Sequim school officials mull moving students to offset overcrowded classes at Greywolf

The Sequim School District is looking at the possibility of moving students from Greywolf Elementary School in Carlsborg to Helen Haller Elementary later this month if staff are unable to find a solution for overcrowded classes.

Greywolf Elementary has grown in student population by 100 students in the past two years, Sequim schools superintendent Gary Neal said, calling the overcrowding at a “critical level.”

In a press release sent Aug. 31, the second day of school for most Sequim students, Neal said district administrators are now looking to partners in the community for potential solutions.

“We recognize the stress placed upon the students, families and staff. We are actively seeking solutions, knowing there are no good answers right now,” Neal said in the press release.

“An equitable process for redistribution of students will occur as soon as possible; however, if no other viable solutions materialize by Sept. 15, the district will then be calling on families to voluntarily move their student(s) to Helen Haller Elementary.”

Neal was unavailable for further comment.

Assistant Superintendent Ann Renker said the district suspected there might be some increase in enrollment at Greywolf because of steady increases over the last few years— noting the school is a nationally distinguished school — but she said there is no data available to suggest a specific reason for the increase.

“I don’t have any data that would tie that to an increase,” Renker said.

Renker said the school district is still in preliminary stages of finding a solution for the overcrowding issue and will complete its first certified enrollment count for the year on Thursday, Sept. 7, and then submit those numbers to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

She said district staff will continue to look at enrollment numbers each day to see if there are any changes.

Renker said the district is hoping to have enough data from enrollment counts by Sept. 15 that would help find a viable solution for the overcrowding.

Ideally, she said, the district would take volunteers that would want to move to Helen Haller if that is the chosen solution.

“Our preference would be asking volunteers who would like to make the move,” Renker said.

Sequim School Board President Heather Short said there was some discussion in recent weeks about the possibility of increased enrollment this year.

“We had an idea things might be bigger but we didn’t know for sure,” she said.

Short said transferring students to Helen Haller is still just a possibility and that the district is still researching other options.

School totals

At the end of June 2016, Greywolf Elementary had the equivalent of 501 full-time students; Helen Haller had 619. Helen Haller’s enrollment stayed static for most of the 2016-2017 school year finishing at 618 in June 2017 while Greywolf’s enrollment jumped to 548.

Initial enrollment counts this week at Sequim’s schools show Greywolf’s enrollment has ballooned to 590, while Helen Haller has risen to 628.

Current average class sizes at Haller remain low compared to Greywolf. District figures indicate average class sizes for first-fourth grade are between 21-22 students, while Greywolf classes are running 23.5-30 students per class in those same grade levels.

As of August 31, Greywolf Elementary had its largest average class size of 30 students in three sections of third grade.

The school’s next highest averages were an average class size of 26.75 students in four sections of first grade (107 students total), and a 26.25 average class size in fifth grade in four sections (105 students total).

At Helen Haller, its fifth-grade classes holds the highest average with 27 students per four sections (106 total), followed by third grade with 22 students per classroom (five teachers with 111 students).

Sequim School District officials began enforcing stricter boundary lines starting at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.

They’ve also stopped accepting any new “out-of-district” requests for the 2017-2018 school year, the district’s website states.

This includes siblings from non-resident families who have children already attending Sequim schools.

‘Best-worst option’

“Each student that arrives at our doorstep is valued, regardless of limited resources,” Neal said.

“(But) with limited fiscal resources, our worst-best option right now is to move students from Greywolf Elementary to Helen Haller Elementary,” he said.

“Limitations in state funding have prevented the district from addressing the problem,” Neal said.

Greywolf Elementary gained classroom space coming into the 2017-2018 school year when the state legislators in 2016 appropriated $5.5 million for design and construction of 10 cross-laminated timber buildings between the Sequim, Seattle, Mount Vernon, Wapato and Toppenish school districts.

The funding was part of an effort to reduce class sizes in kindergarten-third grade.

Brian Lewis, then the Sequim schools’ director of business services, said staff made the decision to install the new buildings at Greywolf because Helen Haller is at capacity.

“Haller can’t handle anymore kids,” he said.

Helen Haller Elementary’s campus features 13 classrooms in seven portable buildings. Greywolf has four classrooms in two portables.