By Father Jade Asumbrado
Critical comments filled the public comments section during the Olympia School District Meeting on Thursday, October 13 regarding the Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA).
About a dozen parents, guardians, and students brought up their concerns with the sudden changes in ORLA class sizes, teacher changes, and more.
“I am here to express my dissatisfaction with decisions made that have affected my child. I’ve asked in the past for more transparency and communication with the community and the parents involved,” said Natalie, one parent.
“That’s why I’m here. I’d love to hear how you’re actively working on plans to better communicate with parents when you make system-wide changes that are having a drastic impact on our children,” added Natalie.
Another parent, Analisa, pointed out that during the 22ndnd OSD meeting, it was noted that ORLA has seen many changes over the past three years and that hasn’t stopped them from making more changes.
“The recent classroom collapse change is one of the most significant in terms of impact on students’ social and emotional well-being and disrupting the continuity of their daily education, which will lead to poor outcomes,” Analisa said.
Analisa added that the originator of the class-breaking plan was praised, while students and parents were all surprised by the changes, announced just a week before they would take effect.
“A quick and easy win was named to avoid upcoming costs and kudos were offered to the originator of the plan,” shared Analisa. “This kind of reaction shows how distant the district leadership is. No thought was given to operations, change management or communication, let alone the children’s experience.”
Class size dissent
Parents objected to the decision to break classes into fewer sections – reducing the number of sections with more students and just a single teacher with no assistant or support.
“Here’s my problem. My children are negatively influenced by the decisions they make in class. Three classrooms on two classrooms. 31 children in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade and they spend half of their educational day in the classroom. We didn’t even know that, not for the end of a month, and that came up. Imagine a teacher of 31 kids in the classroom without support,” shared John, a parent of three.
Another parent, Adrian, added on the class size issue, “I decided to enroll my kids in ORLA programs because [the] smaller classrooms. It has been proven that students learn faster and perform better in smaller classes. For my two children, the hiring now appears to be in jeopardy without warning or notice.”
Adrian also pointed out that while the classroom sizes are modeled after Montessori classrooms with smaller sizes, they are now even larger than traditional class sizes.
“These decisions are based on numbers and budget. What about the development of our children? I understand that changes might be necessary, but I sincerely hope that another solution can be found, one that doesn’t just negatively impact our children’s education,” he added.
One student, John, shared his additional concerns about student loans, explaining that unlike the great help they’ve given students, it now weighs them down by no longer letting them attend classes on campus.
“I’ve been with ORLA for a long time and this program has always been the focus [supporting] me. Unfortunately, [this] has changed dramatically,” shared John.
John went on to say that he used to enjoy playing soccer and board games but now has to spend most of his time at his computer and he expressed how bad it is for his eyes and body.
“I’m no longer allowed on campus and [in] classes. It also means I can’t spend time outside of class with my classmates that I used to have. I can’t use the library, flashcards, [or] playground,” John exclaimed. “Instead, I have to network online with my colleagues. I need to train and network with other students.”
“If we remove the mask environments, why don’t we remove the other restrictions?” asked Johannes.
The public comment section had a minor disruption from the angry parents, but the board quickly moved on as the meeting discussed the next agenda items.
Public members wishing to raise concerns with the Board have three options for submitting comments – register and attend the meeting in person, submit the written comments by email, or submit the written comments by mail.