Update on school boundaries committee work

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear staff, students and families,
I want to share an update regarding our attendance areas, also known as school boundaries.  We have a 40-member advisory group, the Attendance Areas PreK-12 Standing Committee, that includes staff, parents, principals and representatives from the city of Bellingham. This group has been examining data, maps, growth projections and enrollment districtwide to help determine how to best accommodate growth in the northern part of our city and balance our schools, particularly those that are over capacity: Shuksan Middle School and Silver Beach and Cordata elementary schools.

Some of you may have met members of the committee at a recent school or neighborhood meeting. You can read key notes from these meetings here. Representatives from the committee will continue to engage our community over the coming months as they refine scenarios that would adjust the district’s elementary and middle school boundaries.

The committee has not yet made any formal recommendations to change school attendance areas, but I’m hoping to receive a recommendation this spring.

For context, in 2017 this committee recommended changes to attendance areas for Bellingham and Squalicum high schools and Alderwood, Cordata, Parkview and Northern Heights elementary schools. This is a standing committee that convenes from time to time to consider our district’s needs and growth. Since early 2018, the group turned its focus to middle school attendance areas, because Shuksan Middle School is very full, and significant growth continues on the north side of Bellingham. Because there can be a ripple effect when we shift an attendance area for one school, it’s likely that this committee will recommend revising all four of our middle schools’ attendance areas. At the same time, the committee is looking at potential changes to elementary boundaries, including Silver Beach Elementary due to issues related to overcrowding.

The advisory committee is also working on recommending boundary adjustments for the three elementary schools scheduled to be rebuilt (thanks to the passage of the bond in Feb. 2018). Alderwood, Parkview and Sunnyland will all have increased capacity to help with north end growth when they are completed. We anticipate having all three rebuilt by 2022.

The attendance areas committee considers factors in policy 3130 to shape its forthcoming recommendations to me. You’ll notice some of the factors are contradictory and none are prioritized. Numbers and enrollment are important, and so is the make-up of our schools’ population. We believe the committee has an opportunity to bring more balance and diversity to our schools, especially as it relates to the socioeconomic background of our families.  This is challenging work, and the committee is hearing from some families who are opposed to change. While I understand that change can be hard, I encourage our community to reflect on the high quality of our schools and teachers across our community. We are lucky to live where we have great schools that serve and love all kids and families.

Please watch for updates and additional opportunities to give input. The next set of potential school boundary changes would likely go into effect at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.

Thank you!

Greg Baker