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Beaverton committee sticks to high school boundary map

Members give superintendent options for younger students to remain at familiar schools.

TIMES PHOTO: ERIC APALATEGUI - Abby McLaughlin, 6, holds up a sign supporting her elementary school, where the current student body would be sent to two different high schools under a recommendation sent to the superintendent for consideration. 'She'd like everybody to be able to stay together,' said her mother, Cheryl McLaughlin. However, a coming process to redraw elementary school boundaries potentially could also affect schools including Oak Hills.The committee charged with recommending new attendance boundaries for Beaverton’s high schools ultimately held firm on map they drew two weeks ago, leaving many in the audience Thursday night unhappy.

But the parents and principals serving on the panel threw some possible lifelines to those students who might otherwise be forced to switch high schools in 2017, when new boundaries take effect with the opening of a sixth large high school.

Now the final decision is up to Superintendent Jeff Rose, whose own children’s boundaries soon will change even more dramatically – across the United States to suburban Atlanta, where Rose is expected to take over a larger school district on June 1.

Rose could accept or tweak the committee’s proposals on both the boundary map and transition plans for those students facing moves due to the new boundaries.

Some parents are still holding out hope that Rose or even the Beaverton School Board will override the committee. Among them were several parents and students waving signs with messages including “Stop Ignoring Safety” for much of the three-hour meeting.

TIMES PHOTO: ERIC APALATEGUI - Kristine Larson is one of many residents in the West Tualatin View Elementary area who want their children to attend nearby Sunset High School instead of being forced to travel down Highway 217 or other busy routes to Beaverton High School.The safety message, especially, has been a rallying cry for families living north of Sunset Highway who are miffed that the committee recommends sending them to Beaverton High School instead of nearby Sunset High School, a move they contend forces buses and young drivers down unsafe routes.

Parents in several neighborhoods across the district are equally connected to their current high schools and wary of changes that will affect thousands of families.

Whatever Rose’s version of the plan is, he likely will bring it to the Beaverton School Board for discussion at one or both of the board’s next two business meetings, planned April 25 and May 16, district spokeswoman Maureen Wheeler said.

However, under the board-approved procedure, the decision ultimately is Rose’s to make, said Wheeler, who believes Rose will try as much as possible to honor the committee’s recommendation.

On the transition plans, the committee asked Rose to consider whether it would be feasible to allow many students who will be sophomores in September 2017 the option of staying at the school they entered as freshmen rather than attending schools they would be assigned with new boundaries.

The committee already had voted to recommend that Rose keep both the senior and junior classes at their current high schools, meaning the newest school under construction in the South Cooper Mountain neighborhood would open in 18 months with only freshmen and sophomores.

However, allowing a class of sophomores to also remain in place comes with potential staffing and academic program uncertainties – not to mention prolonged crowding at some schools – would ripple across at least three school years, according to some of the principals on the committee.

"I can't imagine trying to build an academic program not knowing how many kids I'm going to have," said Mike Chamberlain, the district administrator who oversees high school programs and former Westview High School principal.

Nevertheless, all but two committee members voted to at least let Rose take a swing at a solution for that 2017-18 school year’s sophomores.

The committee also suggested that Rose consider allowing students who are freshmen by 2019 to attend the same school as an older sibling still enrolled there, even if a boundary revision placed the younger child in another school’s attendance area.

The principals on the committee said that the sibling transition concept is easier to handle than giving options to an entire sophomore class, in part because it’s easier to forecast with enough planning time and also because they already have administrative policies that can let siblings stay together.

District residents have submitted written comments by the many thousands during this process, which started in earnest last fall. Many also have provided their own suggested maps they believe better balance the district's students than the committee's solutions.

Near the start of Thursday's meeting, committee members huddled up to once again consider nixing a boundary line that creates an odd finger of Aloha High School territory stretching up to Sunset Highway. They also looked again at a smaller area near Jacob Wismer Elementary School, but in the end they held the lines in both areas.

And while many of the parents filling the meetings have asked that the committee strongly consider travel and safety, it has less often been a topic of debate among members than issues such as neighborhood and school unity, income and racial equity and, especially, school capacities.

Committee members noted repeatedly that several of the criteria they were using to help build new high school boundaries directly conflicted with other criteria.

And member Kathi Kister, a Westview parent, said that even their best shot may soon not be enough in the fast-growing schools, with at least Westview and Sunset projected to be near capacity again by 2020.

"I'm worried," she said. "I see the houses popping up daily and I see the new students coming into our schools daily."

Jason Cowart, a parent in one of the neighborhoods where students would move from Sunset High to Beaverton High with the recommended boundary, said they are not willing to give up.

"We'll reach out to every member of the board" and also work to rally the wider community, he said after the meeting. "We'll see how that goes."

Cowart, in a sentiment echoed by others, was disappointed that Rose still will make the decision even though it will be one of his final acts as superintendent. He said Rose is now "unaccountable to the community" and he would rather have the school board take over the task.

But Wheeler, the district spokeswoman, said Rose is dedicated to fulfilling the task of setting new boundaries and transition plans as assigned and won't let his pending departure affect those decisions, which already were scheduled to be completed before he leaves Beaverton.

However, it will be someone else's job to make the final call on the elementary school boundary process beginning this spring and a future effort to realign middle school attendance areas before 2020.

Wrapping up, most of the committee members noted how difficult their task was, with no solution that pleases everyone.

Todd Corsetti, now principal at Southridge High School who was a teacher there after it opened in the late 1990s, said transitions to new schools are always difficult in the short term, but that students and families always adapt.

Offering some parting words as the committee wrapped up its last formal meeting, he said the process reinforced his belief that all Beaverton schools are strong.

"Any school that any of our kids go to will be a fantastic experience," he said.

View the recommended high school boundary map here

By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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