At the regular Board of Directors meeting on February 27, Ridgefield School District’s Boundary & Start Time Committee presented a proposal regarding changes to the district’s school boundaries and school start times to take effect in 2018-2019.
The district, realizing that adjustments to boundaries and start times are necessary to serve continued rapid growth and the opening of new schools, formed the committee in fall, 2017. The 15-member committee is comprised of district and school administrators, KWRL transportation representatives, teachers representing each school, and parents representing each school. Work began even before the committee’s first meeting on October 30.
On September 15, the district made available a survey requesting feedback that would assist the committee in establishing the core values and principles necessary to guide the decision-making process. An unprecedented 725 responses were received, including 613 from parents (84.6%) and 112 from staff (15.4%).
Based on responses tallied from the Agree and Strongly Agree columns of the survey, the results identified the top five core values that would direct the committee’s work:
- School start times that optimize learning (89%)
- Increase in transportation efficiency (80%)
- Age-appropriate transportation (77%)
- Reduction in ride time on transportation (72%)
- Maximize neighborhood schools (69%)
“I feel like the work we did as a committee was focused, genuine, and sincere toward our mission of making the best decision for our community,” said committee member Nick Allen, a parent and Ridgefield High School teacher. “I sincerely believe that the work we did as a committee will help the Ridgefield School District continue to be successful as our community grows.”
Proposed School Start Times
9:05 – 3:35 South Ridge Elementary and Union Ridge Elementary (both K-4)
8:05 – 2:35 Sunset Ridge Intermediate (5-6) and View Ridge Middle School (7-8)
8:00 – 2:45 Ridgefield High School (9-12)
The committee spent hours reviewing and debating research and best practices, always keeping the five core values in mind. Committee member Georgianna Jones appreciated the variety of roles represented by committee members from throughout the Ridgefield community. “This fostered a variety of valuable perspectives,” she said. “Our conversations were data-driven, informative, thoughtful and sensitive to our overall goal of making the best decision we could with the interests of our students and community front and center.”
The committee reviewed research from expert organizations that included American Automobile Association, Centers for Disease Control, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with student achievement and attendance data from Ridgefield High School and first-hand experiences from school districts who made start time changes. While studies recommend ideal secondary school start times between 8:30 – 9:00 a.m., student achievement and attendance data at RHS indicated that the current start time is serving students well. The committee expressed concern that unnecessarily moving the secondary schools start times even later would have negative unintended consequences. Adjusting the school day still later into the afternoon would increase the number of students leaving school early for academic, athletic, and other extra-curricular events on a regular basis.
“We take great pride in the fact that such a high percentage of our students participate in at least one after school activity. These opportunities are foundational to the overall educational experience we aspire to ensure for every student,” said Christen Palmer, RHS principal and a member of the committee.
Palmer noted additional considerations. “If we were to move our start time back an hour, it would not only mean that approximately 49% of our students would have increased absences in their fifth and sixth period classes, but our teachers, who are our advisors and coaches, would require substitutes, impacting student learning for every child.”
“We encourage our students to be involved in extracurricular activities in order to stay connected to school,” Palmer continued. “The research is overwhelmingly positive that students who are involved in at least one extracurricular activity have better overall academic performance. In the same vein, we encourage our staff members to stay connected to our students and build positive relationships outside of their classrooms, through being advisors and coaches.”
The proposed start time for elementary level schools was determined based on the core value for age-appropriate transportation. Currently, K-12 students ride buses together. This has been a district concern, shared by many parents for some time. By adjusting elementary students (K-4) to one start time (9:05 am) and secondary students (5-6, 7-8 and 9-12) to a different start time (8:00 am or 8:05 am), this core value is achieved.
KWRL Transportation will be able to increase age-appropriate transportation even further. Approximately 50% of the bus runs for Sunset Ridge/View Ridge and RHS will only transport students from their school site. That means that half of all Sunset Ridge and View Ridge students will be transported on buses that only serve grades 5-8.
To accommodate the need for daycare in advance of this start time change, the district is working with Educational Service District 112’s Southwest Washington Child Care Consortium (SWCCC) to increase availability. SWCCC currently provides daycare in Ridgefield schools. In addition to increasing spots through SWCCC, the Ridgefield School District is working with Ridgefield High School to start a Child Development Center. While it will be limited to a small number of students in the initial pilot program that starts next year, the district is determined to grow the program, increasing the number of students served.
The committee also focused on the core value of reducing student ride time. The proposal reduces ride time in a variety of ways. Transporting K-4 students on their own bus will save 15 minutes of ride time since buses will not need to drive from elementary sites to Sunset Ridge (saving approximately 7-8 minutes) and load Sunset Ridge students (saving an additional 7 minutes). Overall, K-4 students will experience the shortest ride times among the grade levels.
Proposed Boundary Shift
The committee is proposing to move students residing in the carve-out in the Pioneer Canyon subdivision region back to Union Ridge. Years ago, these neighborhoods were shifted to the South Ridge boundary area due to lack of space at Union Ridge. The adjustment created transportation inefficiencies and reduced neighborhood school attendance. Returning the carve-out to their neighborhood school will increase transportation efficiency and adhere to the core value of neighborhood school attendance.
Nearly 800 new homes are currently planned for construction behind Ridgefield High School, on both sides of Royle Road and south of the new 5-8 campus. If boundaries were not adjusted, students moving into these subdivisions would have added to the rapidly-expanding enrollment at Union Ridge, which is already one of the state’s ten largest elementary schools.
The committee proposes a northward shift (Phase I on map) in the boundary between South Ridge and Union Ridge. This shift moves newer developments from the Union Ridge boundary area into the South Ridge boundary area, balancing school attendance zones.
The district realizes the challenges associated with boundary adjustments and the impact they have on students. To prevent current third graders from moving to a new elementary school for their final year, the district will automatically approve boundary exceptions. This will allow next-year’s fourth grade students to remain in their current school if they so choose. The district will also continue to allow all students to apply for in-district boundary exceptions. To ensure operational efficiencies and create greater equity, the committee recommends adhering to the expectation that student transportation is the responsibility of parents and guardians for all in-district boundary exceptions.
Looking ahead, a Phase II boundary shift will be needed when the district’s third elementary school (proposed for the east side of the I-5 freeway) is opened. The new elementary boundary will balance elementary student populations among all three sites as well as maximize neighborhood school attendance.
“Ridgefield is such a special, close-knit community. I’m excited that our youngest students will be able to continue the tradition of maintaining community in neighborhood elementary schools,” said Georgianna Jones.
The Boundary & Start Time Committee adhered to the district’s commitment to engage with the community, gather feedback, and utilize a deliberative decision-making process. Individuals serving on the committee were required to make a serious time commitment.
“I am so proud of each and every one of our committee members. I want to thank them for their time, effort, thoughtful consideration and reflective conversations,” said Assistant Superintendent Chris Griffith. “We were charged with a very difficult task. The committee was driven to find a balanced solution that will enhance the Ridgefield School District for years to come.”
Committee member Jenifer Goss reflected on her experience. “I learned a lot and definitely have a greater understanding of how the district makes decisions. I saw first-hand how much the district values community input and doesn’t make hasty decisions without doing the work.”
The school board is expected to take action on the committee’s recommendations on Tuesday, March 13 at their next scheduled Board of Directors meeting.
For more information about the work completed by Ridgefield School District’s Boundary & Start Time Committee, visit their webpage at http://www.ridgefieldsd.org/boundary-start-time-committee.