Downsizing South Whidbey Should District campuses would have sizable savings

Consolidating campuses could save the South Whidbey School District, big time.

Consolidating campuses could save the South Whidbey School District, big time.

For the past month, the school district and the school board have been gathering the community’s input on the proposed closure of the South Whidbey Elementary School South Campus, which currently houses fifth and sixth graders.

Superintendent Jo Moccia has pointed out that the K-4 South Whidbey Elementary School North Campus could accommodate fifth graders, while sixth graders could be moved up to the 7-8 section of the South Whidbey High School and partake in more academic and athletic opportunities.

During a school board workshop meeting Wednesday night, Moccia explained that the reconfiguration could save the district an estimated $336,956 a year, because of a reduction in utilities and personnel. Some community organizations have already expressed an interest in renting out parts of the 5-6 building.

One of the biggest concerns from the community has been about having sixth graders on the same campus as high schoolers. Moccia shared two different options of where grades 6-8 could enter the high school building and where their classrooms would be located.

The school board will take a final vote on the issue during its Sept. 28 meeting. School district officials are currently assessing the needs of K-5 and 6-12 buildings and will likely ask voters to approve a bond in February 2023.

School board members seemed receptive to the proposed changes.

“If we can save $300,000 and put that towards a new ELA curriculum one year and then the next year we can do a social studies curriculum, then that’s serving our students far better than a half-used building,” Board Member Andrea Downs said.

She added that it is a common practice for districts the size of South Whidbey to downsize campuses.

“Rather than thinking of it as sending sixth graders to a high school, I think it’s really helpful to think of it as sending sixth graders to a middle school that is adjacent to and sharing a facility with a high school,” Board Member Marnie Jackson said.

As Moccia pointed out, when the Langley Middle School closed in 2017, the community requested keeping grades 6-8 together. At the time there wasn’t enough room to include sixth graders at the high school campus; now there is.

Student representatives, however, said the kids they had heard from were not pleased with the proposed changes. In particular, older students are worried about losing the sense of a high school with younger kids joining the campus. A member of the public also said she was worried about the social and emotional health of the students involved in the reconfiguration.