a facility workshop with architects from BLRB at 6 p.m. on Aug. 5, before the next regularly scheduled meeting;

• accept letters of resignation from Brian Jones, Sequim Middle School principal; Pat Davis, Helen Haller Elementary para-educator; Bryan Smelcer, behavior specialist at Greywolf Elementary;

• offer certificated teaching positions to Justine Wagner, Sequim High School; Stephanie Lancaster, elementary school; Anthony Gowdy, Sequim Middle School; Melissa Withrow, Sequim Middle School; Holden Basch, special education resources; and Kelly Miller, elementary school;

• offer a secretary contract to Crystal Smith (Helen Haller Elementary) and fiscal assistant specialist contract to Betsy Zumkeller;

• approve a leave of absence for Sarah Castell, Helen Haller Elementary teacher.


Reach Michael Dashiell at editor@sequimgazette.com.
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