Chimacum chief discusses tactics in face of enrollment decline

CHIMACUM — Superintendent Rick Thompson told the Chimacum School Board that the decline in district enrollment is not a local school issue. It is a trend across the region.

And it’s a challenge.

“We’ve got a 20-year trend that’s been declining and it continued to be exacerbated over the school year,” Thompson said at Wednesday night’s board meeting.

On the superintendent’s recommendation, the board voted to appoint a citizens advisory committee to explore the factors leading to enrollment decline and develop prioritized solutions to increase enrollment.

“When I talk to the community about enrollment, people get confused,” Thompson said. “When they ask what the singular cause is for this, I tell them there is no one singular cause.”

Other districts

“We know in Quilcene they are being buoyed by their alternative learning program,” Thompson said. “Sequim is holding their own. At lots of other local districts, you can see some of the trends. There’s not a lot of decline in Kitsap because they are larger. But in Jefferson County, you aren’t seeing a lot of growth overall.”

Thompson outlined some of the tactics that he feels the district can begin or continue doing.

“When people leave the school, we give them a phone call and are able to find out if there was something we did or didn’t do and see if we can fix that,” he said.

“As for advertising and promotion, we do the bare minimum here. We don’t have a budget for that. A lot of our work is done face-to-face.”

Thompson proposed that the board become involved in public policy matters.

“I see bits of that at the county level. You have a voice as an elected official that others don’t,” he said.

“We could meet as a school board once a month,” he suggested, “and then spend the second meeting doing public policy work like interfacing with government agencies to try to bring more families in here. This is a school district challenge but we are nested in a community problem.

“We could get involved in the political discussion. Spend two hours going to the county commissioners meeting, meeting with legislative representatives. Use your role to work on public policy related to economic development, and broader birth rate issues that are impeding the ability to get children in here. The school board could have a voice at the table on the sewer, the comp plan, and other issues.”

Board member Sarah Martin agreed with the idea.

“It’s taking the issue and going deeper, deeper in our understanding of it instead of learning about it and reacting to it,” she said.

“It’s taking it a step further and trying to affect a change and an outcome. Something that goes outside of the walls of the school. Maybe our thoughts and decisions and actions should branch out.”

Thompson also suggested that the district create a new identity and focus.

“Port Townsend has a distinctive maritime identity,” he said. “There are things we can do to create attractive programs that will bring and keep students. Some of the areas are career ed and vocational programs, but we would be competing with North Sound Tech and the South Kitsap School District. We have slices of CTE (Career Technical Education). PI is a historical program we offer here, but we could add a digital component to it.”

He also suggested putting an alternative school in Port Ludlow, creating a new program that will create distance learning and focusing on the alternative learning niche.

One of the most aggressive ideas Thompson mentioned was consolidation of schools in Jefferson County.

“This could mean an interlocal service like sharing a psychologist, a nurse, a music program all the way to disbanding a school district and another takes it over, like a local buyout of a company,” he said.

“If we were to entertain that, it would take a lot of time and a willing partner.

“If there was a quick solution to these issues, then we would have done it.”

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-3225 or at [email protected]

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