River HomeLink gets a new home

Alternative program moves to Maple Grove

By Howard Buck, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Parent meetings

When: 1 and 6:30 p.m., Thursday; and 1 p.m. Aug. 22.

Where: Maple Grove campus “Longhouse.” Enter via Gardner Center designated spots (near Battle Ground Cinema).

Information: River HomeLink office, 360-334-8200, or River HomeLink.

Bounced in June from leased space in a Camas church, Battle Ground Public Schools’ popular alternative River HomeLink program has found a new, long-term home.

It’s not at the district’s CASEE administrative hub on Northeast 149th Street in Brush Prairie, as announced earlier.

Instead, veteran Principal Mark Clements will oversee 10 full-time equivalent teachers and up to 320 students in a large modular classroom annex on the combined Maple Grove primary-middle school campus.

Called the “Longhouse,” the five double-classroom modular units will be lightly remodeled and divided to form nine classrooms, and 13 rooms total.

For now, parents may park vehicles in designated spots in the neighboring Gardner commercial center (home of the Battle Ground Cinema and other shops), and enter a new gate to a footpath leading straight to the cluster.

Next year, a parking lot to serve River HomeLink will be constructed on the west edge of the Maple Grove campus, off Southwest Ninth Avenue. That’s one long block from the corner of state Highway 503 and Southwest Eaton Boulevard (formerly Northeast 199th Street).

“The parents are thrilled with having a permanent home, and having the opportunity of finding some ways to interact with the ‘regular’ school” at Maple Grove, said Diana Gilsinger, associate superintendent.

One possibility is for HomeLink’s high school students to tutor younger students on campus, she said.

The modular buildings, placed on a permanent concrete foundation, offer 9,000 square feet, almost double the 5,000 square feet that became available at the CASEE “C” building when a Washington State University unit vacated the space.

The smaller CASEE space would have slashed River HomeLink’s previous enrollment of 400-plus in half, with a commensurate loss of instructors and class sections.

Many dedicated HomeLink parents and students were distraught by the move, triggered by the cost of overdue physical improvements needed at the Camas Church of the Nazarene, where the program had operated for 15 years. Washington state funding for alternative education also was reduced, bringing pressure to shave costs.

What’s more, school district leaders had desired to bring the program onto Battle Ground turf, and avoid leasing charges.

Now, Clements will hold three parent information meetings to introduce more district families to the hybrid program, which offers home school, classroom and independent study options. More teachers and class sections will be added, as needed, if enrollment climbs from the current 230, he said.

“People are excited that we’re bringing back a lot of our program that we would have lost at CASEE,” Clements said. He’s already reworked class schedules so committed parents from the Camas-Washougal area or points east would need to bring students just once per week to Battle Ground (there is no HomeLink bus service).

However, all district residents are eligible on a first-come, first-served basis — not just previous HomeLink students.

By early July, district leaders realized the CASEE site was more limited than hoped. Its space paled compared that to the Church of the Nazarene (at 12,000 square feet). Remodeling would result in only five classrooms, rather than the six first envisioned. Parking would have been a headache, too.

Upon further inspection, Maple Grove became an attractive option.

A few primary school classes will be shuffled, but otherwise about 450 primary and another 450 middle school students at Maple Grove shouldn’t be affected. HomeLink students will have cafeteria access, thanks to some creative scheduling changes, officials said.

Battle Ground plans to move Learning Support programs currently housed in a small portable near Main Street (and the old Battle Ground Community Library) into the empty CASEE “C” space. Employees who work on federal and state programs such as Title I and English Language Learner support will be better served next to district headquarters, Gilsinger said.

“This is a very nice first step to be able to clean out that (Main Street) area,” Gilsinger said.

The district’s original HomeLink program, which continues to operate at the CAM Junior-Senior High School building at 712 Onsdorf Blvd., is not affected by the changes.

It also was announced that Clements will double as principal of the alternative Summit View High School, housed at the CASEE complex. He replaces Paul Bardzik, who retired in June.

Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or howard.buck@columbian.com.