Where to put both the preschool and sixth-grade students was a topic of Tuesday’s Western-Reserve community forum where school board members asked district residents to share their thoughts and concerns on the issue.
“We are considering moving the preschool to the elementary building and the sixth grade to the high, out of the elementary building,” Superintendent Rodge Wilson said. “We want to talk about it. We want this to be a discussion with everyone, just sharing ideas.”
This wasn’t a new issue for the school, though.
“There’s been some issues evolving over years,” he said. “If you haven’t heard, our enrollment is going down. We were increasing up until four years ago. Then we started on a slight decline. This year we have the exact same number of kids as last year, which to me is good. That means we’ve stopped the decline. … We used to have about 1,400 kids to keep track of. That’s down a little bit. That’s at about 1,250, maybe a little closer to 1,150 some years to be honest. That’s not unusual. A lot of the area districts are experiencing a decline.”
When one father asked about the timing of this discussion, Wilson said thre were a few issues from budget to staffing that played into the decision to take it before the board and the community.
“We’ve tossed it around since the inception of the new elementary but decided to leave it as is at the time,” Wilson said, adding it was always the intent to move the preschool to the school campus and out of its Wakeman location.
“At the time it was in the community’s interest to leave the preschool there. Our Step Up to Quality ratings, though, have changed that. This is a big change. It puts more demands on the preschool teachers. The preschool has one teacher and two full-time aides. We’re asking them to do more, to be administrators and do that work when it’s not really their job. Their lack of support by the on-campus staff is starting to build up (because they’re so far from the rest of the campus). They’re getting more pressure.”
Moving the preschool into the elementary building could create space issues, causing the possible need to move the sixth grade to the junior high/high school building.
“Are there other options than (bringing the preschoolers to the elementary building)? Yes, but they all require money. We took a huge hit when the state reduced our funding by about $575,000. It was tough but we’ve maintained. We’re trying to continue to maintain.
“We have what’s called an FBA model — feasible, beneficial, acceptable,” Wilson added. “So whenever we have big decision to make, we ask is it feasible, is is it beneficial, is it acceptable? Moving the students is feasible. We’ve determined it would solve some of the problems, like with our enrollment and teacher work load. The questions is, is it acceptable to all parties?”
Hence, the forum.
Wilson said he wanted to hear everyone’s ideas and concerns, be they community members, parents or teachers.
“First we talked to the teachers who might be involved,” he said. “That seemed fair. Now we want to hear your input. So we try to take everybody’s input into account. Sometimes you see things differently when you share view points. Everyone has different opinions and view points.
“Frankly, I have certain points of view. I would love to bring the preschool to the campus. It’s been stressful to me that our most vulnerable are all the way over there by themselves. They’re our most vulnerable. But there are more things to consider than my security concerns. And some might say sixth graders shouldn’t be in contact with the juniors and seniors, even though they’re in different wings of the school. Yeah, well then you have the sixth graders talking to the first graders on the bus, which can cause issues too.
“One campus consolidates our resources,” the superintendent added.
So what are the pros and cons?
For the consideration of the preschool move, the board added increased safety and security, on-site supervision for Step Up to Quality guidelines, increased technology access, on-site maintenance/custodial staff and the fact that the elementary playground meets the preschoolers needs to the list of benefits, Wilson said.
The list of concerns included the distance for Wakeman parents, the preschool area would be less spacious at the elementary than in its current location, moving the kindergarten out of the specifically-designed “kindergarten rooms” to make room for the preschoolers, the loss of a dedicated and intimate setting for preschool, loss of a fenced-in playground and the physical process of moving.
Included in the relocation of the sixth grade, the board cited several benefits, including that the sixth to eighth graders would be together, which is beneficial since the grades are banded together for academic content standards and nutritional standards, allowing the departments for the three grade levels to easily collaborate. Also, buses would be relieved for transportation route distribution and ratio.
“There are some benefits of older students,” Wilson said. “Sometimes there are benefits likewise to having younger students on campus. But then, there are some not-so-benefits to it too.”
Also on the list of concerns included the loss of classroom and storage space, the conflict of recess, which could lead to sixth grade losing their recess time, loss of male role models at elementary if the sixth grade moved to the junior high building.
“Those are a rarer breed than female elementary teachers,” he said.
“There could also be an unbalanced testing burden on the middle school/high school with moving the sixth grade over here since that would add another category. I think when everything is rolled up and rolled out though, it’s the same as when they’re in with the kindergarten and elementary.”
Wilson said with those pros and cons out in the open, the school faces four options: continue as things are, relocate the preschool to the elementary and leave the sixth grade, relocate both grades or take another year for consideration.
The issue continue to be discussed by the school district, in a decision that ultimately comes down to what the board of education decides.