I am concerned with the action that the Ocean Beach School District may make in addressing the “anomaly” of overcrowding at Hilltop school. (I borrow the term anomaly from Interim Superintendent Scott Fenter, who used that term to describe the current crowded conditions.)
In attending the meeting that the OBSD scheduled in Ocean Park, we were informed of some potentially drastic changes that might be enacted in response to this “anomaly.” An anomaly is something “that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.” Hilltop school has an unusual number of kids in one grade — 97 — which greatly contributes to the problem.
Once those children have moved through the system, there is no evidence that the overcrowding is systemic. Making drastic changes to address an anomaly seems to be reactive, rather than proactive.
Hilltop currently services children in the grades 5 through 8. The U.S. Department of Education defines a middle school as a school with no grade lower than five and no grade higher than eight; in that sense, Hilltop certainly qualifies as a true “middle school” — to use the term found in a Chinook Observer piece on this subject. The only source I could find for the constituency of middle schools in the USA reported that approximately 10 percent of U.S. middle schools consisted of grades 5 through 8.
It became clear at the Ocean Park meeting that several options to the district’s problems had not been considered by the study group, including the possible availability of extra buildings adjacent to Ocean Park School or the addition of portable classrooms to the Hilltop campus where the overcrowding problem exists.
Further, the district had apparently completely overlooked adjusting the elementary school boundaries to address the change in population that has affected the Long Beach and Ocean Park schools. This is a common and traditional method used to address changes in a district’s population characteristics. (I have a grandson, in Moxee, Wash., who lives three blocks from Moxee Elementary and is bused several miles away, to another elementary school. His bus passes Moxee Elementary!)
It appeared to me that an important group of stakeholders were left out of this process: the parents of children attending our schools. While the needs of educators and administrators were certainly given ample consideration, the needs of parents and children may not have been as adequately addressed. Certainly, other options (boundaries, portables at Hilltop, etc.) would have been at least considered, had those stakeholders been consulted.
As is, this process seems heavy-handed and one-sided. Especially since the community was given little opportunity to participate.
We were told the district plans to decide on a plan of action on Jan. 23, less than two weeks after the poorly publicized meeting on Jan. 7, which was the first time many of us had heard of the potentially drastic changes under consideration.
I will finish on this note: one of the “wacky” ideas that the district did endorse was the suggestion that busing kids would remove “the social split” between Ocean Park and Long Beach kids. Let me say, I am opposed to busing kids miles from their homes and families to pursue social change. My observation has been that the division between these communities is driven by the adults.
I know a teacher from Ocean Park who taught school in Long Beach and found that some of her peers in that school were just as guilty of expressing negative comments about Ocean Park kids, as are many of the townspeople. Any change will come only when the adults in our communities set a good example for our kids.