Reeves Middle School parents question proposed downsizing
By Lorilyn C. Lirio
Parents have expressed concern over the proposed staff cuts at Reeves Middle School in Olympia, saying the cuts would have an extraordinarily high and unfair impact on students.
“The elimination of nearly three full-time employees at Reeves is a painful and palpable loss,” Rochelle Potter said in her written comment submitted and read at the Olympia School District (OSD) meeting on Thursday, May 26. .
Potter, whose two children attend Reeves Middle School, criticized the OSD’s decision. She accused the district of tripling its headquarters staff and then prioritizing the elimination of nearly three full-time teaching positions at the school to address budget issues.
According to Executive Director of Communications and Community Relations, Susan Gifford, OSD has hired 66 employees who have acted as Family Liaison Officers serving students and families over the past three years.
“These are not people who work in the district office. They work in schools,” Gifford told Shaking in an email.
She added that the 66 employees are instructional coaches who work directly with teachers in schools on instructional practices. “Instructional coaches are teachers, not administrators.”
Gifford also shared that the district has hired 8.4 employees. Four of them are district administrations, which have a role of coordination and supervision of personnel. Others are supervisors in schools or technical staff, accountants and human resource personnel.
Librarian position Reeves
Potter pointed out that the district’s plan to cut 2.7 FTE (full-time equivalent) positions at Reeves Middle School would mean cutting a teacher-librarian position and moving a social studies teacher who currently teaches 6th and 8th grades.
Potter added that this would also mean that five periods would be condensed into four periods and class sizes would increase significantly.
“Eliminating the teacher-librarian position means Reeves will be the only school in the district without a teacher-librarian,” Potter noted. “Students will not have access to the collaborative enrichment, instruction, and resources that a qualified and experienced teacher-librarian can provide.”
Gifford refuted the parents’ claim, saying the stipend for a teacher-librarian at Reeves Middle School remains the same.
Reeves Middle School teacher-librarian Emily Waugh participated in public comments at the meeting, saying the district’s proposal would mean an 11% reduction in the school’s 25-member teaching staff. Current enrollment at Reeves is 373 students in grades 6, 7 and 8.
“It’s brutal and it brings Reeves closer to a breaking point,” Waugh said, adding “how can even the most distinguished teachers confidently and competently carry out this vital work of fairness in a classroom of more than 30 students? In other words, they cannot.
Increase class size
Waugh said class size is a matter of fairness.
“I am encouraged to see OSD developing a fairness policy, [but] impending school staff cuts undermine these efforts,” Waugh commented.
Waugh reminded OSD officials that research has firmly established the link between class size and student achievement.
“Smaller class sizes allow for greater flexibility, engagement or enrichment, more nurturing student-teacher relationships, critical differentiation, accommodations, timely student support, and vital culturally appropriate approaches in the classroom “, pointed out Waugh.
Another parent, Melanie Webb, also questioned the district’s proposal to cut the school’s teaching staff. “I’m also concerned that such cuts will force more parents to take their children out of the public district and seek alternative education,” she said in an email she sent to OSD.
Jennifer Huntley, who has two children in grades 7 and 6 enrolled at Reeves the upcoming school year, claimed in her email that OSD’s staffing level has tripled “despite little or no evidence that district-level staffing improves student outcomes.”
“We should not be in a position where we are cutting basic and vital services that directly impact students while developing and expanding the Central District office,” Huntley said.
Huntley said public school children face a crisis on many levels. “They are stressed, anxious and falling behind. At this time, we must put all the resources we can to support all students in school. We urge you to review positions at the district office level ahead of the cuts at Reeves Middle School which will undoubtedly have an immediate and long-term impact on students.
“The reduction in staff allocations to schools for SY 2022-23 is directly related to resizing staff using our historical staff ratios, but adjusted for declining enrollment,” Gifford said.
Gifford said the average annual enrollment at OSD in the 2019-2020 school year was 9,678. They projected that for the 2022-23 school year, student enrollment would be 8,985 , a reduction of 693 pupils.
“The number of Olympia SD enrollments for the current school year was lower than expected, resulting in reduced class sizes. Olympia has seen a reduction of around 5% in registrations since the start of the pandemic,” added Gifford.
“Even with the resizing of staff allocation across the district, at the K-3 level, average teacher-student ratios will meet the state mandate of one class and one specialist teacher for every 17 students,” Gifford said in his email.
“We are projecting a Grade 4 and 5 ratio of 1 teacher to 25.8 students,” Gifford added. “We project secondary ratios of 1 teacher per 27.4 students (higher at secondary level and lower at middle level).”
At the elementary level, Gifford said, the projected number of students results in a reduction of 14 teaching positions. At the secondary level, the projected number of students translates into a reduction of 12.6 teaching positions.
According to Gifford, the district has seen a higher number of resignations and retirements this year. “Therefore, any reductions will be absorbed by these vacancies and any teachers on permanent contracts who would like a position next year will be employed by the district.”
OSD Superintendent Patrick Murphy clarified that the district is proposing downsizing due to declining enrollment. “We don’t make any cuts because of a budget [situation].”
Murphy said he would work with Reeves principal Aaron Davis to discuss the library situation and other things. “Every student deserves to have an exceptional educational experience.”