Ridgefield School District officials on Tuesday unveiled their plan to redraw elementary school boundaries in the district to balance enrollment ahead of an anticipated boom in students entering the district in the coming years.
The decision was forced into action following Ridgefield’s fifth consecutive bond failure last month; had the measure passed, the district would have begun construction on a new elementary school to be open in time for the 2023-24 school year.
Without the new school — which was set to be the first step of a multi-phase plan to expand the district to accommodate population growth — Ridgefield officials spent the last few weeks scrambling to find a way to alleviate overcrowding at the elementary level that’s been worsening each year.
“With five failed bonds, we need a plan to move forward that is sustainable,” Assistant Superintendent Chris Griffith said during Tuesday’s meeting.
The new boundaries — which were drawn with the help of Woodland-based KWRL Transportation — would shift an estimated 132 students from Union Ridge Elementary School to South Ridge Elementary School.
Among the key ways that the district said the plan will work is if it adopts a “no transfers” policy — meaning Ridgefield will be unable to accept any new transfer requests between the two schools. Exceptions will be made, however, for families with incoming kindergartners who were already extended a boundary exception for an older sibling so that the children may attend the same school.
As it stands, Ridgefield projects that at the start of the 2022-23 school year, 901 students will be enrolled at Union Ridge Elementary and 633 at South Ridge Elementary. Following this change, 769 students would be enrolled at Union, with 765 at South Ridge.
The new region that will be added to South Ridge’s boundaries includes a section of land east of Interstate 5 between Northeast 259th Street and Northeast 289th Street, as well as a handful of blocks just north of the Tri-Mountain Golf Course and a section just west of I-5 between South 11th Street and North 10th Street.
For perspective, the average K-5 elementary school enrollment in Evergreen Public Schools is 520; in Vancouver Public Schools, it is just 490. The average enrollment across Ridgefield’s two K-4 elementary schools is 686 — by far the highest average in Southwest Washington.
“It’s particularly difficult in an elementary school, especially with the sizes we’re dealing with, to create that climate and culture building-wide that’s necessary to see little kids flourish,” Griffith said.
As Ridgefield officials anticipate that 300 to 400 new students will enter the district in the next two school years, additional changes also needed to be made at the secondary and high school levels.
As hinted at in previous board meetings, Ridgefield will move to convert the Wrestling Room at the Sunset Ridge Intermediate School-View Ridge Middle School complex into three separate classrooms with wall dividers. The room currently hosts all of the district’s wrestling teams.
If need be, the district will also look to convert the Black Box Theatre at Sunset Ridge/View Ridge and the presentation room at Ridgefield High School — which previously hosted district board meetings — into additional classroom spaces. Some teachers at Ridgefield High may also need to transition to cart-based instruction — in which teachers without their own classrooms would rotate between teaching spaces throughout the day, keeping their necessary technology and equipment with them — if capacity is even further exceeded.
Start and release times at Sunset Ridge, View Ridge and Ridgefield High will also be pushed five minutes earlier to account for any necessary time needed for bus drivers making double runs throughout the district.
The set of changes in Tuesday night’s plan illustrates a stark difference from the four-phase expansion plan that district officials released in 2015.
The district Capital Facilities Advisory Committee’s plan, based on long-term growth projections in Ridgefield, recommended plans to create an entirely new feeder system for Ridgefield High, including at least one new elementary school, an intermediate school and a middle school. A 2017 bond measure, which was part of this plan, allowed for expansions to View Ridge Middle and Ridgefield High schools.
Board President Joe Vance said that the goal to balance enrollment, while necessary in this moment, still isn’t close to what the district imagines as a final solution for overcrowding across each of its schools.
“The fact of the matter is that both (schools) will still be larger than what we want,” Vance said. “We used to have elementary students, and if we were looking to buy a house, we would not be looking to buy a house near an elementary school of nearly 1,000 kids. That’s not your typical neighborhood elementary school.”
Ridgefield will be eligible to run another bond measure in February 2023.