When you’re a military family, changing schools, making friends and learning new routines comes with the territory.
Thanks to a career in the Army that included tours to Japan, Germany and Georgia, Gus McKinney’s daughters have plenty of experience making those adjustments.
In 2009, before he deployed to Iraq, McKinney and his wife bought a home in the Schilter Farm neighborhood in Lacey. One of the main reasons: Their home is walking distance from schools in South Sound’s largest public school system.
“I wanted to establish roots; I’ve taken my kids to live all over the planet,” he said. “This is the longest we’ve lived anywhere.”
Now McKinney, 46, fears that all of that stability, convenience and happiness could be wiped away.
He and several of his neighbors are upset by proposed boundary changes that will be discussed Tuesday night at the North Thurston School Board meeting.
If approved, students in several neighborhoods near Komachin Middle School will be bused to Chinook Middle School. And instead of attending Timberline High School, the students in those neighborhoods will go to North Thurston High.
“When you look at the boundary line, there’s no balance,” said Dave Davis, who lives in a neighborhood across the street from Komachin, and has a 9-year-old and a 13-year-old.
He estimates that about 250 students in the neighborhoods around Komachin will be affected by the proposed boundary changes.
“I know for a fact they did not come visit our neighborhood, so they don’t completely understand the impact they’re making,” Davis said.
District officials say the boundary changes are needed to help populate the new Salish Middle School that will open next fall, and a new, still-to-be-named elementary school that’s scheduled to open in the fall of 2017.
Several of the changes also will help make room for future growth that’s expected in certain neighborhoods. Developers already have put in plans to build houses that will likely bring thousands more families to the nearly 14,700-student district, according to consultant Jim Dugan who served as the facilitator for the Boundary Review Committee.
The group, which began meeting in March, is made up of parents, staff, students and other community members from the district’s three comprehensive high school zones: North Thurston, River Ridge and Timberline.
The committee was tasked with creating a plan that kept students together throughout their K-12 experience. Under the current system, some elementary schools split into different middle schools, which feed into different high schools.
The committee also tried to balance out enrollment and diversity at the schools, officials said.
District spokeswoman Courtney Schrieve said the changes will help make the most of capacity at the district’s schools.
“If approved, the proposal could help delay another bond and put off the need for a new high school, saving taxpayer dollars,” she said.
An estimated 300 to 350 people attended town hall forums on the boundary changes, and about 130 people submitted feedback on the proposals through the district’s website, she said.
Most of comments addressed the changes for Komachin Middle School, said assistant superintendent Troy Oliver. The district heard concerns from families at Olympic View Elementary School who will end up at Meadows Elementary School under the proposed plan.
“There was some angst around changing those places in the community,” Oliver said.
Olympic View parent Katie Sheftic said she and others feel as though their pleas for waivers or reconsideration of the proposed changes have fallen on deaf ears. Many of the parents she’s talked to said they won’t send their children to Meadows, which has some of the lowest standardized test scores in the district and doesn’t have the same military-friendly reputation that Olympic View boasts, Sheftic said.
“The big word on the street is everyone is trying to think about what private school they can afford,” she said. “…Everybody is trying to figure out how they’re going to avoid it, basically.”
Sheftic said she understands the district has to make changes to make room at some of its schools, but she feels military families should be granted a waiver so their kids don’t have to change schools.
“Because they move so much, because they have parents out of the picture for so many months on end, they have higher incidents of anxiety and have a hard time adjusting,” she said.
Oliver said district officials plan to recommend waivers under certain circumstances, but in some cases families are going to have to live with the changes.
“Change, no matter what, is hard,” he said. “Changing schools is hard because you get attached to teachers and schools and that sort of stuff. But it’s the reality in a growing district.”
Details are still being worked out, but in general, Oliver said the Boundary Review Committee will recommend that the School Board adopt a policy that:
▪ Allows students who are enrolled in high school a “guaranteed waiver” to stay at their school.
“We will grant you the waiver, and we will guarantee that the waiver is granted, but you’ll need to provide the transportation,” Oliver said.
▪ Doesn’t provide guaranteed waivers for middle school students.
“We just have to say, no, you have to make the transition from your current middle school,” Oliver said. “If your boundary changes, you have to go to your new middle school. Otherwise we don’t have a student population to populate (the new middle school).”
Those changes are expected to occur next year, he said.
▪ Grants waivers for students who are in fourth grade so they can stay and finish at their school, as long as their families provide their transportation.
At the elementary level, those who live in the northern part of the district will make the changes in fall 2016; those who live in the southern part of the district will change schools in fall 2017, Oliver said.
In addition, the district will continue its general waiver system, which it currently opens each year for families, although no guarantees are made for the transfers, according to Schrieve. Weight is usually given to applications with child care issues or siblings at a certain school, she said.
Of course, the proposals are recommendations at this point, and the School Board has the authority to go another route on boundaries or waivers.
“They have the final say in this,” Oliver said.
The board will hear the proposals along with any public comment that is given Tuesday, he said.
“The board is going to be able to ask any and all questions they want to,” Oliver said.
District officials hope the board will adopt a policy on the boundary changes Nov. 17.
Until then, several people who live around Komachin Middle School say they plan to continue urging the district and the board to reconsider the changes for the kids in their neighborhood.
“It’s a bad deal for us,” said parent Bill Frare, who has children ages 9 and 14, and is running for a Lacey City Council position. “It’s a bad deal for the students that now have to travel across the city. …The kids are going to be on the bus when they could simply walk to school.”
McKinney, the Army veteran, said he’s also concerned that home values will drop in his neighborhood, once people are no longer able to advertise they’re within walking distance to neighborhood schools.
He also believes the changes will have devastating effects on his daughters, who are ages 13 and 15.
“One will be a junior (next year) at Timberline, and she’s an athlete,” he said. “She doesn’t want to have to lose all her friends, start all over again like we had to in the military.
“I was able to move into a place where I felt we could plant roots,” McKinney added. “And now it feels like the roots my kids planted in the community with their friends are getting ready to be cut.”
Want to go?
The North Thurston School Board will hear a presentation on the proposed boundary plan during its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the district’s administrative headquarters, at 305 College St. NE, Lacey. The meeting is open to the public. For more information on the proposed changes, go to nthurston.k12.wa.us/boundary.