Several Sequim teachers and students are speaking out about having to use temporary classroom spaces.
At a Nov. 19 Sequim School District board meeting, students, teachers and parents voiced concerns for displaced classrooms at Greywolf Elementary School and fundamental building needs for Olympic Peninsula Academy (OPA).
Two Greywolf teachers and their classes are using the school’s library because of a lack of classrooms space and increased enrollment in recent years.
Greywolf teacher Aaron Reno said his and one other teachers’ classrooms have been moved to the library since the beginning of the school year.
“Other teachers, including myself, are displaced because of a large increase in Greywolf’s attendance over the past couple of years,” Reno said in an email.
There are more than 600 students enrolled at Greywolf Elementary, according to the school principal Donna Hudson.
Along with Reno’s math class, he said the school’s music program, physical education, library and special services have all been disrupted because of enrollment growth.
“This was not unforeseen; we tried to pass bonds, but they were not supported,” he said. “We built a new CLT (cross laminated timber) building, but it was filled immediately. We have put in two new portables in the past two years. They were filled immediately.”
Reno said the library was only supposed to be a one- to two-week solution until a new portable is up and running, but he said the move is long overdue.
The district bought eight portables from Central Kitsap School District in July, six of which went to Olympic Peninsula Academy, one to Helen Haller Elementary and one to Greywolf. However, the district is still working on getting the portables fully operational for OPA.
“October was the deadline to be in at the latest,” Reno said. “We are now one-third through the school year and we don’t know when (the portable) will be occupied.”
Reno said Hudson has been working on getting his class a space, and has been creative with overcrowding at the elementary school in Carlsborg for years.
A call to action
At the Nov. 19 meeting, other teachers and parents expressed concern for classroom space.
Joanna Bear, a mother of a Greywolf student in both Reno and Amanda Murphy’s classes (Murphy also teaches in the school’s library), said she is concerned about her child learning in a disruptive environment.
“I’m really concerned about him learning math,” Bear said. “He has to be in the library … which is kind of distracting to be in there with two different classrooms, making it hard to pay attention.”
Carol Harms, a math teacher at Sequim High School and a Sequim Education Association member, also acknowledged these issues.
“We would like to call on the school board to act not only to solve the immediate problem of students without classrooms but to make whatever plans are necessary to make sure that this situation does not occur again,” she said.
“Clearly we have outgrown our facilities,” Hudson said at the Nov. 19 meeting, after noting the school’s 613 students.
Hudson acknowledged there are teachers teaching their classes out of the library, and said staff are trying to use the facilities as best as they can.
Sequim Schools superintendent Gary Neal said that getting OPA’s portables fully operational is the main priority before tackling other portable issues in the district.
He said once OPA’s portables are done, the focus will then go to Greywolf’s new portable and then to Helen Haller’s.
He said date for the portables at the elementary schools to be finished has not been set.
“I never gave any date for anything,” Neal said in an interview. “There might have been some wishes or rumors but never was it mentioned it would be ready by September.”
Neal said enrollment at the elementary school levels have gradually increased over the years and understands district staff frustrations with a lack of classrooms space.
“I by no means want to dismiss the frustrations of having to do that because it’s an inconvenience and not the ideal teaching environment,” Neal said.
Any costs associated for the elementary school portables comes out of the district’s general fund, Neal said, whereas costs for OPA’s portables were covered by capital project levy funds.
He said it cost about $40,000 a piece to move each portable from Central Kitsap to Greywolf and Helen Haller.
OPA facility issues
Olympic Peninsula Academy, an alternative learning program with about 100 students, received six portables to move their program while portions of the Sequim Community School were demolished and the district’s new central kitchen is built.
While the portables have most of the requirements needed to occupy the space, the district still needs to install a fire suppression system and establish a working internet connection for the program.
OPA students and staff moved into the portables at the beginning of October. The district had until Nov. 26 to establish a fire suppression system to meet the City of Sequim’s occupancy permit requirements, but Neal said an extension through March has been granted by the City of Sequim.
A staff or parent volunteer was walking around all the OPA classrooms every 15 minutes to make sure there were no fires, as required by the fire marshal without a fire suppression system. In the meantime, the district hired a full-time employee to walk around and continue to do a fire suppression check for OPA during class time, Neal said.
The school district is working on getting a fire suppression system installed, but needs to establish a fiber optics cable for internet first.
“What we’re trying to do is get the school hard-wired; that’s the process we’re working on right now,” Neal said.
Neal said the district had to make the decision to cut the main lines — including internet and fire suppression — at the Sequim Community School as it was being demolished and trying to reroute them would have been too problematic.
At the Nov. 19 board meeting, parents and staff spoke during public comment for the need to address these issues.
Olympic Peninsula Academy teacher Lili Hardesty said she is concerned for students’ learning with a lack of technology in the building.
“The technology has really taken a hit,” Hardesty said. “When it comes to technology, along with the core classes we need to have technology at our kids’ fingertips.
“We have a 1,500 word essay due in a few weeks and my students have to go home to do research or use my laptop at school to do research.”
Neal said he does not have a timeline or a date as to when OPA’s internet or a fire suppression will be established.
“We knew that was going to be one of the speed bumps we were going to have to overcome, but it wasn’t a priority — the priority was to get all those kids in a building where they could all be together,” Neal said.
The next board meeting is set for Monday, Dec. 3, at the Sequim Middle School cafeteria, 301 West Hendrickson Road.