A feeling of frustration and stress among teachers, parents and community members about the potential closure of Langley Middle School was heavy in the air at a recent South Whidbey School Board workshop.
Around two dozen people gathered on Jan. 11 in the South Whidbey Elementary School community room to hear the board deliberate on the probable decision to close the 80-year-old school. The meeting capped a nine-month-long community discussion process regarding consolidation, and marked the final time the closure would be discussed.
A vote on the middle school is set for 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 25 in the community room. School board policy requires the district end the year with a positive fund balance of $998,000. District leaders say they can adhere to the policy if the school board closes the middle school, the district’s most expensive building. If the board does nothing, 10 teachers could lose their jobs.
Two options for how students will be shuffled around the South Whidbey School District will be considered if the board closes the middle school. One option would move grades 6-8 to the high school, while the second would move sixth graders to the elementary school and grades 7 and 8 to the high school.
The process of how students will be divvied up if the middle school closes were among the concerns expressed by some in the crowd, particularly teachers. Their complaints were heard loud and clear by Superintendent Jo Moccia, who said she will be meeting with teachers on Jan. 26, the day after the decision regarding the middle school, to give them an opportunity to provide input on a personal basis.
“They’ve had opportunities to provide input all along, but they specifically want to speak with the superintendent about the next steps,” Moccia said.
Other gripes among attendees were similar to those stated at previous community meetings, including a lack of opportunities to provide input for what parents want for their kids and what could be lost.
Langley Middle School physical education teacher Kathy Gianni dominated the first 10 minutes of the community’s opportunity to weigh in, criticizing the board for not providing a platform for teachers to give input on how students will be divvied up in the district.
“You cannot and should not plan without talking to the middle school teachers,” Gianni said.
She was also among those who advocated for a meeting between teachers and the decision-makers.
Board Chairwoman Linda Racicot said the board’s guiding principle in every decision it makes is “what is best for students.” She also said the intent of the meeting was to provide the board an opportunity to express their views of the situation and then hear how the community was feeling about the process.
“Our whole goal was to get the last shreds of information that we could possibly squeeze out of the process,” Racicot said.
Board Directors Racicot, Shawn Nowlin, Damian Greene, Julie Hadden and Fred O’Neal provided their thoughts on the middle school.
Greene said he was there to listen to the attendees and that he hadn’t made up his mind about the middle school yet. Hadden said change is difficult and that she wished they didn’t have to consider closing the middle school at all.
“We have a responsibility to all of you and the children in this community to make sure those programs stay at the high quality that they are,” Hadden said.
O’Neal, who was appointed to the District 5 at-large seat at the start of the board’s business meeting, said that the middle school’s closure may not be permanent if there is growth in the district’s enrollment.