South Whidbey school board votes to reconfigure campuses

Next school year, fifth and sixth graders will be attending classes at different campuses.

Come next school year, fifth and sixth grade students enrolled in the South Whidbey School District will be attending classes at different campuses.

The South Whidbey School Board voted Wednesday night to dissolve the South Whidbey Elementary School South Campus.

Starting in September 2023, fifth graders will join grades kindergarten through fourth grade at the elementary school’s northern campus. Sixth graders will move up to the middle school campus at the high school, joining seventh and eighth grades. Community organizations may rent out the building that will be vacated by students next year.

The school board and the school district have been discussing the facility transition for the past two months. Superintendent Jo Moccia said she has not received any “frantic” complaints during the last several weeks, and very few concerns.

Indeed, this week’s school board meeting was sparsely attended, save for a couple of community members who had more pressing concerns about teaching students cursive and the opportunity to observe a class in session. The issue has certainly not garnered as much attention as the closure of the Langley Middle School in 2017 did.

Student board members Katya Schiavone and Audrey Gmerek provided the only opposition to the proposed change, citing student concerns about crowded campuses, the loss of a middle school identity and a high school experience separate from younger students.

Moccia responded that overcrowding, such as in locker rooms, is an issue of scheduling. As she pointed out, the high school building was built to hold a capacity of nearly 800 students. With the addition of sixth graders, this would bring the total up to about 550.

Moccia also spoke about effective ways to segregate the 6-8 middle school campus from the 9-12 high school, such as creating a separate entrance with a permanent sign.

Board Member Andrea Downs said that while the board respects students’ voices, the bigger picture needs to be addressed, in terms of financial decisions. Pouring $300,000 on a yearly basis into the fifth and sixth grade campus where enrollment continues to decline, as she pointed out, affects available staffing and materials.

Gmerek wondered if this savings is adequate enough to cover the loss of culture students will encounter while making this transition to different campuses.

Downs countered that closing down the campus could open up opportunities to maintain direct services to students, such as the curriculum changes and field trips that they’ve been asking for.

“I think culture and community can be created wherever you are, in whatever capacity that that group wants it to happen,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be in a specific building.”

She pointed out that the Coupeville School District has successfully found a way to put two different schools in one building.

The other board members were in agreement with Downs, except for the student representatives. In the end, the proposed campus reconfigurement passed in a 5-2 vote, with Schiavone and Gmerek voting in opposition.