South Whidbey school district may relocate students

The South Whidbey School District is considering relocating students again.

Five years after the Langley Middle School’s closure, the South Whidbey School District is considering relocating students again.

An upcoming community meeting from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 17 at the South Whidbey High School New Commons on 5675 Maxwelton Road will address the future of the school district. Attendance is limited to in-person only.

During a school board workshop meeting last week, Superintendent Jo Moccia broached the subject of downsizing campuses, beginning in September 2023. As a result of continued declining enrollment, she proposed moving fifth grade and sixth grade students away from the South Whidbey Elementary School South Campus.

She pointed out that the South Whidbey Elementary School North Campus, which hosts students in kindergarten through fourth grade, currently has three vacant classrooms and a number of rooms that could be used for multiple purposes. There are three sections of fifth graders who could be moved to this building.

Additionally, the superintendent suggested that sixth graders could be moved up to the South Whidbey High School campus, which already houses seventh and eighth graders. A plan has not been made yet about where in the building the younger students would be, but Moccia said she is committed to keeping them separate from the high school students in some way.

Moccia said the South Campus building is utilizing more rooms than needed and others are being rented to community organizations, such as Mother Mentors and Whidbey Island Nourishes. Rooms for classes such as art or band could easily be closed down if fifth and sixth grade students relocated to the other campuses where such rooms already exist. It would also decrease travel time for the teachers moving between schools on a daily basis.

The move could allow greater academic and athletic participation for younger students. Cost savings for the district have not yet been determined, but Moccia said she knows that the district will save in staffing and custodial services and could gain rental fees if the school board decides to pursue that route.

“This is really about we have more space than we need, and how can we best utilize our space,” Moccia said. “It’s also about if we’re going into a bond, which facilities do we want to focus on?”

Kayla Phillips, the principal for seventh and eighth grades, said maintaining the culture of the grade groupings is important.

John Patton, the high school principal, said younger and older students at the high school campus have been separated naturally by different schedules, which results in different passing times and lunches. He acknowledged that sharing staff is an advantage.

“I don’t see this as a challenge,” he said. “I think it’s a real positive.”

Susie Richards, the elementary school principal, said it made sense to have fifth graders join the K-4 North Campus and might be more “developmentally appropriate” for them.

Jeff Fankhauser, the principal for fifth and sixth grades, acknowledged that there were pros and cons to the relocation. He said identifying safety should be a priority in the discussion.

Moccia cautioned against processing the move for too long and losing the momentum of planning. She said she thought the move was “certainly not as fraught” as the Langley Middle School process. The school closed in 2017 and is now the South Whidbey Community Center.

Board Member Andrea Downs suggested that the South Campus could come to be thought of as an “early learning campus,” with resources in place for childcare. She asked about moving the conversation of the relocation to September so the community has enough time to weigh in.

The public will also have an opportunity to comment during the board’s other upcoming meetings.