The Kent School District has made a lot of controversial decisions lately.
First, they banned all international trips for students for school functions, which included canceling Kentlake High School’s band trip to Victoria, British Columbia. Then, the school district implemented a spending and hiring freeze due to urgent budget concerns. And recently, the school district released a new Learning First schedule that aims to improve student education.
In April, the school district reported financial planning shortcomings, instituting an immediate spending freeze, blaming it on lack of funding from the McCleary decision and lower-than-expected enrollment. This was a huge surprise, a disruption to teachers and impacted student learning as the after-school tutoring (learning labs) at Kentridge High School was cut.
Meanwhile, the Learning First schedule intends to give teachers more room for collaboration and meetings, with a move from nine late-start days per year to 35 early dismissal dates, which is an increase of more than 200 percent. The schedule has elementary school kids leaving late in the afternoon with no corresponding increase to recess or lunches, and has no set agendas as to how teachers and administrators will use the time efficiently.
Members of the Kent School Board of Directors are not directly accountable for all of these actions. The school board works with the Superintendent, Calvin Watts, who implements the district’s policies and procedures and runs the day-to-day operations.
The school board is responsible for the controversial decisions of the Learning First schedule and budget freeze that was implemented because the superintendent is accountable to the school board and implements these policies. However, they did not vote on the Learning First schedule. According to the agendas of the board meetings, the Learning First schedule has only been mentioned twice and was not voted upon.
The schedule was negotiated between the Kent Education Association (teacher’s union) and the school district. The school board directors received updates about the ongoing negotiations, but had no say or vote over the schedule as it was subject to the discussions of the KEA. There are many different aspects to decisions and changes in the school district, and there is more than one party involved, including Watts and his cabinet, which rolled out the new Learning First schedule and signed the letter that was sent to the community.
It is undeniable that the school district has a major problem with efficient communication, exemplified by the fact that the school district did not hold any town hall meetings for the Learning First schedule. They did have town halls for the spending and hiring freeze that was implemented.
When I asked several of my teachers at Kentridge about this, they said that they didn’t know that this new Learning First schedule was occurring. It was wrong to leave out all the non-union teachers, parents, students and other members of the community. It was also wrong for the school board to not hold town halls on the Learning First schedule, and it was also not right for the school district to not prepare for the effects of the Learning First schedule, such as providing childcare options for the 26 new early release days, before the Learning First schedule was released.
Being so large and diverse, the Kent School District has many challenges that make it difficult to come up with a plan fitting the needs of all students and their families. However, its size means there are hundreds of employees and many different people operating behind the curtains, which means it is harder in fixing accountability and communication issues.
While the school district needs to better understand and adapt to the needs of the community, putting all the blame of the board of directors is not right. Instead, the blame and accountability of most of these developments rest on Watts and his cabinet.
Austin Freeman, a junior at Kentridge High School, is involved in student government (ASB) and the Kentridge Chapter of Junior Statesman of America. He is serving as the budget director and second-year council member for the Washington Legislative Youth Advisory Council, and is also a former Senate Page.