News

District, patrons debate J.J. fate

Proposal to close school goes to the board Monday night

By Brenda Sexton

The Courier-Herald

More questions are expected to arise as the Enumclaw School District moves forward with its proposal to close J.J. Smith Elementary, but the approximately 130 people who showed up for district-sponsored informational meetings last week seemed to leave with answers.

The proposal to close J.J. Smith to student use coincides with a plan to turn Kibler, Southwood and Sunrise elementary schools into kindergarten through fifth-grade.

Questions ranged from the simple, "If my fourth grader is in Magic Strings, can my kindergartner attend Southwood, even though we live in the Kibler area?" to the more complex "Will district elementary enrollment really be stable enough to carry out this plan?"

This month, citing a steady enrollment drop and the chance to implement its long-awaited kindergarten through fifth-grade program, the school district presented the community with a proposal to close J.J. Smith Elementary School to students beginning this fall.

The J.J. Smith meeting Feb. 23 was the only one where a question-and-answer period with the audience took place. The other two were broken into small groups where parents could direct specific questions to district personnel.

Many of the questions centered on the district's Magic Strings program, which is housed at J.J. Smith. The program, which started five years ago with a VH1 grant, has expanded over the years to include grades 2-5. Currently, 96 students are enrolled from throughout the district, but most do fall in the J.J. Smith neighborhood.

The question of class size was another question. District officials said the ratio of 23 students to one teacher will remain.

Other questions centered on the J.J. Smith facility itself and whether it was worth keeping open at all, and what the process is for closing the building.

The proposal is expected to officially be presented to the Enumclaw School Board at its Monday meeting. According to School Board President Andrew Willner, the board will host a public hearing to close J.J. Smith to student use this spring (with public notice in The Courier-Herald) and anticipates the board voting on the proposal in May.

At the time, it is likely the board will have a plan for J.J. Smith. In its initial proposal, the district outlined a plan to keep the building open for non-student use - perhaps as an administration building or storage area - or open it for community use. Board members said they area taking other suggestions and comments on the entire proposal.

The original J.J. Smith was built in 1910 and named after pioneer leader John James Smith. The original three-story building was torn down to make way for a more modern school, the current building, in 1957. In 1989, the district added four additional classrooms. In 2002, the building received new doors and windows. Most recently, the school has been the focal point for two failed bond issues.

If the plan is approved, come September fourth- and fifth-graders at J.J. Smith will attend Kibler. The Magic Strings students and staff will move to Southwood. There will be a slight boundary shift that will bring approximately 30 students to Westwood. State route 410 will serve as a boundary for Sunrise and Southwood elementary schools. Students living in Osceola area and Melody Lane, the Meadows, Glacier Vista and Flensted development side will attend Sunrise. Those living in the development areas behind Safeway and the Mud Mountain and Greenwater areas will attend Southwood.

At the community meetings, district officials presented a waiver process for interdistrict transfers. Those forms, which are available at the district office, are due March 15. Decisions for the those students are expected to be complete by March 25.

According to Assistant Superintendent Mike Nelson, elementary teachers and classified staff are also starting the process for realignment. Those decisions should also be made later this spring so students and teachers should have their classroom assignments for fall by June 21.

There are scores of other changes involved as well. For example, the Sunrise/Southwood and Kibler/J.J. Smith PTAs are forming new alliances. After the student assignments are made, the district will look at transportation and remapping bus routes.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com.

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