Attendance centers a go



March 25, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Providing students a more equitable learning environment and gaining efficiencies were the two leading factors that led to a unanimous vote Tuesday to move USD 257 elementary schools to attendance centers for the 2015-16 school year.
The tension in the meeting room could be cut with a knife during the 90 minutes of presentations and discussions. Community members attending Tuesday’s meeting said they were unaware a vote was imminent, thinking discussion was only to disseminate information.
Before board member Mark Burris made the motion, board president Tony Leavitt asked Superintendent of Schools Jack Koehn how quickly a decision needed to be made.
“You could wait a year and say ‘we’ll do this in 2016-17,” Koehn said. “If I had my choice, we would do it now. It benefits the students. Why not do it next year instead of two years down the road.”
The re-organization will have McKinley Elementary School housing pre-school through kindergarten with 140 students; Jefferson Elementary with first and second grades with 214 students; Lincoln Elementary with third and fourth grade students with 209 students, and fifth and sixth grades on the third floor of Iola Middle School, with 191 students.
Lisa Wicoff, mother of four USD 257 students, said she wasn’t against attendance centers but did see flaws in the plan. She noted class sizes could go up depending on the years.
“Is this the only configuration we looked at?” Wicoff asked. “Did we think about keeping fifth grade at the elementary schools.”
Jefferson Principal Brad Crusinbery said the administration did look at that option, but “(S)pace issues arose. But space isn’t the only thing we are looking at,” he said.
Wicoff’s youngest son, Luke, is a fourth-grader at Jefferson. She said she and her son both have reservations about him being at the middle school next year.
“I know this sounds like I’m against attendance centers, but I’m not,” Wicoff said. “My request is for the board to slow down. We need to get our ducks in a row. I don’t see a huge savings in the budget.”
The fifth grade will integrate with the sixth grade as an intermediate elementary. Fifth-grade teachers will share the teaching duties of math, language arts, social studies and science. Elementary teachers of art, music and computers will come to middle school with the exception of physical education.
Sixth-graders will have individual teachers for individual subjects.
The fifth- and sixth-grade program will have one principal and the seventh and eighth grade will also have one principal.
The grades will also have different start and end times than the middle school. There is also a possibility of implementation of fifth grade instrumental music.
Leslie Skahan, whose son Mason is confined to a wheelchair, said she is concerned about special education classrooms and how they would function once the elementary schools were transformed into attendance centers.
“Is the school going to be handicap accessible, or are they going to move classrooms?” Skahan asked. “I’m concerned that the kids will be left behind.”
Skahan said the integration of students is very important for the students.
“Our challenges still exist,” board president Tony Leavitt responded. “What we were dealing with during the bond issue and the ADA accessibility is still present and that all takes dollars to fix. We are trying to be more efficient. This is an overall program to become more efficient for all students.”
“I just don’t want my son or other kids to slip through the cracks because we didn’t think about how to make the teacher available,” Skahan said.
Koehn said he had spoken to ANW Special Education Cooperative director Bob Coleman and the move to attendance centers would save the co-op $21,000.
Coleman did not specify how the money would be saved.
Noted benefits of the attendance centers are smaller class sizes, elimination of boundaries, equal technology access and consistent curriculum and expectations of students.
Students could still walk to the nearest school and be transported by bus to their attendance center.
Staff reductions would be through retirements and attrition over time if enrollment continues to decline. The district could save an estimated $120,000 on two teachers and two paraprofessionals. It would also save $8,000 on collaboration costs.
Christy Thompson, first-grade teacher at Lincoln, said it would take time for teachers to meet and set up expectations for students. Each teacher teaches the same curriculum, but she wants them to be on the same page.
“I can teach wherever you put me,” she said. “All I ask is that we have the time as a group of teachers to plan. The little details make a difference.”
Koehn agreed.
“We all know there are tons of details,” he said. “You can do all the planning in the world but you can’t see the domino that will knock down the other one. You’ll have time.”
Librarian Deb Greenwall mentioned librarians would have to change all the barcodes on books and other items.
The system the librarians have is from 2001 and does not allow for them to simply move books from one building to another.
Jefferson teacher Laura Weiner also noted students do have a higher reading level than the grade they attend. She thanked the board for their difficult decision.
“I would like to commend you as a board,” Weiner added. “We’ve looked at attendance centers countless times and there are pros and cons. I know your hearts are in the right place and it is a thankless job. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.”

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