School district considers change to elementary model

The Sequim School District is gauging staff interest into changing its elementary grade school instruction model from two schools to a pre-kindergarten-grade 2 and grades 3-5 model.

Sequim has students in kindergarten-fifth grade at both Greywolf Elementary in Carlsborg and Helen Haller Elementary at the district’s main campus.

Jane Pryne, the school district’s interim superintendent, said Monday that 117 staffers responded to the survey that asked for thoughts on three queries: What is your experience with a P-2, 3-5 educational model (scale of 1-4)? Do you think this model of delivering instruction is beneficial for students (yes or no)? And, explain why or why not this is beneficial model for students.

Of the 117 that responded, about 61 people indicated the shift would be a good idea now, Pryne said, with 51 against the change and five responding that they didn’t have enough information.

“What I was interested was the many comments that people gave,” Pryne told school board directors Monday night.

She said that many respondents felt it’s too soon to make a big transition, considering the current upheaval in daily school life.

The conversation about the change has sparked considerable interest within the district, Pryne said Monday.

“I’ve had people visiting my office,” she said. “We are listening and taking everything into account.”

In a phone interview Wednesday, Pryne said any decision about shifting students at the elementary grade levels would come after ample discussion with staff, parents and the community.

“We are being very thoughtful about whether this is extremely beneficial for our students, and if we roll it out … we need the staff, the community, the parents on board. Nothing has been determined,” she said.

A change to the elementary school model in Sequim wouldn’t come for the 2021-2022 academic year, she said.

“It would definitely come to the board for a decision, and that would not happen before mid- to late fall, months out,” Pryne said.

“We want to be sure, when a decision is made, that we’ve weighed all the angles and included as many people as we can.”

Pryne noted that whomever replaces Helen Haller Elementary School principal Rebecca Stanton — the board on Monday approved Stanton’s resignation, effective in July — will be involved on those discussions.

A change to Sequim’s elementary model, she said, could be beneficial for students to get a similar foundational start at the PreK-second grade school and get more interventions into subjects such as reading at the grade 3-5 school.

Such a model would eliminate distraction for younger students while the older elementary students are involved in statewide testing.

School board president Brandino Gibson said the idea of a P-2, 3-5 elementary model isn’t a new one.

“This discussion has gone back to the (former superintendent) Gary Neal days,” Gibson said, and could if implemented address a number of issues ranging from facility space and class sizes to equity issues and more.

Board members had learned about the possible change through the superintendents’ weekly district updates, Gibson said, but hadn’t discussed it in a open meeting until Monday night.

Pryne said she will take the survey back to a committee formed at looking at the elementary school shift and report back to the board, which next meets for a policy workshop on April 14 and then again at its next regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, April 26.

Next meeting in hybrid

That meeting will be the first in-person board meeting in months but will take on a “hybrid” form; like previous virtual meetings, the April 26 meeting will be held via Microsoft Teams but board directors and attendees can meet at the Sequim High School cafeteria, 601 N. Sequim Ave. Those attending need to register in advance, Pryne said.

Only two people per table will be allowed and all attendees will be facing the same direction, she said.

“I know that the (COVID) numbers are trending the way we don’t want them to go,” Pryne said Monday. “We’ll be very mindful of the protocols.”

With COVID cases urging in recent weeks, Pryne said Sequim will remain in a hybrid model for the rest of the school year with an eye on full, five-days-per-week in-person instruction in the fall.

Other board action

• The board accepted the resignation of Rebecca Stanton, principal at Helen Haller Elementary School, effective July 31. Stanton has served as the school’s top administrator since July 2016, succeeding Russ Lodge. She was the school’s assistant principal in 2015-2016 and had 10 years teaching experience prior, including six years at the fourth grade level and four years instructing physical education.

• Student representative Olivia Preston, a senior at Sequim High School, noted that she is planning for student reps to meet with SHS groups such as athletic teams or clubs to gauge their experience during the COVID pandemic and report back to the board. “I think it would be fantastic; (the) voice of the student is so incredibly important,” board director Eric Pickens said.

• Pryne said district staff are hoping that by April 26 they will have selected the top two or three companies to oversee the district’s upcoming capital projects, and that board directors could select that lead entity at its May 3 meeting. Voters in February approved a four-year, $15-million levy for various repairs and upgrades across Sequim campuses.

• Board directors heard from staff at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who detailed the organization’s recent donation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Kits to Sequim Middle School students;

• As was the case last academic year, the school district will be accepting new out-of-district, or out-of-attendance-area requests for the 2021-2022 school year, board members agreed Monday. Sequim School District residents will be placed first at the K-5 level, and a waiting list will be compiled and based on available space in grade specific levels. Out-of-district requests will be reviewed in August for possible placement. Out-of-district Choice students and out of attendance area Intra-District transfer students, enrolled in the system in 2015-2016 school year, will be allowed to stay until graduation. Children of a full-time certificated or classified Sequim School District employee will be allowed to attend, even if the family lives out of the district. No new intra-district transfers will be accepted, however.