Hilltop crowd

Hilltop School has been dealing with overcrowding almost since it was remodeled more than a decade ago. The school district is again wrestling with how to best allocate Peninsula school children between its four campuses.

PENINSULA — If you have a child who attends school on the Peninsula, you’re likely to see major changes this upcoming school year.

Ocean Beach School District officials are considering reconfiguring the district as a way to address overcrowding at Hilltop Middle School.

“At this point, Hilltop is more crowded than we can make room for,” said Amy Huntley, the district’s director of student learning and Ocean Beach Alternative School principal. “We just keep growing.”

The district is considering neighborhood and feeder school models.

There’s also a chance that things may stay the same.

“We could find a way to keep things the same but it’s not going to be pretty and it’s not going to be good for our [grades] 5-8 students,” Huntley said.

Imperfect solutions

Interim Superintendent Scott Fenter will soon present his suggested solution to the Ocean Beach School District Board of Directors. The board will approve one of the solutions for the 2019-2020 school year.

“There’s not going to be a perfect solution to our overcrowding at Hilltop,” Fenter said.

“We’re going to end up making the best of some imperfect decisions.”

The district needs a solution that is sustainable for “at least a few years,” can be carried out for the 2019-2020 school year, and is cost effective. The district can’t use a solution that requires a levy, bond or added costs to ongoing operations, Huntley said.

“The solution we’re looking at would be for quite some time,” Huntley said.

Previous district configurations included having grades 7-12 at Hilltop in 2009, 6-8 at Hilltop in 2015, and 5-8 at Hilltop in 2016.

Hilltop currently has about 330 students and Ilwaco High School has 300. There are about 380 students in grades K-4.

Neighborhood schools

The district is considering “neighborhood schools” options where students would go to a school close to where they live. This option is similar to how the district operates.

There are a few different possibilities for neighborhood schools:

• First, both elementary schools could be K-4, Hilltop 5-7, and IHS 8-12.

•Second, both elementary schools could be K-4, Hilltop 5-6, and IHS 7-12.

• Third, both elementary schools could be K-3, Hilltop 4-6, and IHS 7-12.

Each of the three models poses problems to the district. A complete remodel of the wing at IHS used for Boys & Girls Club would be needed. Staffing and curriculum issues would arise. The Boys & Girls Club would be displaced through the model.

There also wouldn’t be a “real” middle school in the district, as middle schoolers would be at the high school.

IHS would be large while Ocean Park Elementary would be too small to be viable through these models, Huntley said.

“We don’t want to close Ocean Park but we also want enough kids here for it to be a viable school,” Huntley said.

Some of the pros of the neighborhood schools model include keeping neighborhood schools, not changing bussing, having space for 8th graders, less change for students and staff, not affecting athletics, and one less transition year for students.

Feeder schools

Another potential solution is feeder schools, where students start in kindergarten together and travel through the district together through graduation.

This option could look two different ways:

• The first option would make Long Beach Elementary a K-2 school; OPE 3-5; Hilltop 6-8; and IHS 9-12.

• The second option would make LBE a K-2 school; OPE 3-4; Hilltop 5-7; and IHS 8-12.

The first option requires an additional room at OPE, Huntley said. Community members at the Ocean Park meeting suggested purchasing a portable to be added to the campus. Fenter said a portable isn’t out of the question but expressed concern over finding space on OPE’s campus.

According to Huntley, some of the pros of this option include removing the social split between Ocean Park and Long Beach kids; not harming athletics; more support for staff; more of a flexible grouping of students; less costs for library and curriculum; technology being easier to handle; and fewer split classes.

If the first option is selected, where Hilltop would be grades 6-8 and IHS 9-12, the district would have a true middle and high school, no remodeling of IHS would be needed, IHS would have room to grow, and all district schools would be around the same size and viability.

Cons of the feeder schools model include adding the additional classroom at OPE, having big changes throughout the district during the first year, longer bus rides for some students, losing community-based schools, conferences for parents with multiple kids and possibly decreasing some parent involvement.

Other options?

A district committee considered what Huntley called “wacky ideas,” which were decided wouldn’t be feasible.

These ideas included: merging OBSD with Naselle-Grays River Valley School District, buying the Grays Harbor College Ilwaco campus, putting 12th graders in an elementary school building, enclosing covered spaces at the elementary schools to create more classrooms, adding portables to Hilltop, building another floor at the elementary schools, building another campus, and finding other configurations.

As district officials don’t want to add additional costs or request money for a reconfiguration plan, all of the “wacky ideas” didn’t make it to the final list.

The district’s Board of Directors will likely make a decision this month on what move the district will go forward with.

Alyssa Evans is a staff writer for the Chinook Observer. Contact her at 360-642-8181 or aevans@chinookobserver.com

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