Sequim schools reconfiguration continues to draw some protests

District: Staff resignations, retirements means no reduction-in-force

SEQUIM — Some good news for Sequim school advocates came this week although a host of parents and teachers continue to plead with school board directors and administrators to halt a plan to reconfigure the district’s elementary schools.

Sequim School Board members approved a reduction-in-force resolution last Monday that came with no actual staff reductions, as a number of staffers have left the district or are taking a year off, helping the district handle a $1.6 million budget shortfall for the 2023-24 academic year.

District officials last week said the staffing changes — 11 retirements, five resignations and eight leave-of-absences notices — allowed Sequim to keep all remaining classified staffers for next year.

Those positions will be “collapsed,” meaning those positions no longer exist unless enrollment growth demands it, said Victoria Balint, the district’s director of human resources.

“I feel like I get to bring the good news,” she said.

The information came following more than an hour of public comment, both in person and from meeting attendees on Zoom — the vast majority of them decrying the district’s decision to reconfigure Greywolf and Helen Haller elementary schools from two K-5 buildings to schools offering pre-kindergarten through grade 2 (Greywolf) and grades 3-5 (Helen Haller) starting this fall.

Protests continue

Many opposing the shift filled the Sequim High School Library on Monday, holding signs that read “Keep K-5,” “Delay” and “Hear Us, See Us K-5.”

Sherri Burke, a third-grade teacher at Greywolf Elementary School, called the announcement of the realignment one of the most “misleading” and “confusing” experiences the school’s staff has experienced.

“Why is this getting pushed through so quickly?” Burke asked. “Why was the community and teachers not been brought in on this? We have been displaced and broken apart. Why?”

Burke said she is not necessarily asking for the reconfiguration plan to be canned, but to slow the process.

Parent Angela Pinnell said she’s had a lack of good communication from the school board and school district about the change.

“The lack of response is showing us is that you are not making these decisions for the people who are impacted the most,” Pinnell said.

Sequim High School student Georgia Bullard said that, while board directors seem to have approved the reconfiguration plan with the best intentions, she and others have not heard adequate responses to these concerns about the details of the shift, particularly transportation issues.

“Slow down, take some time, talk to the community,” Bullard urged the board.

“It’s not too late to re-vote, [it’s] not too late to do the best possible thing for our students.”

Linda Benson, a Sequim resident, urged parents and staff to support young students by helping them adapt to the elementary school reconfiguration. She said the changes proposed are only scary for students if adults give them that message.

“The more flexible they learn to be as kids, the more successful they will be in facing the challenges of life,” Benson said. “It’s up to the adults in the room … to work together for the benefit for all of our students.”

Most speakers during the open comment portion of the meeting, however, were decidedly against the reconfiguration plan.

Cricket Hagan, a first-grade teacher at Helen Haller Elementary, said she was part of a realignment at a previous district, and it took a year and seven months of planning to get students, parents and staff on board.

“There were still problems,” she said. “I feel this needs to be delayed.

“This is not because of me not wanting to move my classroom. Please don’t put it on the backs of teachers, that we are resistant to change.

“The children in our classrooms (have) everything to do with it. I will move every one of my elementary friends if it was best for kids.”

Hagan added: “We don’t adopt a curriculum in three months, and that’s minor compared to what we’re doing.”

“We don’t believe [this change] is educationally beneficial for our children,” Brad Woolf said.

“I’m feeling like most of the parents are in the same boat.”

Parent Derrick Eberle, who said he has four children under the age of 7, said he supports a previous speaker’s suggestion of a survey.

“I think it would be a slam dunk for the board, too,” he said. “[This plan] can’t be done well in the time that’s left.”

Sequim School Superintendent Regan Nickels said the district has created a tab on the district website (sequimschools.org) that is updated with new information about the reconfiguration process — including details about “Meet the Principal Night” events for families who have students attending different schools.

She said the district also will send out information in each weekly school newsletter.

“We are certainly aware people are curious about our progress,” Nickels said Monday.

Classrooms will be available for teachers to move in and out of by Aug. 7, though Nickels said she doesn’t expect staff to begin on that date.

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Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at editor@sequimgazette.com.

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