Before breaking up into small groups to discuss the question “What do you feel is the optimal grade level/building reconfiguration for the Wooster City School District?” Superintendent Michael Tefs briefed the participants on the status of the educational review phase of the process.
“The educational component was broken up into these three areas,” said Tefs.
“We generated a literature review, which is just a fancy word for trying to look in the literature and research and what it says about grade configuration, …to try to optimize grade level and student achievement at the same time.”
The second component was a survey of the faculty, which is currently being tabulated.
“The community feedback is tonight,” said Tefs of the final component.
Tefs noted that through the literature review process the district has discovered that “the research is limited” but “there are articles out there that will educate us about some of our challenges.
“Student attitudes, student self-esteem, student attendance, parent/family interaction and involvement, developmentally making sure you have appropriate environments, transitions and start times are all components that I think you have to be cognizant of and be prepared (to have) sound strategic conversations on how to mitigate them,” said Tefs.
He also told participants that through the facilities and educational review processes the district has already learned a great deal about what is and isn’t doable.
“There are some things that we feel like we can do…There are also some things that we cannot do,” said Tefs.
“We know that we cannot close more than two elementary schools. We don’t have the square footage to put kids into other places,” said Tefs, adding that one or two buildings could be closed.
Similarly the district’s existing buildings won’t allow for either one kindergarten through 12th-grade building or separate buildings for each of the 13 grade levels.
The question then becomes “what is the right configuration?”
Tefs noted that significant budget cuts coming from the state is the reason the district is looking at alternative building configurations now.
“This is just trying to think ahead,” said Tefs.
“We’re trying to be visionary about maximizing our revenue knowing that we run about a $40 million a year district right now. We know that we are going to have to get this down to about a $36-$37 million district,” said Tefs. “That doesn’t mean it has to come from grade configuration, but we know that we’re not efficiently using our square footage right now.”
The district received a wide range of possible options for building configurations from the small groups.
While some focused on minimizing the number of transitions students make as they move through their academic careers, others expressed concern over moving the eighth grade to the high school.
Most also felt it was important to maintain neighborhood schools for lower grades, but favored some type of grade specific schools for middle and high school students.
Concern over the additional cost of transporting elementary school students who currently walk to neighborhood schools offsetting the savings associated with closing a school were also expressed.
Tefs thanked the participants for offering their feedback, saying, “we’re passionate about what you have to say.”
“These aren’t always easy questions to field. We know it’s a very difficult conversation to have,” said Tefs.
For more information on the Wooster City School District’s facilities utilization activities, visit the district’s home page at http://www.woostercityschools.org and click on the Facilities Optimization link.
Published: November 22, 2011