Think About It: Sequim school daze

I made the mistake once of going west from Sequim Avenue on Fir St. to attend a 3 p.m. meeting on Fifth Avenue. As I approached Helen Haller school, I began to feel the pressure of multiple cars converging on the school.

Ten minutes later and late for the meeting I emerged from what seemed an orchestrated collection of many children emerging from a day at school. Well-orchestrated, that is, unless you are the hapless driver new to the symphony of parents and children reuniting at the end of the day.

The current controversy over the plan to reconfigure grades K-5 in two schools to one school (Greywolf) for K-2 and one school (Helen Haller) for grades 3-5 revived memories of the day.

The Sequim District School Board approved the plan proposed by district superintendent Regan Nickels at the April 10 board meeting by a vote of four to one.

Parents and teachers began expressing their concerns when the plan surfaced — nine spoke against it and one for it at the board meeting — and many wrote letters to the editor and protested with signs that month.

Parents spoke at every board opportunity since. Most spoke of feeling left out of the process and not receiving responses to their emails with questions for the superintendent or board members. Several who spoke felt there was insufficient planning to implement the change by the beginning of the school year.

Parents with two children spoke of having their children separated and the impossible task of delivering and collecting one or the other in a timely manner.

Mixed messages about the reasoning behind the move did not build comfort or confidence. Initially, the reconfiguration was part of the path to solving an estimated $3.6 million budget shortfall by reducing related teaching positions and redundancies. The shortfall was reduced to $1.6 million by increased state revenue and the retirement, resignations and leave-of-absences of teaching and administrative staff.

The reconfiguration was no longer presented as important to immediate budget management but as an educational benefit to Sequim students.

Schools follow students

I have little to no credibility in channeling what teachers or parents think but can write from my elite position as a former child. I was born on the cusp of the baby boom swell in the population and always felt the push of something big and fast rolling behind me.

My first awareness had to do with the frantic rush to build schools that were about to fill up with more children than ever passed through the doors of all grade levels of Seattle Schools. I attended seven different schools all while living at the same address. The only stretch I had was grades 1-4.

It was also the only time I attended the same school as my brother, three years older than I, much to his social embarrassment. It was within walking distance of our home. Busing began and I and my neighborhood friends were bused considerable distances until new school buildings could catch up with the growing number of children.

The only time I or my parents had a choice in the school I attended was in high school when a new high school opened nearer to our home. I and my good friend decided not to add one more school to our list and stayed in the old school for the remaining two years.

The only time during all those transitions I resented changing schools was when I could not finish in the same junior high (the old name for middle school grades 7-9). I adored the school and earned a coveted place in the choir for the next school year.

I also had to leave a good friend I made during the year. The friendship managed to endure, but alas my singing career was never realized.

The worst outcome from my child’s point of view was losing friends. The best outcome was making the transition with friends. I suspect, despite all the benefits of connection through social media, children today value being with their friends the most.

At best, we were resilient.

Stop saying ‘children are resilient’

One parent complained. For this mom, it was a response from school officials that told her they were not listening. I would call it patronizing and not conducive to a conversation. Even I can imagine that parents’ motives for protests are much more than thinking their children cannot handle it.

Parents do not form queues to drop off and collect very young children or escort their children to and from bus stops because the children are not resilient. They do it to keep their children safe. If they cannot do the pick-ups or escorts, they arrange for someone — an older child, available adult or sitter.

Now is a very different time from my childhood and children know it because they practice “shooter drills” and learn not to go off with strangers no matter what the stranger says or offers. Knowing you can reach your children is a priority.

I hope the dialogue between school officials and parents can be restored. Both parts want to be heard and understood.

Parents are organized around their children and must do their best for the well-being and healthy growth and development of their children.

Schools are organized around all children and must do their best to anticipate how many more or less students are in the school’s future.

Both must manage resources in reaching their goals.

Both share an interest in educational opportunity and excellence with a high level of safety for Sequim children.

Reconfiguration may be final but the dialogue should not be. Both need to work together to make it work in the best interests of children.

Bertha Cooper, an award-winning featured columnist with the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation and it the author of the award-winning “Women, We’re Only Old Once.” Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at