Community rallies for after-school activities

POULSBO — A recent non-decision by the school board regarding sports and extracurricular activities in North Kitsap’s future middle schools sparked a furor that spurred the largest attendance at Thursday’s bi-weekly board meeting in recent memory.

About 120 North Kitsap residents turned out to hear the extracurricular discussion, many of whom addressed the board in defense of middle-level athletics and other after-school activities.

At issue was the board’s decision to review further a recommendation in May by the school district’s Middle Level Task Force (MLTF) that calls for establishing interscholastic and intramural sports and clubs when NK’s junior high schools change to middle schools in 2007.

School board members stated that they needed more time to weigh the middle-level transition and to examine the increasingly evident funding woes the state legislature is placing on public schools.

Community members in attendance Thursday were clearly opposed to creating middle schools without sports and other extracurricular activities.

“Fifty to 60 percent go through our athletic programs,” said Karen Byrd, a member of the district’s middle level task force and teacher and former athletic director at Kingston Junior High School. “How can that not be important? You can’t take it away from them. It’s too important.”

The board weighed MLTF’S “Recommendation No. 2” at its study session meeting, calling on NKSD Learning Support Services Director Gregg Epperson and North Kitsap High School Athletic Director Al Gleich to present a further case for the recommendation.

“We’re proposing to continue the same offerings in 2007-08 (when the middle schools come into effect),” Epperson said, backing the recommendation.

The middle school transition is also the result of the 2001 voter approved bond to build a new high school in Kingston. The added capacity of the new school will move the ninth grade up to secondary school and, in turn, create 6-8 middle schools in Poulsbo and Kingston.

“As athletic director, we’d like to have 100 percent participation (in athletics), but we have to have board support for funding,” Gleich added.

“This board doesn’t have any money,” responded board president Catherine Ahl.

Board member Dan Delaney wondered if school athletics could be expanded to include a greater base — not just the 25 percent of whom currently compete at NKHS. But a suggestion by Delaney to alter the existing programs did not sit well with those in attendance when he asked the rhetorical question: “Is it really necessary for us to have kids playing tackle football?”

“Yes!” yelled a large contingent of the crowd.

“I think in this community if we took a vote whether you’d want a high (achieving) academic program, and no sports, it wouldn’t pass a vote,” said board member Dick Endresen. “Sports are a good thing for kids. They build school spirit. They help us pass our levies.”

Funding woes are a

problem, says board

The real culprit is the State of Washington’s legislature, which has failed to adequately fund public schools and has restricted access to passed levy funds, Ahl was quick to point out.

“I’d like to go down with all of you to Olympia,” Ahl said, with the purpose of lobbying to the legislature to — at the very least — release the approximately $400,000 levy dollars that were passed by NK voters yet has been made unattainable by the legislature. “ ... It’s money that (North Kitsap) passed in the levy, but that North Kitsap can’t touch.”

Delaney attempted to reassure those in the audience that the board had never intended to rid the new middle schools of sports.

“This school board has never said that we’re going to (cut middle school sports),” Delaney said. “But what I am concerned about is that only a percentage of the students are involved (in sports). We have a shrinking dollar to spend money on. If you could choose where (the dollars) go, where would you spend it?”

A “pay to play” concept must be discussed in order to try and maintain existing sports programs given that shrinking funding, Gleich explained.

The community

reacts to the news

Following the board discussion, one by one, parents, coaches, teachers — and the students and athletes themselves — came forward to address the board during the public comment period.

“One of the main reasons we brought (our son to the NK School District) was for sports,” said parent Mike McCown of his son, who had attended King’s West before transferring to Poulsbo Junior High School. “I encourage you to accept (the No. 2) recommendation.”

Head NK boys basketball coach Aaron Nations also informed the board of the importance of middle-level sports on high school programs.

“I look to our middle school programs as feeder program for us,” Nations said.

“As you look at high school sports today, (the schools) are competing at a higher level. And without middle school sports, they won’t be able to compete at that level.”

North Kitsap High School student Paul Stock, a multi-sport athlete, said sports has aided him in all aspects of his life.

“It’s sports that’s given me the courage to talk to you today,” said Stock, who plays on the football team. “I don’t know where I’d be without sports.”

Junior high school coach Steve Harris told a story about a student of his who had contemplated suicide before becoming involved in sports in the middle-level grades.

“Sports at the junior high school level made him realize he had something to live for,” he said.

He then addressed Delaney personally, the board member — who was wearing a letterman’s sweater, “We had our day (to play), give them their day.”

Monica Black, who proclaimed herself a soccer mom, said she wants to see a balance of programming that reaches all kids and their various talents. She said her own son found his talent through an art class.

“I do think the electives, the arts, and the tech-eds are important as well,” she said. “All I want to say is we didn’t know (our son) had this talent.”

Tim Eaton, an electives teacher and Poulsbo Junior High’s athletic director, mentioned that both sports and certain electives reach students that the general curriculum does not.

“We each have gifts,” he said. “And I’ve had a number of students that haven’t made it in school. But they make it in my class.”

When public commented ended, Board President Ahl added to the discussion that the board simply wanted to analyze the recommendation further — a common school board action — she said.

“Why we didn’t approve that one item with the middle school task force is (because) it’s going to be different when it is a middle school and not a junior high,” Ahl said. “We asked the question that you expect us (as board members) to ask.”

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