Stock photo

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Kent School Board approves new elementary school boundaries

Board votes down plan to move sixth graders to middle schools in 2022 until further discussion

The Kent School Board unanimously approved boundary changes at seven elementary schools to populate the new River Ridge Elementary in the fall, but turned down a revised staff proposal to shift sixth graders to middle schools for 2022-2023 until further discussion and more details are known.

The five-member board agreed at its Wednesday, Feb. 10 meeting to adjust boundaries at Neely-O’Brien, Kent, Springbrook, Panther Lake, East Hill, Meadow Ridge and Scenic Hill elementary schools. River Ridge is under construction at 22420 Military Road S., and scheduled to be completed this summer.

The board also voted to begin conversion of the current Kent Phoenix Academy/Kent Mountain View Academy building into a middle school facility and to examine educational program equity, alignment and continuum of services.

“I can support the first part of the motion, we can do that,” board member Leslie Hamada said prior to the vote. “But I raised 17 points (about the full plan) after our last meeting, and 12 of those are still unanswered …I see no reason why we have to rush.”

Hamada said she would like a work session to further study moving sixth graders from elementary schools to middle schools. She also wants the community to be more involved with the proposed changes.

The board voted on Jan. 27 against a proposed boundary review recommended by Kent School District administration staff and the Florida-based MGT Consulting Group. The proposal included boundary changes for numerous schools due to a new elementary school opening in the fall as well as moving sixth graders to middle schools this fall to create more room in overcrowded elementary schools.

Many parents told the board they opposed the shifting of sixth graders this fall because students have spent the last year in remote learning due to COVID-19 and the change would be too abrupt for kids who were in the fourth grade when schools shut down last March.

The staff on Feb. 10 again recommended moving sixth-grade students from elementary schools to middle schools, but in the fall of 2022 rather than 2021. Staff also recommended to adjust boundaries as proposed by MGT in the final report to divide the district into four distinct feeder patterns/strands to keep students together from elementary school through high school and to balance enrollment.

The district plans to use the former Sequoia Junior High, 11000 SE 264th St., as a new middle school. That school currently houses Kent Phoenix Academy and Kent Mountain View Academy, but those students will move in the fall to the new Kent Laboratory Academy under construction on the southwest corner of 108th Avenue Southeast and Southeast 208th Street, at the site of the former Panther Lake Elementary.

Board member Michele Bettinger said that she wanted to see a financial analysis of the proposed changes.

“What will it cost to update Sequoia?” Bettinger said. “I haven’t seen any cost proposals, about extra staffing. …I’m trying to understand why we haven’t gotten any cost analysis.”

Board member Maya Vengadasalam said she had concerns about the conversion of the Kent Phoenix Academy as well and didn’t see the need rush the vote on moving sixth graders to middle schools.

“I’m still wondering why we need to vote today,” she said. “We can move ahead with the first section (for the new elementary school boundaries).”

New board member

The board swore in Joe Bento as a new member. He was appointed by the board to replace Leah Bowen as the District 1 director. Bowen resigned in December after one year into her four-year term.

Bento, a Renton High School teacher, will serve in the appointed role until the next regularly scheduled school board election in November. He is eligible to run for the seat.

Bento voted no for the original motion of changes as presented, and he abstained from the revised motion to approve the boundary changes.

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