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Early college charter school below capacity, but Billings school district not worried

Washington Elementary
Posted at 6:26 PM, Apr 09, 2024

BILLINGS - A new Billings Public School early college charter school, which is displacing an elementary school, has not reached full capacity for the upcoming school year, but district officials say they are not worried.

The charter is one of three in Billings that were approved for state funding ahead of next school year and will give students the opportunity to graduate with an associate's degree.

It will be held in the current Washington Elementary building, along with the new opportunity school charter, while the current Washington students will be shifted to other schools in the city.

The decision to move students out of their current school was met with concern from parents when the decision was first announced. When the registration date for the school continued to be pushed back, it elevated that concern for residents like Tim Huck.

"I don't think their plan is going to work," Huck said. "I don't know how long the school district had this thought in their head, but it must've not been very thought out."

Huck has three children with one currently enrolled at Washington.

"We just told him that this school is closing and half your friends are going somewhere else," Huck said. "He'll be alright, but I still don't think what they're trying to do fits the demographic. More power to them if it works out."

Director of Advanced Academics for Billings Schools Jeril Hehn said the registration remains open because capacity hasn't been hit.

"We definitely have one half of the day and are trying to see if we can continue getting enough students so we can offer the second half," Hehn said.

Hehn said that the first half of the day will host 75 students, while the afternoon session would reach 50, bringing the capacity to 125. She refused to provide the exact number of enrollments currently, but said they are past the 75 benchmark and working on reaching the full number.

The other charter that will be housed at Washington Elementary is the Opportunity School, which aims to reach credit-deficient students to help them graduate.

The building, which will officially be called the Washington Innovation Center, will be filled with both charters, and that is why the center's first counselor Mackenzie Umemoto said the space will be used.

"This is a really great opportunity for our students," Umemoto said. "I know some parents are concerned about the space, but it will definitely be utilized. In fact, I think it could potentially get to where there's more space needed."

Umemoto said that there was already discussion of closing Washington because of budget issues, so while she understands the concern, she said it otherwise would've been an empty building.

"Even if these schools would not have come to fruition, they were still going to close Washington Elementary," Umemoto said. "At least now, we can actually use that building and the opportunities that these kids are going to have that they might not normally, are pretty exciting."