No major changes proposed for next year

“Reconfiguration” is the hot button word for the Estacada School District these days.

Administrators and school board members alike have admitted that reconfiguring the district’s schools has been discussed as a sort of “catch-all” solution to the district’s problems over the last few years.

During the school board meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 12, a group of parents urged the school board to develop a long-term plan for the district and to make a decision about school reconfiguration prior to hiring a new superintendent.

At a special board meeting the following week, the Estacada principals made clear that they had developed a plan, but recently had been told to hold off on moving forward.

“If you’re talking about discussions of what to do next year and more permanently about how we best organize our district completely, we were working on that, at one time we were told to move forward and more recently, about a few weeks ago, we were told to stop movement, and you guys weren’t ready for us to discuss anymore or to go in that direction except for maybe with full-day kindergarten, and that was the last thing I remember being told by anybody,” said Scott Sullivan, Estacada High School.

School Board Chairman Rick Mudrow said results of a survey disseminated in January to measure the community’s long-term goals for the district indicated that it would not be advisable to move forward with closing Eagle Creek Elementary.

“No matter what decision we come to, half, or roughly going to think it’s the wrong decision,” Mudrow said in regard to the Eagle Creek Elementary building.

He cautioned that in the event of the closure of Eagle Creek, the district can’t afford to have the students who would have attended that school enroll in the Sandy School District rather than come into Estacada proper.

Mudrow added he felt it was “too far down the road” to be looking at significant changes for the next school year.

School Board Member Mark Greene said he saw potential in reconfiguration as a separate issue from which school buildings would be used, but the issues hadn’t been separated on the survey.

From the survey data, Greene indicated teachers had wanted to close Eagle Creek, the community didn’t, but parents were evenly split. Survey data has not yet been released to the public.

“Well, the buildings themselves are a separate discussion from the idea of teaching children in a reconfigured model,” Greene said.

Greene added that he was hesitant to make a decision on reconfiguration until the new superintendent is hired.

“We didn’t do a good job when we closed River Mill,” Greene said, hinting that while the board took that step in accordance with parents’ and teachers’ desires, they should have spent more time planning and crunching numbers.

Board Member Leslie Andre agreed and said there wasn’t “accountability for projections” with the closure of River Mill.

Eagle Creek Elementary Principal Dan Draper alluded to a recommended plan the administrators have developed, saying it gained momentum two years ago when Draper and Clackamas River Elementary Principal Seth Johnson were asked by Superintendent Howard Fetz to look into different elementary school reconfiguration options.

Draper said he understood wanting to wait to hire a superintendent before making a reconfiguration decision, but he wanted something to tell parents, staff and community members as to the future of the Eagle Creek Elementary building for the next school year.

“I’m at a point right now where if we’re going to not take action, I can live with that, I just want to know that that’s what we’re doing so I can tell staff, tell parents,” Draper said.

Following these discussions, Johnson and Draper shared a draft of the district administrators’ recommended five-year plan for the district with the Estacada News.

Reconfiguration, Draper and Johnson said, has long been on educators’ minds for how to improve the district.

As Clackamas River’s enrollment numbers climb and Eagle Creek’s dwindle, the discussions have taken on a new urgency.

(Clackamas River has 589 students currently enrolled; Johnson expects there will be around 600 students next year depending on how many new kindergarteners enroll. Eagle Creek has 263 students enrolled and expects to have 224 students as well as the unknown number of kindergarteners that enroll next year.)

“We feel this is something the board and the community want, our recommendation,” Johnson said.

Johnson explained that the district administrators developed this recommended plan after exhaustive consultations with teachers, staff, site councils, PTAs, parent groups and community members.

“We’re very open to feedback,” Johnson said.

Draper and Johnson emphasized that the plan is a recommendation, not necessarily what will actually happen with the district.

The administrators recommend that the district keep its current configuration for the 2014-15 school year; major changes wouldn’t occur until the following year.

For the 2015-16 year, they recommend that all incoming kindergarteners in the district be taught in the Clackamas River Elementary building and that sixth grade be housed in the junior high.

First through fifth-graders would continue to attend the elementary school they had attended the year before.

Johnson explained that the district will most likely begin teaching full-day kindergarten in the 2015-16 year.

That development would require more classroom space then would be available at Clackamas River unless sixth grade moved to the junior high.

With kindergarten moving to Clackamas River, Eagle Creek would have space available to lease.

For the 2016-17 year, the administrators recommend another major change: that Clackamas River house all of the district’s kindergarteners and first-graders.

By the 2017-18 year, the principals recommend establishing Clackamas River as the district’s primary school and River Mill as the district’s intermediate school.

Eagle Creek would have space available to lease and could perhaps house other educational or special services programs.

With the principals recommended model for the 2017-18 year, Clackamas River would teach all district kindergarteners through second graders and River Mill would house all district third through fifth graders.

This new model; Clackamas River as the district’s primary school, River Mill as an intermediate school and sixth through eighth-graders at the junior high, would continue in the 2018-19 year.

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