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District sticks with two K-5 schools, slows enrollment equalization

Implementation adjusted for parent concerns


CONTRIBUTED GRAPHIC: ESTACADA SCHOOL DISTRICT - This map shows the new Clackamas River and River Mill boundaries approved by the school board on March 4.The Estacada School District is moving ahead with plans for two K-5 schools in the Clackamas River and River Mill Elementary buildings.

But public concerns with the plan have caused school leaders to make adjustments in the implementation of that plan.

In January, a planning committee of high school students, community members, parents, teachers and administrators recommended re-purposing Eagle Creek Elementary in favor of using Clackamas River and River Mill Elementary as kindergarten through fifth-grade schools and bumping sixth grade to Estacada Junior High School.

The Estacada School District Board of Directors approved the plan during its meeting Wednesday, March 4.

“The committee also made an impassioned plea to ensure that both elementary schools were equitable in size and resources, and to that end, the board changed the boundaries of the elementary attendance areas,” Superintendent Marla Stephenson explained.

However, tension built over the distribution of teachers and methods of balancing enrollment between the two elementary schools.

The district had originally planned to move 130 students and six teachers from Clackamas River to River Mill for the 2015-16 school year.

Stephenson said that as the plan unfolded, concerns surfaced and she decided to reconvene the committee for an April 20 meeting led by Scott Sullivan, incoming director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

A straw poll taken at the end of the meeting revealed a close split in committee members’ preference between two K-5 schools and one K-2 and the other 3-5, with eight for the former and 10 for the latter.

However, many members stated they could support either plan if implemented well.

Stephenson said she understood the anxiety that had surfaced and announced she is “slowing down equalizing the River Mill and Clackamas River enrollments.”

She said current Eagle Creek Elementary students and teachers will move to River Mill for the 2015-16 year.

For grades first through fourth next year, Stephenson said class sizes will be at 25 students and classrooms will be of “straight grades” — no blends.

To realize the plan, Stephenson said approximately 15 incoming first-graders (current kindergartners) will need to move from Clackamas River to River Mill Elementary; about 15 incoming second-graders (current first-graders) also will need to make the move, as will approximately 15 incoming third-graders (current second-graders).

Stephenson said no teachers from Clackamas River will move to River Mill.

“We will begin to equalize enrollment by using our new boundaries in kindergarten 2015-16,” Stephenson said. “I realize this approach will take a number of years to accomplish equalizing enrollment, but I feel that this will be (an) easier transition for families and staff.”

Clackamas River Elementary Principal Seth Johnson, in a letter to parents, said the district will honor voluntary transfer requests from Clackamas River to River Mill that have already been received.

The district also is reopening a voluntary request transfer opportunity.

Johnson invited parents and guardians of students in the new River Mill boundary to fill out a transfer request form by May 15.

If there are not enough volunteers to transfer, a lottery of Clackamas River students who live in the new River Mill boundary will be used. Parents of students selected for transfer will be notified after the lottery is conducted and written notification will be sent by May 22.

“As mentioned previously, keeping siblings together is a priority for our district,” Johnson said. “We will make every effort to keep siblings together at whichever school they are assigned.”

For questions on the process, citizens are invited to contact Johnson at johnsons@estacada.k12.or.us or 503-630-8552 or Eagle Creek Elementary Principal Dan Draper at draperd@estacada.k12.or.us or 503-630-8614.

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