Hawthorne Elementary School kids in Everett play during recess in 2015. (Dan Bates / The Herald, file)

Hawthorne Elementary School kids in Everett play during recess in 2015. (Dan Bates / The Herald, file)

School’s enrollment drops after housing project closure

The big change at Hawthorne Elementary in Everett could affect funding, staffing and programs.

EVERETT — Students have been leaving Hawthorne Elementary in recent months as their families move away from the Baker Heights housing complex.

The 244-unit development in north Everett is expected to be sold and demolished. The property, right across the street from the school, is owned by the Everett Housing Authority. Families started finding new places this past September.

Hawthorne Principal Celia O’Connor-Weaver expects to see about 100 students go in all, nearly a quarter of the student body. As a result, the school could lose funding, staff and programs, some of which are allocated under federal mandates.

Nearly 90 percent of the school’s 453 students receive free or reduced-price lunch.

If 100 students did find new schools, at least four teachers could lose their positions, said Cynthia Jones, who directs early learning, English as a second language and programs for homeless students in the Everett School District. If the instructors were under contract, they would be moved to another school.

Baker Heights is expected to be vacant and sold by August 2019, said Ashley Lommers-Johnson, executive director of the Everett Housing Authority. That plan is ahead of schedule, as 96 families have already moved. The organization has secured Section 8 vouchers for each household, and is helping with moving costs, he said.

“Change is hard for everybody, but especially hard for our refugee families,” O’Connor-Weaver said. “You know, they’ve been in crisis for years, and are kind of finally in a stable situation, and they have to move again.”

In April 2017, Hawthorne Elementary had 216 students learning English. The number dropped to 180 this April. Many of those children lived in Baker Heights, Jones said.

Some families have had trouble understanding and filling out the admission paperwork for new schools and new districts. Hawthorne staff has tried to assist them through the process.

The Housing Authority also has provided interpreters to help with documents and has hosted informational sessions for those being displaced. Two of those meetings were at the school.

“I think (the) Everett Housing Authority has tried to be very proactive and very supportive,” Jones said. “So for a difficult situation, I think they’ve tried and done as much as they can.”

Other schools in north Everett have been affected as well, but not to the same extent, Jones said. Smaller percentages of students have also been leaving North Middle School and Everett High School, she said.

Some kids have expressed frustration toward their parents, O’Connor-Weaver said. They might not understand why they are moving, and school staff has tried to help with the communication.

Baker Heights was built as affordable housing during World War II. The buildings have been deemed obsolete, and could become unsafe for residents. Renovating the structures would be too expensive, according to a federal review.

The plan is for the housing authority to keep 3.6 acres of the property and build at least 82 living units, and possibly more, Lommers-Johnson said. Priority would be given to homeless families with kids in the Everett district, he said.

The agency has made a commitment to replace all 244 Baker Heights units, likely through building and buying properties, he said.

The remaining 11 acres would be sold. Washington State University has shown interest in buying the land to expand its Everett campus.

The site also has drawn interest from other potential buyers.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @stephrdavey.

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