OCEAN parents and the Port Townsend School District might have found middle ground after contention earlier this month regarding changes to the OCEAN program.
More than 60 parents and community members voiced their concerns at a May 7 virtual school board meeting after cuts to the program were announced at the end of April.
The school board approved a reduction in one half-time teacher, and the district planned to eliminate the high school program by not allowing new students to enroll. The district has now reversed course on both decisions, choosing to re-evaluate teacher-to-student ratios in the fall and allowing new high school students to enroll.
The district initially used enrollment numbers recorded on Feb. 1 to predict enrollment in the fall and chose to reduce staffing in OCEAN and across the district in line with its approved teacher-to-student ratio. OCEAN parents felt the enrollment numbers used to make the decision were not representative of what enrollment might look like in the fall. Many posited that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic might significantly increase enrollment leaving the program short-staffed.
Superintendent John Polm agreed. In his recommendation to the school board May 21, he said the model OCEAN represents might be more desirable to families especially with so much uncertainty regarding what traditional school might look like in the fall. He said there were arguments on both sides to suggest there might be higher or lower enrollment to OCEAN, so waiting to see was the best course of action.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a significant increase in families wanting to go to (OCEAN),” Polm said. “If the enrollment is there, then we will bring the staff back.”
If enrollment was up considerably, he said, they might even need to bring on another full-time teacher, not just replace the part-time position that was cut.
Polm also recommended the district hire a consultant to review the program. He said previously there were concerns about “student outcomes.” He said OCEAN has not been the subject of an outside review since 2011 when it was still called ICE. School board members indicated they were also in favor of a review.
Parents had previously requested they participate in any review process, possibly through a task force. Polm said a review seeking both quantitative and qualitative would have lots of room for parent involvement through interviews and focus groups. Polm also recommended all other alternative programs the district supports be similarly reviewed.
Polm recommended creating a task force after a review so the review finding could inform a committee that might seek to make future changes to the program.
Parents also requested they be involved in the hiring process of a new teacher. Polm noted it is not district policy to allow parent involvement in hiring, as it is a confidential process. He recommended parents be surveyed on what qualities and qualifications they value most in a new teacher.
Board member Jeff Taylor requested any feedback on hiring be done soon, so the district could have that process already completed if it does decide to hire another teacher in August.