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New schools create temporary challenges

Northwest Guardian

Published: 12:06PM April 24th, 2014

A number of elementary school students on the Lewis side of Joint Base Lewis-McChord will be changing schools this year.

Clover Park School District Superintendent Debbie LeBeau announced the construction and proposed school boundary changes to more than 100 parents Monday night at Carey Theater.

“We’ve never done this before,” LeBeau said. “We’ve never had the luxury of building so many new schools at one time, and it does create some problems.”

On Lewis Main, all students at Greenwood Elementary School and most at Clarkmoor Elementary School will start the 2014-15 school year at the new Rainier Elementary School at the corner of Stryker Avenue and Division Street. Clarkmoor students living in the Parkway Housing area near Liberty Gate are being absorbed into Hillside Elementary School.

On Lewis North, LeBeau said because the outdated Beachwood Elementary School is over-capacity, its zone will be cut in half. Students in the new southern zone, that is south of an imaginary line below Eagle View II and through Beachwood II, will spend one year at vacated Greenwood Elementary School, renamed Beachwood Elementary School for that year. Those Beachwood students will “return” to a new school, but at their old school’s former location, for the 2015-16 school year.

Students on the north side of the line will permanently transfer to the new Meriwether Elementary School along Compass Avenue, Lewis North.

The boundaries still could change if the Clover Park School Board decides to change them, director of community relations Kim Prentice said. The board is set to take action at its May 12 board meeting, with bus routes to be set by late July.

LeBeau told parents the new boundaries also were not entirely under the district’s control, in part because of limitations on school construction. “We want to balance student population and capacity, and we’re looking at the long term, not just right now,” LeBeau told parents.

After the presentation, LeBeau held a spirited session with parents, fielding questions about kindergarten and student-teacher ratios. Much of the concern centered on busing.

Sergeant 1st Class Philip Gandia of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment said his daughter Cassandra, 8, walks from their Eagle View home to Beachwood Elementary School. The new boundaries will force Cassandra to catch a bus, he said.

“She likes to walk, even in the rain,” Gandia said. “She’ll be brokenhearted.” Tammy Short was concerned whether her daughter Trinity would even have busing as an option.

“We live on Beachwood now, and (Trinity), she goes to kindergarten at Beachwood, and we’re just trying to figure out if she’ll get bused or not,” Short said.

LeBeau encouraged parents to fill out comment cards with their contact information, promising the district would send timely response to individual concerns.

District transportation director Delphie Nielsen said the new emphasis on busing was necessary, but temporary. She, LeBeau and JBLM Child, Youth & School Services director Norma Melo asked parents to trust the bus system.

Melo said buses can safely and swiftly get kids to school without clogging the roads. She also advised parents who want to drop off their children for the first day of school to let their kids ride the bus, then meet them at school as they unload.

“That way they know what bus to take,” Melo said.

Several families also will be affected by the kindergarten situation. Rainier and Hillside will have full-day kindergarten, LeBeau said, but waivers won’t be accepted for the 2014-15 school year.

All other elementary schools will have half-day kindergarten. Busing will be provided.

Parent Melissa Davis said before the start of the public meeting she was concerned about the teachers and where they would go. LeBeau said Beachwood’s teachers all would move with the students to the vacated Greenwood Elementary School, then move back to the new Beachwood the following year.

After the meeting, Davis said she was satisfied, adding that her child will be going to the new Meriwether school.

“I got all my questions answered,” she said. “I even found out where my kid is going to catch his bus.”