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School district fumbles on K-8 elimination as petitions mount over boundaries

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAVERHSK8.ORG - Raleigh Hills K-8 students and parents gather with signs during fall 2019, in an effort to stop the Beaverton School District from eliminating middle grades from the K-8 school. The school will eventually transition to an elementary model.Beaverton parents are pushing back against major changes affecting middle school students.

Currently, the district is grappling with adjustments to its middle school boundaries that some say will cause overcrowding, long walks to school for students, and even racial segregation at various campuses across the district.

While those changes have yet to be finalized, the district says it's firm on one thing — the decision to shutter middle school grades from its K-8 schools.

In December, Beaverton School District administrators confirmed plans to transition Raleigh Hills and Springville K-8 schools into elementary schools. The decision had already been made by the superintendent's office without a vote from the school board. Beaverton plans to eliminate grades six through eight from the sites by 2023.

Until the district confirmed it late last year, most in the Raleigh Hills community were unaware of the transition plan Parents and students rallied to try to stop the district's plans, to no avail.

District administrators said the changes are an important step in achieving a common middle school experience.

Maureen Wheeler, Beaverton schools spokesperson, said K-8 schools are currently "staffed and supervised in the elementary school model."

"Over the years, we've had parents who want more, they want a middle school experience for their students, and we just can't do that," she added.

Parents like Jason Magalen say the K-8 model at Raleigh Hills has worked for families, offering quality education and stability for students. Magalen said the district's reasoning for eliminating its K-8 school in Raleigh Hills is murky.

"The district can't explain in detail how they came to the decision to close the middle school grades at Raleigh Hills," Magalen said. "You have all these other option programs in the district ... why is Raleigh Hills targeted?" 

The school district did not hold public discussions on the plans, and the issue never came before the school board for a vote or discussion. Parents said they were blindsided by the decision.

Wheeler said the lack of outreach to parents wasn't an oversight.

"The feeling was we wanted to move in this direction, the district was going to move in this direction, and (administrative staff) acknowledged that parents would want to keep the current model," Wheeler said.

After news of the plan was confirmed, frustrated parents shouted questions across the room to district staff at a meeting in December.

"We believe all middle school students deserve a rich and broad experience that is designed to support the academic and social needs of this age group," Superintendent Don Grotting told parents. "Middle school students need more electives and need access to career (and) college counseling, and they need the ability to engage and be prepared as they go into their comprehensive high school or option high school."

But the following day, Grotting and other administrators acknowledged the need for a "solid rationale" surrounding the K-8 changes and even entertained the question of whether they had changed their minds, based on parent feedback.

Minutes from a cabinet meeting among district staff suggest a lack of cohesion.

"Is there a place where we can say that the common middle school experience is not the rationale?" the minutes state, summarizing concerns from Grotting, Deputy Superintendent Carl Mead and other officials. "What is the No. 1 factor? Cost? Inequities in class size?"

Magalen attempted to delve into the issue himself, starting with a public records request for staff email exchanges related to the K-8 decision. The district told him that because it needs to protect student privacy, it would cost $2,800 in staff time to review the emails and redact for sensitive information if needed. He never completed the request.

Middle school boundary meetings wrapping up

While Magalen and other parents say they've accepted that the K-8 decisions are final, the district still faces similar uproar over middle school boundaries that are still being decided. A petition seeking to reduce anticipated overcrowding at Stoller Middle School, while reducing long walks to school for Five Oaks MS students, among other issues, has garnered over 1,940 signatures. The next and likely final boundary adjustment meeting is scheduled for Feb. 25 at Whitford Middle School, 7935 S.W. Scholls Ferry Road.

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