Survey: Keep Whatcom students together in one school

BELLINGHAM - People ideally would like to keep Whatcom Middle School students and staff separate from all other Bellingham schools while their school is rebuilt, according to results from a new survey.

The Bellingham School District used an online survey to gather input and suggestions about where Whatcom students and staff should be housed during the 2010-11 school year and beyond. Students and staff have been split by grade level among three existing Bellingham schools since Whatcom was severely damaged in a Nov. 5 fire.

More than 540 people said they "strongly like" or "somewhat like" a scenario that keeps Whatcom students and staff together in a rented non-district facility, according to results released Tuesday, Jan. 5.

Suggestions for locations included the Squalicum Lofts buildings on Squalicum Parkway, Western Washington University, the empty DeWaard & Bode space on Cornwall Avenue, and any of the empty buildings across Meridian Street from Bellis Fair mall. Using the Roeder Administration building as a school again and relocating district offices also was suggested.

During the more than three weeks the survey was online, 667 were completed, with about one-third of them coming from Whatcom Middle School parents. Students, teachers, community members and parents with children in other Bellingham schools also competed surveys.

The least popular scenarios were the ones that involved having one group of students attend school in the morning and another later in the day, using a single school to do the job of two.

Now that the survey is complete, a team of district employees will work to narrow the ideas to two or three possible scenarios. People will have the chance to comment on those options in another survey.

The group charged with sorting through the input and suggestions will include Whatcom Middle School Principal Jeff Coulter, Assistant Principal Ann Buswell, two Whatcom teachers, an elementary school principal and district officials.

For much of December, parents and teachers were vocal about the survey and lack of involvement in creating it or narrowing the options. Teachers are now involved in helping select scenarios, but parents will not be involved.

"The input process was designed to have parents help generate ideas and provide feedback," said Tanya Rowe, spokeswoman for the district. "At this point in the process it becomes very technical and detailed and (the people narrowing the scenarios) will be relying on experts."

Kerrie Zerba and Wendy Albrecht, co-presidents of the Whatcom PTSA, said district leaders have called on parents in the past for help with groups, including the site council, parent advisory committee and budget committees, and hope they ask for parents to be part of the team.

"We're feeling confident the district is going to call on the parents once again," Zerba said. "So many of our parents want the honor of sitting down at the table and helping make this difficult decision."

"The district did such a great job sending the survey out and asking for helping and getting ideas that maybe they wouldn't have thought of," Albrecht added. "It was so exciting to see how many parents took the time to fill out the survey."

The narrowing team will use the input from the survey to analyze the suggestions and scenarios. Outside experts will provide information to help with the selection, including costs for some scenarios, whether the costs would be covered by insurance, and if the suggestions can meet building codes and other requirements for schools.

When the second survey is made available, likely next week, information will be released about the scenarios that weren't selected and why.

District officials are still planning to have a final recommendation presented to the school board by the end of the month. The timing allows district officials to factor in the decision when planning for budgets and staff for the 2010-11 school year.


To see a summary of survey input, as well as all of the comments and suggestions from the survey, click here.

Related stories from Bellingham Herald