Major Reconfiguration For McKinleyville Schools On Board Agenda

(Updated at 10:49 a.m. Previous version incorrectly assigned grades levels to Morris and Dow’s Prairie schools. That’s not part of the proposal at this point in time. That would be decided at a later date, assuming this process moves forward. – Ed.)

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – The town’s elementary schools may be reconfigured, with Spanish immersion students divvied up between Morris and Dow’s Prairie schools.

Under the proposal, one of the schools would serve kindergarteners through second graders, while the other would serve third through fifth graders. It hasn’t been decided which grades would go to which campus, although Dow’s Prairie has internal hallways that would make more sense for the younger kids. McKinleyville Middle School would remain the same, serving sixth through eighth graders.

The McKinleyville Union School District Board of Trustees will consider the proposal at its meeting Wednesday, April 9 at the Azalea Conference Center, located at the rear of McKinleyville Middle School at 2285 Central Avenue, McKinleyville. The meeting begins with a closed session at 5:30 p.m. The board will discuss labor negotiations it is  having with the McKinleyville Teachers Association and will evaluate Superintendent Michael Davies-Hughes job performance.

At 6:30 p.m., the board reconvenes in open session. When it takes up the school reconfiguration issue, the board will be presented with a variety of options for dealing with issues at the schools, such as over-crowding at Dow’s Prairie.

“The pros and cons for each of the options shall be presented to the board,” wrote Superintendent Davies-Hughes in a report to the trustees. “It is the Superintendent’s recommendation that action planning begin as soon as possible for a K-2, 3-5, 6-8 configuration as it most comprehensively addresses the current critical issues within the District as is supported by the Strategic Planning priorities of the board.”

The proposal will likely face opposition from Morris School parents, many of whom are passionate supporters of the schools Spanish immersion program.

Both Morris School and Dow’s Prairie School now serve kindergarten through fifth grade students. Dow’s provides a conventional curriculum, while Morris is a Spanish immersion school.

All students who enter Morris School are part of the Spanish program. They spend about half the day being taught in Spanish and the other half in English, which allows them to become fluent in both languages.

Although the program gets high marks from many parents, school officials say it has created problems at Dow’s Prairie School.

Students who move to the district after the second grade have to go to Dow’s Prairie unless they already have Spanish skills. Dow’s Prairie also ends up receiving a higher percentage of special education students and students with “high needs” which require “behavior supports,” according to MUSD,

Dow’s Prairie is now full, with no empty classrooms.

“Outside service providers and itinerant teachers must share rooms and use hallways,” Davies-Hughes wrote in his report to the trustees. This problem won’t go away unless something is done.

With the same grade levels spread out on two different campuses, it makes it difficult for teachers to collaborate, according to Davies-Hughes.

There’s also a perceived adversarial relationship between the two schools.

“Competition and conflict between Dow’s and Morris: The adversarial Dow’s vs. Morris situation is historical, and is exacerbated by the perceived inequities between the sites,” Davies-Hughes wrote in his report. “Relationships within the district (parents/staff/students) have the potential to improve considerably within a different configuration.”

If history is any indication, the proposed reconfiguration will be hugely controversial.

Five years ago, back in early 2009, the board wrestled with reconfiguration. At the time, Morris had both Spanish immersion and non-immersion students. The board voted in February 2009 to have Morris School become full immersion, and have the traditional students transferred to Dow’s Prairie.

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  • Pam Sowerwine

    What is important is that everyone work together for the good of all the students in McKinleyville. Both Dow’s and Morris have excellent teachers (who should get a raise!) and wonderful parents. But when the Spanish Immersion program was put into place it was clear that problems would pop up. First, the problem was what happens to all the non-Spanish Immersion students at Morris? Combination classes, concentration of transient students, etc. The solution was suggested of a dedicated K-2, and 3-5 school, and shot down by Dow’s parents, who wanted their school to stay exactly as it was. What they got in place of that was all the new non-Spanish speaking students attending Dow’s. If they had had a crystal ball, maybe they wouldn’t have been so negative about the proposed solution! As a taxpayer, I’m getting a little tired of re-alignments, again and again, but as an educator, I think McKinleyville will get it right this time, with this re-alignment. But they need to give the teachers the much deserved raise first, before they spend a whole pile of money on moving kids around. In the spirit of full disclosure, my sons attended Dow’s, my husband’s son attended Morris, and we met while working at Morris. So, I am emotionally invested in the health of the schools in my community. I think this will work, and it should have been done before, despite the Dow’s parents’ objections.

    • Brian Murphy

      The blame for the issues regarding district have nothing to do with the Dow’s parents standing in support of the school in 2009. It has everything to do with poor decision making by the board and the superintendent. A pile of money was spent and wasted reconfiguring the schools for Spanish immersion. Maybe your raise would be easier if it had never happened.

      • Pam Sowerwine

        I don’t work for MUSD. It’s not my raise, but the teachers who do work for MUSD do indeed deserve at the very least a cost of living raise. Dow’s parents lobbied heavily to not do a configuration similar to what is currently proposed, because they loved their school exactly as it was. They should have been a bit more far sighted, and realized that the problems created by the immersion/English only dichotomy at Morris would indeed affect them. The big important goal here is to serve all the students, to throw NONE of them under the bus. 5 years ago, an opportunity was lost, and I as a taxpayer, had to help pay for a mistake made. I thought then that the Board should have stood up for what was right. They chose to solve the problem in the way that was most palatable to the most vocal group. And now, we get to throw more money at configuration. I truly believe this is an excellent solution and it will really solve the problem. Too bad it wasn’t done correctly 5 years ago.

  • Phyllis Nolan

    I think we will get it right this time too. My compliments to the district administration and board members for taking on this controversial issue. No solution is going to make everyone happy, but it is clear we need to address the issues created five years ago when the current structure was approved at midnight by an exhausted board after listening to hours of public threats. This time we need to do what is best for all students, not just those who are lucky enough to have strong parental advocates.

  • Brian Murphy

    I’m thinking right about now there are several people in this community that are saying “I told you so” in regards to the negative impacts that the implementation of the Spanish Immersion Program would have on the K-5 schools in Mckinleyville. The failure of the School Board members, and the Superintendent not seeing the forest for the trees, has and will cost the district more than financially. The need for reconfiguration is proof that the district decisions to implement the Spanish Immersion Program in the first place was a bad one. Not for the children involved in the program, but for the district as a whole.

    • Andrew Jones

      The language immersion program has been, and is, a McKinleyville success story. The mistake 5 years ago was not doing the K-2 and 3-5 unification. It solves the issue.

      • Brian Murphy

        I agree that the Spanish Immersion Program has been a success, for the students involved. The district as a whole has suffered on a educational and financial level that obviously can not be made up with the success of that program.

        • Andrew Jones

          The immersion program is not a problem for the district. The issues affecting the district can be resolved with the proposed unification of the schools. I’m not afraid to send my youngest to Dow’s and my eldest to Morris. What’s the big deal?

          • Brian Murphy

            If the Immersion program didn’t exist, we would not be having this conversation, the district would not have spent the monies for the initial reconfiguration and they would not be discussing further financial hardship to the district for a second reconfiguration 5 years later. Testing has fallen dramatically at Dows over the last 5 years.

          • Andrew Jones

            I stand by the second paragraph in my last comment, which demonstrates that immersion is not the problem. You’re not going to convince the board to end a successful academic program chosen by hundreds of parents when the board has a solution that preserves the program and solves the various problems.

          • Brian Murphy

            I never said that I thought the board should end the Immersion program. I think that the past School Board and the Superintendent should own the decisions that were made 5 years ago and the effect that it has had on the district which has not been good. The majority of the public at the time the Spanish immersion program was implemented where opposed to the idea. Not just hundreds as you say in support of it, but hundreds and hundreds opposed it.

          • Andrew Jones

            There was a different superintendent and many different board members (maybe all?) 5 years ago. So, you want them to accept blame for the past? OK. That’s fine. But it’s their job to find a solution to today’s problem and they have one.

          • Brian Murphy

            I said the past board, so please read what I have said. I do not or expect the current board (but possibly the superintendent) to take blame for past mistakes that have negatively effected the district. My recommendation would be for the Spanish Immersion program to become a charter school as is should have 5 years ago. We would not be in the situation we are today if that would have happened.

          • Andrew Jones

            Re-reading, your solution appears to be, “The present and future boards and school officials should take the opportunity to learn from the past moving forward so monies that are allocated help the district as a whole and not just hundreds.”

            Is that the entirety of your solution? In my view, the school board is already doing what you propose. I’m not aware of the immersion program costing more to operate than a traditional program, and their proposed solution resolves the problems at Dow’s. I guess we agree to disagree.

          • Brian Murphy

            Yes we should agree to disagree. The past school board did not do what I purposed, and I am not aware nor did I imply that the Immersion program cost more than than a traditional program.

      • Pam Sowerwine

        To throw some history in here, for those who apparently think the Spanish Immersion program only goes back 5 years . . . .
        During (If I am correct) the 1998-1999 school year, Spanish Immersion was proposed by then Supt. Alan (“Skip”) Jorgensen, as a magnet to attract students to McKinleyville. The program did not actually begin until the 1999-2000 school year. By the 2008-2009 school year, the problems inherent in taking all the transient students and putting them in the same class, and having many combination classes due to how population breaks fell became very evident at Morris. A proposed K-2, 3-5 realignment was put forth by then Superintendent Dena McCullough. Incidentally, there are a number of very successful school districts in the county that use this configuration. Due largely to the extremely vocal and well organized opposition from parents at Dow’s, the Board did not implement Mrs. McCullough’s suggestion. A solution had to be found, still, for the concentration of transient students in English only classes at Dow’s (not saying they were all transient, just the nature of where there are apartments, and less transient families likely being in the Immersion program). Now, it’s five years later, and the atmosphere has changed at Dow’s, and a solution needs to be found. Instead of villifying the Superintendent 5 years ago, how about lauding her for her prescience in suggesting an excellent solution? It is after all, the Board that chose not to vote for it in the face of strong opposition. How about instead of villifying anyone, we work for a common solution to fix what needs to be fixed, and get it right this time? Please. Really, it’s the kids that are important, and we ALL need to keep that focus.

        • Brian Murphy

          I did not agree with the superintendents suggestion then and I don’t today. I still believe that the district is to small to support the immersion program (plenty of evidence to support that), and it is the crux of the problems the district currently faces. Problems associated with the program were present at Morris even before the last reconfiguration. A spoken majority of parents and children opposed the purposed reconfiguration as well as the immersion program in 2009. Not because they were against the idea of an immersion program, but because they saw that it could adversely effect the schools in a negative way and felt it would not be healthy for the tiny district. I agree with you completely that its the kids and their education that are important, but possibly throwing the immersion program into both schools in my opinion will only cause the district more strife and financial cost.

  • California Conservative

    My letter to the Superintendent:

    I am writing you regarding the school
    board decision to change the existing school structure because of the lack of
    enrollment at Morris school and the over-crowding of Dows Prairie School. My first concern is the increased traffic
    that will swamp the pickup and drop off for children at Dows Prairie which is
    already congested as it is. Along with
    that is the concern for potential increased pedestrian traffic along with
    increased vehicle traffic. Dows Prairie
    road has few sidewalks and Central Avenue is a 45 mph speed limit. I’m not sure how many parents will be walking,
    or do walk, their children to school currently but an increase in traffic and
    foot traffic will only increase the potential for an accident or injury.

    Increased enrollment will also make
    special events like Christmas plays a nightmare for parking. Dows Prairie is already a difficult place to
    find parking with the current enrollment and will only further the problem. I question if any on the school board have
    even monitored the school during pickup, drop off and special event times. If so, I question your judgment as to why you
    didn’t view additional traffic and congesting as a potential hazard.

    It seems the problem was created when whoever
    decided to start the Spanish immersion program at Morris school. My wife and I personally do not want our
    children at this point to learn a language we cannot speak. I think the school at this age should focus
    on more important things like teaching children to speak proper English, write
    properly and focus on mathematics. There
    are plenty of high school students that enter in to college who have to take
    remedial courses due to not getting the level of education needed to graduate
    at college expected levels. To put it
    simply, the school board is trying to fix a problem they created by creating
    another problem.

    This enrollment problem is as simple a
    situation as getting sand in your eyes at the beach on a windy day but the
    solution proposed is as preposterous as suggesting all the sand be removed from
    the beach. When I attended Morris school
    as a child we had the Gate program. I do not know if that program still exists
    but it was designed for students who needed to be challenged more than what
    they were getting during normal instruction time. The same could be applied to the Spanish
    immersion program. Set aside a portion of
    the day for the students whose parents opted in to the Spanish immersion program
    and the need to reconfigure and anger the parents of students vanishes.

    When it comes to information received about
    this transition, I have to say I have had little to no information until after
    this decision was made by the board. I
    may have received messages on my phone about meetings but I work long hours and
    am not able to attend easily. The
    impression I and others seem to have is that this bureaucrat-like decision was
    already made by the board but to be fair, the board had to listen to objections
    of parents before you continued on with your decision expecting that later
    parents will come around to see the genius of your plan. It seems that in today’s digital world some,
    any sort of communication designed at getting feedback other than public
    meetings would have shown that the board really cared about what parents
    thought. I’m sure very few people do not
    have access to a smart phone or internet where an online survey to parents
    could have been set up for the board to gather feedback that can be accurately
    measured. Or to ensure no one is left
    out, a survey could have been mailed out to gather feedback. I would encourage the board to reconsider its
    decision and revisit this issue with hopes that you will, at the very least,
    send out some sort of survey to measure how many parents are and are not in
    support of your reconfiguration.

    A concerned parent,

    Joshua Woods

  • Erik Burman

    Back when this same reconfiguration issue came up several years back, the Spanish immersion lobby won the day. They kept their exclusive program from which most kids were excluded from joining. While at the same time Dow Prairie was overloaded with “special needs” and behavioral problem students who took up a lot of the teachers time at the expense of the rest of the children. Dow’s took the brunt and shouldered the lions share of the burden. Now it’s the same contingent of self-entilteld parents who are whining about a more equitable solution which is far more reasonable and should have been selected to begin with. On the other hand, If you want to hold the board of trustees accountable for their abysmally stupid and desperate decision to take out a Capital Appreciation Bond, then I’m all on board with that. They should be run out of town on a rail for that bone headed decision!

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