Work begins anew on converting South End schools
September 2, 2009 · Updated 12:19 PM
School begins next Tuesday, but Mike Johnson is already engaged in some serious homework.
The South Whidbey School District’s director of teaching and learning, Johnson has been assigned the task of getting the district’s restructuring plans up to speed.
He will head a transition committee with the mission of organizing the many details involved in closing Langley Middle School no later than June 2012, and moving students in grades six through eight to the high school by the fall of 2012.
Johnson isn’t letting any grass grow under his feet. The day after being given the job by the school board last week, he met with Brian Fitzgerald of TCF Architecture, the firm that conducted a facilities survey of district building sites last spring.
“Brian has a real grasp of what is needed, and we talked about timelines and how the committee will function,” Johnson explained. “I’m really looking forward to pulling people together with the common goal of creating a safe, functional building to accommodate our students.”
The committee will be composed of principals, teachers, staff members, parents, business leaders, administrators and architects. Starting on Sept. 16, it will meet every other week from 8 a.m. to noon. Members have not yet been selected.
Committee members will also be expected to complete some work outside the normal meeting time to include subcommittee work, data collection, conducting research and analyzing reports.
They will also be required to go on field trips to sites that have a similar system in place, such as Friday Harbor High School, where both secondary schools are contiguous to each other.
“The middle school will operate as a separate school with a middle school philosophy and instructional program co-located on the high school campus,” Johnson said.
Staff and students will be able to use all the facilities when both middle school and high school programs are located on the same campus by 2012.
But before that, a lot needs to be done.
The first hurdle is designing additions to the high school so middle and high school students can be separated throughout the day. Some areas — gyms, common spaces, offices and sports fields — will be used by everyone, but at different times.
“The middle school will continue to operate as a separate entity and that will one of the committee’s principle goals,” Johnson said.
The committee will make its recommendations to the superintendent of schools by November.
One thing is certain: The LMS campus will not be sold.
The district will actively seek “appropriate” entities interested in leasing space, such as Skagit Valley College, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, or Island County Senior Services, all entities that have expressed interest in using the spaces left behind after the school moves.
The school board hopes to have a workable plan in place before going to voters in February 2010 and asking approval for a long-term bond to pay for construction. The district also will be asking for a continuation of the maintenance-and-operations levy.
District Superintendent Fred McCarthy’s initial timeline calls for drawing up architectural specifications by the end of the year, presenting the bond and starting construction in 2010 and making the final move in the summer of 2012.
Details of the bond amount and for how long won’t be known until the transition committee does its work.
“We don’t know if we’re issuing a bond in February or May yet,” McCarthy said. “Before we get their approval, people need to understand the difference between what we want and what we absolutely need,” he added. “We’ve always enjoyed the support of the community because they know that quality education is our first priority.”
He said that after the money is secured, about 18 months would be needed before construction begins.
The school board is hopeful that, when the transition is complete, the high school will be available to students for longer hours and possibly even on weekends.
Board chair Fred O’Neal said that the return on the community’s investment will be a year-round facility that can be used more hours per day and more days per year.
O’Neal said any additions to the high school will be as green and environmentally-friendly as possible, and that he expects principals, teachers, staff and students to be fully engaged in the process.
“Everyone needs to be involved,” he said.
For details on how to become a committee member, call Johnson at 221-6100 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next school board meeting is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23 at the elementary school community room on Maxwelton Road.
Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or email@example.com.