A meeting Monday will give the public another chance to weigh in on Walla Walla Public Schools’ exploration of turning one elementary school into an early learning center and consolidating the five remaining grade schools.
The first session at Blue Ridge Elementary School will be in English, beginning at 5:30 p.m. A Spanish-language meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. Childcare will be provided for both.
For the past six months, the district has conducted a comprehensive study to look at providing more early learning programs, along with the consolidation of the district’s elementary schools.
Changing the use of one elementary school to a preschool is possible due to declining enrollment, school officials have said.
Over the last nine years, overall enrollment in grade schools has dropped by about 250 children in Walla Walla, Superintendent Wade Smith has said, attributing the lower numbers to shifting demographics in Walla Walla.
As these reductions stabilize over the next few years, the school district is anticipating as many as 25 empty classrooms across its six elementary campuses. In addition, kindergarten readiness data and feedback from parents suggests a need for more early learning programs for Walla Walla families, officials have said.
On Monday, they will share the results of the numerous studies of the situation and answer questions.
The Walla Walla School Board intends to be transparent about the process and stands ready to answer questions, said board Chairwoman Ruth Ladderud.
“We really feel we’ve done a good job of reaching out, and this is one last reaching out,” Ladderud said.
“We’re getting down to the wire,” she added, noting a final decision will be made in mid-October.
At the moment, Blue Ridge appears to be the most reasonable choice to convert to an early learning center based on a number of factors, including that the building is already partially equipped for small children, officials have said.
While she and other board members have not heard very much either for or against the idea, Ladderud said she knows that will change once a permanent decision is made and the impact dawns on families and staff.
Figuring out those next steps will call for the same careful process the board has used in looking at which school to convert to preschool space, the board chairwoman said.
In hindsight, it probably didn’t make sense for Walla Walla to build six elementary schools or to have them in their present locations, Ladderud said.
“But you can’t go back. So what’s the best decision moving forward? That’s what we have carefully tried to study.”
Sheila Hagar can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8322.