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Superintendent: Shrinking enrollment is ‘new norm’ for WWPS

Superintendent Wade Smith

WALLA WALLA, Washington – There’s an old saying, “Schools are a reflection of our community” and that’s something the leadership at Walla Walla Public Schools believes applies to both the city and the school district. With the community getting older, enrollment within the district is declining. It’s an issue that Superintendent Wade Smith is well aware of and he admits it does have an impact on the district’s future.

Smith said an analysis of Walla Walla’s population shows the population has remained steady at around 30,000 for the past two decades. Yet the median age has continued to increase.

“So what we’re simply seeing is less young families taking the place of those that are aging out of our school systems and it’s very clearly reflected,” Smith said. “We’ve seen this now for nine, 10, 12 years at the elementary school levels. We used to have historically around 500 students per grade. We have now kind of fell into what we believe is our new norm – about 400, 410 kids per grade.”

Smith said this new norm provides the district an opportunity to take a look at the six elementary school campuses.

“And (we) ask ourselves how we can better utilize those campuses and actually better meet the needs we believe of our community and what’s coming down the road,” Smith said.

Over the next six to eight months, Smith said the school board will be taking a closer look at the district’s six elementary schools and look at how to better utilize some of the campus spaces. He added that the district might look into potentially converting one of them into an early learning center.

“Kids are bursting at the seams at Blue Ridge Elementary School with our most recent expansion,” Smith said. “We have no more room to grow. Yet we’re going to have some empty classrooms across our other campuses.”

Smith said it’s time for the district to really look at some reconfigurations of its campuses in order to address these kinds of inefficiencies.

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