There’s not enough room for kindergarten through sixth grade at the Friday Harbor Elementary School, so faculty wants to move them to the middle school. They presented the proposal to the San Juan Island School District board on Jan. 18.
“This is a forever solution,” said San Juan Island School District Superintendent Danna Diaz to The Journal. “We’ll have a true middle school.”
The middle school would hold sixth through eighth grade.
The 406 elementary school students are so overcrowded, said staff during the presentation, that the library doubles as a math class in the morning. If the sixth grade remains at FHES next year, a storage space will be used for the counselors’ office, with the storage sign still on the door.
“We are busting out of the seams here,” said Kristee Rajczi, a special education teacher at the school to the board. Rajczi currently teaches 42 special education students, which is past her threshold according to Diaz.
There are 66 students in the current sixth-grade class, so a third teacher was added this school year to create classrooms of 22, instead of 33 — the maximum classroom size county teachers are contracted to teach before they receive additional compensation.
Faculty has requested another teacher be added to next year’s fifth-grade class, as the current fourth-grade class has 61 students. Friday Harbor Elementary School Principal Diane Ball said teachers are moved between grades based on the classrooms needed, each year.
It would cost $3,000 to pay the contractional stipend, teachers receive to move classrooms, according to the presentation. It would be offset by eliminating the cost of hiring a bus driver and using busses to transport sixth-graders to the middle school at the end of the day for music and art classes.
Staff also requested a special education teacher be added to the middle school, which currently has one working part-time. The full-time teacher would cost $80,000.
If the move is approved, 18 special education current fifth- and sixth-grade students would move to the middle school, which would then have a total of 28 special education students. Ball said requests for additional special education teachers at the elementary school have been made, as they are needed whether the move is made or not.
Faculty also requested a new administrator for $51,000, a counselor for $35,000 and office staff for $11,000 at the middle school. Moving the grade and adding no additional faculty would cost nothing.
According to the presentation, in addition to smaller classroom sizes, positive outcomes of sixth grade moving to the middle school include access to:
• The middle school’s science labs and equipment, which the elementary school doesn’t have. The STEM lab is also located next door.
• Sixth-grade study club. Current sixth graders end their day at the middle school, but because most sixth grade teachers aren’t there, there is no after-school help like there is for seventh and eighth graders.
• Student support teams. At the middle school, each grade’s teachers meet about every three weeks to assess students.
Shannon Danskine, an elementary school teacher, spoke for the entire elementary school staff, during the public comment section.
“We know it’s best to reinstate the sixth-to-eighth-grade model,” said Danskine. “It’s better for the students academically, socially and emotionally.”
In 2009, the sixth grade moved to the elementary school when the middle school principal retired. The move saved the cost of that administrator, said Ball.
Board members asked about the option for portable classrooms, which staff said would cost up to $400,000, after buying the equipment, installing utilities and transporting them to Friday Harbor. Seventh-grade science teacher Darrin Scheffer recommended they didn’t use them due to the isolation they create. Ralph Hahn, vice chair of the board, agreed.
“No one is interested in portables,” said Hahn.
Board member Brent Snow thanked staff for their comprehensive plan but said there was not enough money in the current district’s budget to pay for the next school year, as state funding has not yet been determined.
The board will decide on the proposal at the next school board meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25 at the Friday Harbor High School library. Read next week’s paper for the results of that meeting.