Incredible shrinking schools

  • Sarah Koenig<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 1:06pm

In recent years, as houses have sprung up in the Everett School District’s south end, students have poured into local schools. Some elementary populations climbed into the 700s, portables sprouted up, hallways thickened and principals’ lists of students to recognize grew long.

But now the stream is flowing the other way for Penny Creek, Cedar Wood and Silver Firs Elementary schools. Hundreds of students left those three schools to attend the new Forest View Elementary this fall.

Boundary changes have mixed up student population as well.

Students will find themselves walking in less crowded hallways and not having classes in portables.

Another change will be new faces on campus.

Some students have had jitters about going to a new school. In August, Penny Creek principal Shelley Petillo met with a kindergartner who’d seen the movie “Matilda,” which features an evil principal.

“She came because she was worried. Her mom called and said, ‘Can we come meet the principal?’” Petillo said.

Class sizes, however, will stay the same, since the state funds schools on a per-pupil basis.

Cedar Wood Elementary will see the most dramatic change. The school had about 750 students last year and this year expects about 540.

First, it’s likely that students will get more personal attention, said principal David Jones, who’s new to the school. The district tries to keep elementary schools at the size Cedar Wood is now partly for that reason, he said.

“Knowing what really helps students feel ‘OK, there’s a place for me, I’m well-known and there are services tailored to my specific needs,’” Jones said.

A smaller school gives adults the chance to know the students better, even just recognizing them in the hallways, he said.

The parking lots and hallways will be less crowded, and less children will have class in portables. Seven portables were used for classes last year. This year only one will be used.

But with less students, there are also less staff, which means adjustment, Jones said. About a third of the staff at Cedar Wood left because of the change in population.

“There is the same work that has to occur, but there are fewer people — we still need to run recess supervision and offer a lunch program, and there are fewer staff to turn to to say, ‘How might we be doing this,’” Jones said.

Some who were leaders in areas like writing or math have moved on, so new roles must be established, he said.

Penny Creek, which had about 785 students last year, is projecting about 675 this year. Students went to Forest View but also came in from Silver Lake and Cedar Wood elementaries.

“The beautiful thing we’re really looking forward to is we won’t have any classes in portables this year,” said Penny Creek principal Petillo.

Last year, the school used four portables, one as a resource room for special education students. When a second-grade special education student has to walk out to a portable for resource room and only has 45 minutes, walking time uses up learning time, Petillo said.

Lunches will be less crowded too, she said.

Penny Creek staff are good at noticing when kids are nervous and doing what they can to make them more comfortable, she said.

Silver Firs Elementary will drop from the 542 students it had last year to an estimated 430 students this year. About 70 students are coming to Silver Firs from Cedar Wood.

Principal Patty Gauksheim said she doesn’t know that students and parents will see a big difference.

“I’d say more the big shock to the system, the big change is actually the people,” she said. “The little ones themselves, their little personalities and their wonderful families no longer with us.”

Staff at the school have cried over the loss of students, she said.

“But we understand they’re going to have a great education at Forest View and we are looking forward to getting to know our new kids coming to us from Cedar Wood,” she said.

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