By Ken and Autumn Zentz
As parents of a Columbia Crest Elementary School student, we were saddened to hear that closing Columbia Crest is once again a topic on the Eatonville School Board agenda. Four years ago, we were told that Columbia Crest would not be closed. We have watched the superintendent and School Board make fiscal decisions that gave us the assurance that they indeed meant what they said.
Columbia Crest School (CCS) is the heart of the Ashford, Elbe and Alder communities. It also serves many of the students from Mineral who consider CCS their school, as well. Without CCS, they will return to the Morton School District.
Columbia Crest provides a wonderful environment and rich tradition that has been a support to student learning since the 1950s. Happily, the enrollment at CCS has continued to increase over the last four years. The school has excellent support from its parents as they can be involved. If the school were moved, this access to programs would sadly be reduced for parents on limited incomes. The Eatonville School District has two distinct rural parts with a small town in the middle. Each part is important to the whole.
Great things are happening at Columbia Crest. The Summit Program for highly-capable fifth and sixth-grade students is in the best place possible, according to an OSPI (state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) review. The connection that has been created with Mount Rainier National Park and all the classrooms at CCS allows all students to have enriched lessons in geology, topography and other earth, water and land use once each month. When the instructors can walk to CCS, making the partnership is an easy one. OSPI recently recognized CCS with an Academic Achievement Award, and on Feb. 22, was placed on the List of Highest Performing Schools. \
Over the years, Columbia Crest has been involved in many artist-in-residence programs, which have provided the rural school with cultural opportunities. When the funding for the Pierce County Arts Commission was no longer available, the PTO stepped forward to provide extra programs for the students to include this year’s Pacific Science Center visit to the school.
To demonstrate support for the decision that the School Board made four years ago, the school building has had many improvements. When the playshed collapsed from heavy snow, the insurance money ($100,000) was combined with bond money to build a new playshed, improve fire lanes and improve other safety issues required by Pierce County. Following that, the superintendent wrote and received an energy grant which improved the cooling and heating system, which promised to save thousands of dollars in energy costs. Other bond money was used for improving areas of the building, including new student restrooms and wash stations. All together, the district invested $727,000 in CCS.
Although we have heard that the district is looking to cut many aspects from the budget and “everything is on the table,” the only option presented on the business manager’s financial information was closing CCS. We feel that the school district must live within the funding provided, and if an exception is made it, is only for the purpose of increasing student achievement. As parents and taxpayers in this district, we urge the Eatonville School Board to explore all options and apply cuts in a fair and equitable manner.
We want you to know how very important Columbia Crest Elementary School is to the communities it serves, and ask that the school remain in its role of educating the students of this district.