School district restructuring plan moving forward

Though the South Whidbey School District voted to close it last week, don’t expect to see a “For Sale” sign pop up in front of Langley Middle School.

The LMS campus will not be sold, District Superintendent Fred McCarthy said at a special retreat held late last week. McCarthy said 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.

The school board retreat was held just two days after board members decided to shut down LMS by September 2012. District officials acknowledged there was much work to be done now that the road plan for the reinvention of South End schools has been approved.

“Now the real work begins,” said board chair Fred O’Neal.

On July 24, McCarthy presented board members with an early template for the restructuring effort.

The district’s director of teaching and learning, Mike Johnson, will head a transition committee tasked with organizing the myriad details of closing LMS and moving students in grades six through eight to the high school. The committee will be composed of teachers, parents, business people, administrators and architects, meeting at least once a week.

“They will address all aspects of planning for the move,” McCarthy said.

The first hurdle is designing additions to the high school so that middle and high school students are 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 needs to operate as a separate entity, and that will be a particular focus for the committee,” McCarthy said.

There is a sense of urgency because the 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.

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. “I expect there will be a lot of dialogue among ourselves and the taxpayers.

“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.

O’Neal noted that the end result will be a facility that will be available all the time.

“Part of our message has to be that, when we’re done, the return on our investment will be a year-round facility that can be used more hours per day and more days per year,” he said.

O’Neal said any additions to the high school will be as green and environmentally friendly as possible, and that he expects principals and students to be fully engaged in the process.

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.

School officials will maintain their focus on what’s most important as LMS is closed and other schools are consolidated, McCarthy said.

“The ultimate goal is to improve student academic achievement, even as we deal with the challenges of the budget shortfall and declining enrollment,” he said.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbey

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