The existing Birchwood Elementary in Bellingham would be torn down and replaced with a new one-story school for as many as 400 students under the current proposal from Bellingham School District.
The district and architect Kelli Smith, from Everett-based Dykeman architecture, showed the preliminary drawings for Birchwood on Tuesday, Aug. 14, to the public and the Birchwood Neighborhood Association.
By and large, the handful of people at the meeting liked the design, which included a brick front on Pinewood Avenue that is a nod to the existing school, and a modern-looking back. It also has an emphasis on natural light including skylights and other green features, a covered play area shielded from the wind, small-group learning spaces, and a smaller gym that would be grouped with a cafeteria and stage.
The school garden and athletic field would remain where they are.
“The natural lighting that’s coming in, that’s just great,” said Doug Stark, a Birchwood parent and member of the neighborhood association.
“It all looks amazing. You have met or exceeded my expectations,” parent Darrell Gray told school officials.
Others at the meeting questioned the need to expand parking from 25 spaces to 44 — they wanted parking scaled back — and wondered why two portables would remain on site when a new school is being built, according to the preliminary designs.
Keeping portables provides extra space should it be needed because of growth, according to Ron Cowan, assistant superintendent for the school district.
It’s cheaper than removing all the portables from school grounds, he added, allowing the district to put more money into building the new school.
The current, worn-out school has been closed since fall 2011 as the school district, with the help of a committee, worked on a plan to renovate or rebuild it.
During previous meetings, community members weighed in with what they’d like to see, with some neighbors saying they wanted the brick school renovated rather than torn down, and others saying they didn’t want a new school that looked too modern.
Still other community members had said they favored a new and modern school.
The original building was constructed in 1928, with an addition in 1950.
The architect’s designs will be refined and later sent to the superintendent and school board for approval.
The project is scheduled to go out to bid and be built in the 2013-14 school year. Money to pay for it would come from state dollars and a 2006 bond approved by voters.
Learn more about the project by going to Bellingham School District online at bellinghamschools.org or to the Birchwood Elementary Remodel page on Facebook.
People may share their thoughts about the preliminary design until Wednesday, Aug. 22, by going to the school district website and clicking on the feedback form on the right.
Dykeman architecture will show its designs for Birchwood Elementary School at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14, in the board room of Bellingham Public Schools, 1306 Dupont St.
The worn-out school has been closed since fall 2011 as the school district, with the help of a committee, worked on a plan to renovate or rebuild it.
A number of public meetings have been held on the project. People may ask questions and give additional input at the Tuesday meeting.
The architect’s designs will refined and then finalized later, according to the school district.
The community has weighed in at previous meetings, with some neighbors saying they wanted the brick school renovated rather than torn down to make way for a new one, and others noting that they didn’t want a new school that looked too modern.
Still, other community members said they wanted a completely new and modern school.
The original building was constructed in 1928, with an addition in 1950.
Learn more about the project by going online to bellinghamschools.org, or the Birchwood Elementary Remodel page on Facebook.
The Bellingham School District will offer free meals to children beginning Monday, June 25, at four locations.
The district is providing the meals to children 18 years old and younger as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Simplified Summer Food Program for Children.
Locations and dates are:
- Carl Cozier Elementary, 1330 Lincoln St. Monday to Thursday, June 25 to July 19. Breakfast will be served 8:30 to 9 a.m.
- Roosevelt Elementary, 2900 Yew St. Monday to Friday, June 25 to Aug. 31. Breakfast will be served 8:30 to 9 a.m., lunch noon to 12:30 p.m.
- Shuksan Middle School, 2717 Alderwood Ave. Monday to Thursday, June 25 to Aug. 9. Breakfast will be served 8:30 to 9 a.m., lunch noon to 12:30 p.m.
- Regency Park apartment complex, 2050 Fraser St. Monday to Friday, June 25 to Aug. 31. Lunch will be served noon to 12:30 p.m.
For more information, call Mark Dalton, the district’s food services manager, at 360-676-6574.
Lynden Christian, Lummi and Windward kicked off graduations in Whatcom County with their ceremonies on Thursday, June 7.
Lynden and Nooksack Valley high schools are up next, with their graduations beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, June 8.
Below is a round-up of high school and college graduation ceremonies this month. Ceremonies are open to the public, unless otherwise noted.
FRIDAY, JUNE 8
Lynden High School: 7 p.m. in the school gym.
Nooksack Valley High School: 7 p.m. at Sid Lambert Field or Kay LeMaster Gym, depending on the weather.
SATURDAY, JUNE 9
Ferndale High School: 11 a.m. at Civic Field.
Western Washington University:
- 9 a.m. College of Business and Economics, College of Fine and Performing Arts, Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, and Huxley College of the Environment.
- 12:30 p.m. College of Humanities and Social Sciences (Humanities Division) and Woodring College of Education.
- 4 p.m. College of Humanities and Social Sciences (Social Sciences Division) and the College of Sciences and Technology.
All three ceremonies are in Carver Gymnasium. Tickets are required for seating in the gym, but there will be overflow seating in the Science, Mathematics and Technology Education building with the ceremonies broadcast on a screen. The ceremonies also will be broadcast live on Comcast channel 26 and streamed live on www.ustream.tv/channel/wwu-live-events1.
MONDAY, JUNE 11
Blaine High School: 6 p.m. in the school gym.
Community Transitions (Bellingham School District): 7 p.m. Bellingham Cruise Terminal, Dome Room.
TUESDAY, JUNE 12
Mount Baker High School: 6:30 p.m. at the school’s Bob Tisdale Field.
THURSDAY, JUNE 14
Meridian High School: 7 p.m. in the school gym.
Explorations Academy: 7 p.m. at Squalicum Boathouse. Space is limited so people need to contact Explorations before June 13 if they wish to attend.
FRIDAY, JUNE 15
Bellingham High School: 7 p.m. in the school gym. Tickets required.
Northwest Indian College: 4 p.m. in Wex’liem community building.
Whatcom Community College: 6:30 p.m. in the Pavilion. Tickets are required to sit in the pavilion; however there will be overflow seating in Heiner Theatre with the ceremony broadcast on a screen.
SATURDAY, JUNE 16
Squalicum High School: 11 a.m. at the school. Tickets required.
MONDAY, JUNE 18
Sehome High School: 6 p.m. in Carver Gym at WWU.
TUESDAY, JUNE 19
Options High School: 7 p.m. in the theater at Bellingham High School.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 20
Bellingham Technical College: 7 p.m. at Mount Baker Theatre. Tickets required.
There are a couple of literary events this weekend that have a schools angle.
The first is 2 p.m. Saturday, June 2, at Whatcom Middle School, 810 Halleck St., near F and Girard streets.
That’s when there will be a free reading and book-signing of “Alien on a Rampage,” the second installment in the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast series from Bellingham-area writer Clete Barrett Smith.
Go for your chance to get an early copy of his new book. The event is in the school auditorium.
Smith is a former English teacher who taught at Blaine and Bellingham high schools.
The second is 5 p.m. Sunday, June 3, in the Readings Gallery at Village Books, 1200 11th St.
Young female poets from Shuksan Middle School will share their writing to benefit Brigid Collins Family Support Center in Bellingham. The nonprofit works to break the cycle of child abuse.
Booklets of the students’ poetry will be available at the Brigid Collins table. Donations will be accepted for the booklets.
More than 700 people showed up at Roosevelt Elementary School the evening of Thursday, May 24, to see student performances and artwork.
It was the Bellingham school’s second annual Children’s Art Festival Extravaganza.
The school’s 430 students each displayed several pieces of art.
Roosevelt also held a dedication ceremony for the Poet Tree — a sculpture created by artist Tony Hermanutz.
Hermanutz donated it to the school.
Editor’s note: The Bellingham School District hast just posted a message from Superintendent Greg Baker about the 2012-13 budget, including community feedback about proposed cuts. I posted Baker’s message below.
Click here to read our previous story about the budget.
Dear Bellingham Families,
Thank you for taking the time to stay informed and share your thinking about our budget development process. Since April 23rd, the video of our budget presentation to the Parent Advisory Council has been viewed nearly 900 times and we’ve received feedback from dozens of people through the related online survey. The timing of our process to develop The Bellingham Promise has also been helpful in terms of the dialogue and opportunity to clarify our priorities together. From conversations and meetings with parents, staff members, and community leaders, as well as emails and survey responses, several themes have emerged in the feedback and those themes are highlighted below.
After several years of budget reductions, I imagine it will not surprise you to know that there weren’t any magic bullets in the feedback we received. Many responses acknowledged the difficulties involved in allocating resources to continue to move our priorities forward while making the reductions necessary to create a balanced budget.
Throughout the month of May, we will continue to refine and build the 2012-13 budget so that it is ready for board action in June. We will leave the survey link open through the end of this week. If additional thoughts or ideas come to mind, please feel welcomed to share them with us there.
Note: If you shared your thoughts with us, please don’t worry if your specific question or comment isn’t represented below; all of the feedback we received electronically and in person is being considered. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but is an overview of the areas which generated the most discussion or comments.
Many people shared questions and concerns about the impacts associated with increasing class sizes. There is a long list of things to be frustrated about when it comes to state and federal funding; this issue is clearly at the top. We have worked hard to absorb the state’s progressively deeper funding cuts while protecting class sizes as much as possible. As I mentioned in earlier budget updates, if we allowed the state and federal cuts to flow straight through our system, they would increase class sizes by 4-5 students. We are able to mitigate some of that impact with local funding, and when I last updated you we were targeting an increase of 2-3 students. As we have continued to refine next year’s budget, we have decided to invest a bit more in staffing at the middle and high school levels in order to slow the rate of class size increase and give those levels more time to adjust to the changes. Our current draft of the budget is now targeting an increase of 0.7 – 2.5 students.
Some concern has been expressed around preserving course options in our high school program, and we know that reduced staffing at our high schools cannot help but result in fewer course offerings. Fortunately, we do have some resources already in place that we can use to help mitigate some of the impacts for our students. Online learning is one of those resources and our Teaching and Learning Department will be working with secondary administrators and staff to identify the best use of this resource to support our students’ needs. We can also continue to look for opportunities for students to access courses that are available at other district high schools when those courses aren’t available in their neighborhood school.
A few people, including students, pointed out opportunities to reduce waste and save on utility costs, for example, by remembering to turn off lights and computers. Although our district has done some important work in this area and continues to benefit from efficiencies introduced over the last four years, there is always room for improvement. I have asked a couple of our colleagues with knowledge and interest in this area to work together to help our district take the next steps.
Comments about our district’s decision to provide basic school supplies to elementary students generally focused on two questions: whether it is an appropriate activity during this economic climate and whether the process itself could be improved. Speaking to the first question, the current economic climate makes the issue of equity more important than ever. Family and community feedback led us to research this matter last year and what we found was astonishing. The costs associated with each school’s supply list ranged from around $20 per student at some schools to more than $200 per student at others. And some of our most economically disadvantaged school communities were the very ones with the most expensive supply lists. Our community has been generous with its funding of local levies and, ideally, we would use those dollars to eliminate all student fees and provide a truly free, appropriate education to all of Bellingham’s students. Since eliminating all fees is not possible at this time, we will at least continue to ensure that we support equity between our schools by providing students with the basic provisions necessary for starting school each year.
Speaking to the second question, there is a fair amount of energy around improving the process for how supplies are acquired and distributed. There may be opportunities to reduce costs by systemizing the process more and looking at partnerships, perhaps with parent groups. Deputy Superintendent Tom Venable will convene a group of staff members and parents to think this through and identify opportunities for improvement.
Small School Closures
Many people asked if we should consider closing our smallest schools. It is true that it is more expensive to run small schools, especially when there is capacity available at other schools in the district. Closing schools, however, is not a fast process and it should not be undertaken lightly. Families and communities have strong, sometimes historic, ties to their local schools, and the process of engaging a community in a conversation around consolidation / school closures is rightly one that takes more time than we have between now and the 2012-13 school year. That said, we are getting ready to bring together a citizens advisory committee to undertake a comprehensive facilities study, likely starting this summer/fall. For such a group to do their best work they must be free to consider and discuss all options, including the question of whether the district should continue to operate small schools. Any recommendation to close schools would be broadly communicated and would involve the affected staff members and families.
District Resource Officer
This position was listed as a possible reduction in the budget presentation. We used to have several police officers dedicated to our middle and high schools, and have reduced this program over the years down to one officer for our entire district. Because our one officer shares his time between all of our schools, it can be hard for people in one school to see the positive impact he is having for our kids and our overall safety. I spent some time with the Police Chief talking about this program and we both agree that keeping our DRO is important. The Police Department will take on a larger share of the cost for next year in order to help us keep this valuable partnership going.
A few of the comments related to administrative costs and the reductions listed for next year. Some people asked if there could be further reductions in this area and others expressed concern about our ability to maintain sufficient leadership support and coordination of service with the reductions that were outlined in the budget presentation. Research is clear; strong leadership and central support is critical in order to accomplish a system of excellence (not just pockets of excellence) for all children. It will require creativity and a change in how we deliver support, but we believe we can responsibly make the administrative reductions outlined in the budget proposal, totaling about $340,000, and still make progress toward our shared goals.
Compensation / Employee Contracts
Some people asked whether the district should be back-filling the 1.9-3% salary reduction imposed by the state and a few people asked whether it is possible for everyone to take a small pay cut so that no jobs get cut. Both of those ideas are possible, but complicated. Changing any contracts would require the agreement of all parties to re-open (re-negotiate) the contract.
Highly Capable Learners
Feedback on this issue were mixed. Some people expressed appreciation for the expansion outlined in the budget proposal; some thought it didn’t go far enough; and some wondered why we would consider expanding this program in light of other reductions. The conversations we had together around The Bellingham Promise make it clear that we have a shared value around serving all of Bellingham’s children. Our current HCL program serves some kids in some schools and leaves others out. The proposed expansion is fairly modest, but helps move us in the right direction toward a more equitable distribution of support for this program.
Early Childhood Education Coordinator
I got a lot of feedback that our investment in early childhood education is important and valuable. While many people are appreciative of the suggestion to add a half-time Early Childhood Coordinator and a few people wondered why we are investing here while we are making reductions elsewhere, the majority of feedback was that that the proposal to create a half-time position didn’t go far enough. I heard from several people who are concerned that we need more support in this area in order to fully capitalize on our investment in full-time kindergarten. As we have looked at how we can be strategic in the use of our special education funding, it is clear that – like in general education – dollars invested in early childhood needs are more than offset by lower costs in later years. I am pleased to announce that, by combining resources from both funds, we will be able to make this position into a full-time TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) position.
Thank you for taking the time share your feedback and help us improve our thinking about this complicated puzzle. We will continue to refine and adjust the draft budget over the next couple weeks in preparation for board action in June.
Three Whatcom County high school students have been awarded 2012 National Merit Scholarships, each worth $2,500.
The winners were announced Wednesday, May 2.
Whatcom County winners are:
- Katherine Cooke, Bellingham High School.
- Jacob Highleyman, Sehome High School.
- Mattie Carlson, Ferndale High School.
The trio were among five semifinalists from Whatcom County.
To become semifinalists, students had to take the PSAT and be among the highest-scoring participants in each state. The roughly 16,000 semifinalists represented less than 1 percent of all high school seniors.
To reach the finals, they had to have strong academic records, be recommended by their school principals, score high enough on the SAT and write an essay.
About 15,000 students were named as finalists for three types of scholarships in the 2012 National Merit Scholarship Program.
Those scholarships are the $2,500 National Merit Scholarships (announced Wednesday), corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards and college-financed scholarships.
About 8,300 students will have won National Merit Scholarships worth more than $35 million during the 2012 competition.
BELLINGHAM — “The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan,” will be shown 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 2, at Squalicum High School as part of a student’s senior project.
Bahara Naimzadeh, a first-generation Afghan-American, is presenting the documentary in the forum at the school, 3773 E. McLeod Road.
The event is open to the public. Admission is free, but donations to UNICEF’s Right to Education Fund will gladly be accepted.
The documentary by British filmmaker Phil Grabsky tracks the life of an Afghan boy from age 8, shortly after the fall of the Taliban, to 18 as he comes of age in his war-torn country.
Naimzadeh said she wants to spread the magic of the film and to educate people about the needs of Afghanistan, where she still has family.
“It’s an important cause for me with my family situation,” she said.
Click here to see the official theatrical trailer.
Whatcom County children are chomping on locally grown kale, apples and blueberries in their school lunches, thanks to an effort called Harvest of the Month that expanded to all of the county’s public school districts this school year.
The idea is to introduce an item that can be grown in Whatcom County in one school lunch each month, primarily at the elementary school level. The goal is to be as seasonal as possible so families can find the featured items in stores or at farmers’ markets.
In March, that item was kale.
In April, elementary school students in the Bellingham School District ate frozen blueberries – in parfaits and as samples – from Williams Farm near Deming. (Frozen berries, which are summer crops, are the exception to the seasonal goal.)
In May, spinach will be served. Strawberries will be dished out in June.
“It’s exposing them to different foods and local foods that they might otherwise not get, ” said Mark Dalton, food services manager for Bellingham schools, which served as the test pilot for the harvest program prior to its expansion countywide in September.
The driving force behind Harvest of the Month is Whatcom Farm-to-School, which helps schools introduce fresh, healthy and local foods into meals and snacks. It’s an effort that has involved collaboration among schools, teachers, food services workers, farmers and parents.
Farm-to-school here is among more than 2,300 such programs nationwide. The local effort was launched in 2009 through Whatcom Community Foundation’s Sustainable Whatcom Fund Committee.
Since then, the fund has given more than $100,000 in grants to public and private schools as well as local food distributors to seed projects, such as Harvest of the Month, that would expand demand for locally produced food.
(While the goal of Harvest of the Month is to buy foods grown in Whatcom County, schools also branch out to Skagit County and Washington state depending on availability of the item.)
As for Harvest of the Month, there’s more to it than serving selected fruits or vegetables to children.
“Kids are learning all day long at school and that education doesn’t stop when they enter the cafeteria. It’s an incredible opportunity to influence and support good health for students, ” said Holly O’Neil, one of the coordinators for the Whatcom Farm-to-School Support Team.
So students not only eat the featured food, they learn about its nutritional content and the farmers who grow it – including the fact that Harry Williams’ great-great grandparents homesteaded in the Mount Baker Foothills in 1888, and that the farm these days grows 13 varieties of blueberries.
They also receive recipes to try at home with their parents.
“It’s good for the kids. It’s a benefit to their health. The kids are getting to know where their food comes from, and there are all kinds of benefits to that, ” said Mauri Ingram, president and CEO of Whatcom Community Foundation.
They want to encourage kids to expand their palate and to encourage food services directors to help make that happen.
“It’s not like they only like chicken nuggets. Yes, they like chicken nuggets, but they also may like many other things, ” said Mardi Solomon, one of the coordinators for the Whatcom Farm-to-School Support Team.
Schools face challenges when they take part in Harvest of the Month – from limited budgets to limited staff time that doesn’t allow for a lot of prep work in the kitchen.
“We don’t have a lot of money to spend, ” Dalton said, noting that Bellingham can spend only $1.05 in food costs for each school lunch.
The program, then, helps schools find vendors that they can build a connection with and get better prices when buying local, he added.
And given that Bellingham schools serve 4,500 to 4,600 lunches a day, food services workers don’t have time, for example, to scrub, peel and grate carrots (the featured item in November), so getting the food to cafeterias in a way that they need is a work in progress.
Despite the challenges, schools decided on Friday, April 27, that they’re going to continue Harvest of the Month in the next school year.
That’s likely good news for students who have taken to the program. Dalton said 5 percent more school lunches are sold on the days when the Harvest of the Month is featured.
“More people look on the menu for what we’re serving that day, ” he said, “and they’ll come in and try it.”
Additional information about Whatcom Farm-to-School and the Harvest of the Month effort are available online at whatcomfarmtoschool.org. Young eaters can find information on contests, such as the current Persuade Picky Pat, on the website.