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Superintendent recommends K-6 Columbia City School

School would serve Columbia City, Deer Island families

Photo Credit: MARK MILLER - St. Helens School District Superintendent Mark Davalos (left) reads from a report on the shuttered Columbia City School at a school board meeting Wednesday, Dec. 17. Davalos is recommending the school reopen as an elementary school for kindergarten through sixth grade.Mark Davalos, superintendent of the St. Helens School District, bucked the wishes expressed by respondents to a public survey earlier this fall Wednesday, Dec. 17, to recommend that the district reopen Columbia City School as a comprehensive elementary school.

Davalos’ recommendation that Columbia City serve kindergarten through sixth grade came despite the results of a survey the district distributed online and through its schools last month. Forty-two percent of 426 people who ranked their preferences from among five options presented on the survey said their top choice would be to return Columbia City to the configuration it had before it was shuttered in 2012: serving only sixth grade.

Davalos acknowledged that many students, parents and teachers have fond memories of the sixth-grade-only Columbia City School.

“A return to this configuration would not be frightful,” he said, “and many support how well students were attended [to] while they were there.”

However, Davalos said he prefers a model in which kindergarten through sixth grade are educated under the same roof — the second-most popular option for Columbia City School among survey respondents.

“I believe that our K-6 schools serve our students well,” he said. “Families can focus on relationships for more years, and teachers can pass and share vital information from class to class and pod to pod. ... We build longer-lasting relationships with parents, and students are much better known and attended to.”

Davalos added, “I am a firm believer that this model gives our students a better chance to succeed.”

Under Davalos’ proposal, Columbia City School would serve families in Columbia City and Deer Island.

“A K-6 at Columbia City would be seen as a community neighborhood school for students who will attend there,” he said.

Two school board members at Wednesday’s meeting voiced skepticism of the recommendation. Marshall Porter and Kellie Smith pointed out that under the proposal, most of Columbia City’s students would be taken from Lewis & Clark Elementary School rather than McBride Elementary School.

“You’re kind of setting up one school to fail by pulling those students out,” Porter argued.

Davalos disagreed.

“There are lots of evidence of districts and schools that have had even greater challenges than at Lewis & Clark that have been able to raise achievement and raise school involvement and support,” Davalos said.

Davalos also said the district will move some programs from McBride to Lewis & Clark to free up classroom space at the former school.

The school district is slated to implement full-day kindergarten next year. Davalos said his proposed configuration for Columbia City School would make room for those classes.

According to Davalos’ report to the board, reopening Columbia City as a K-6 elementary school would cost between $227,000 and $362,000.

Porter and Smith argued, however, those estimates do not take into account additional costs the district might incur in adding support for Lewis & Clark.

Davalos said the school district saved about $150,000 when it closed Columbia City after the 2011-12 school year.

Porter said he believes changing the school boundaries as Davalos suggested would leave Lewis & Clark with a greater proportion of students in the free and reduced lunch program — a common measure of poverty within student populations — than it currently has. He said moving families from Columbia City and elsewhere would create a “vacuum” at Lewis & Clark.

The school board is scheduled to discuss the Columbia City School issue in more detail at its Jan. 14 work session. It is expected to vote on the final configuration of the school on Jan. 28.

The board agreed this summer that it wants the school to be reopened in time for the 2015-16 school year, regardless of its configuration.