Overcrowding continues for elementary schools

Due to overcrowding at Sequim elementary schools, a group of fourth- and fifth-grade students will be learning in a combined grade level classroom at Sequim Middle School.

At the board of directors meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 3, superintendent Gary Neal said students began attending the combined class on Jan. 3, that they eat lunch at the middle school during the sixth-grade lunch period and take part in sixth-grade physical education classes.

Students are escorted to the middle school campus by teachers, Neal told Sequim School District’s board of directors Jan. 3.

Marilyn Walsh, administrative assistant to the superintendent, explained that the elementary students will not be mixed in with middle school students in classes, but will have their own classroom.

Sequim schools are not accepting applications for new students, Walsh said, as administrators are concerned about having enough classroom space for current students.

“To have to say no this year was really tough, but due to overcrowding we had no choice,” Walsh said.

Greywolf Elementary also created a combined fourth- and fifth-grade classroom last year in December, and Helen Haller already is overcrowded, which is why Walsh said they decided to have the combined grade level classroom on the middle school campus.

Robert Mendiola, a substitute teacher that has been teaching in the district for three years, was hired as a full-time position to teach the combined fourth- and fifth-grade classroom at Sequim Middle School. He said that while a split grade level classroom is not an ideal situation for students, the middle school staff has been welcoming and students are adapting well.

“The students are highly adaptable,” Mendiola said. “As a teacher, we are trained to be the most adaptable we can, it’s not the most ideal situation, but myself, the staff and the district are doing all we can.”

He explained that some students enrolled in the split elementary class have prior relationships with family, such as cousins or siblings, that already are attending the middle school, which has made it easier for some students to adapt.

Currently there are five students enrolled in the fourth- and fifth-grade class and the list is still growing, according to Mendiola. From his understanding, the middle school will take as many students as it can because the other elementary schools are capped in size and that’s why they are finding space at the middle school.

“We can’t turn these kids away,” he said.

The district is seeking approval of a four-year, $26.5 million replacement Education Programs and Operations (EP&O) Levy and a Capital Projects Levy that would pay for upgrades to the district’s central kitchen and demolish the unused portion of the Sequim Community School that expires at the end of 2017.

In a special election that will be held on Feb. 14, the district will seek approval from voters for this new replacement levy and Capital Projects levy that will start collecting funds in 2018.

Thirty-eight percent of the EP&O levy covers facility and school maintenance and the Capital Projects Levy would allow the district to qualify for $4.3 million in state matching funds for new school construction.

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