Buildings may have to shift classrooms

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Various ways to fit Lewisburg's students into the available school buildings were discussed at a school board building committee meeting Thursday night.

The principals of the three affected schools - Deborah Wade, Marshall Elementary; Sherry Park, Westhills; and Dr. Patsey Thomas, Oak Grove - and been invited to attend, and were asked to speak by chairman Craig Michael.

"I'm going to be short two classrooms next year," said Park to start the discussion. "Next year's sixth grade is an unusually large class."

Her suggestion was to house some sixth-grade classes at Lewisburg Middle School, and ask for volunteers to go there.

"It's a temporary fix, but that's the only thing I can figure that will get done by next fall," said Park. She commented that she doesn't like putting sixth graders in middle school; in her experience they do much better staying in an elementary school setting.

Becky Hill, K-6 supervisor of instruction, agreed, stating that there was a body of research supporting this conclusion.

"I'm all about the children, and I'm about saving the dollar," said Thomas, former principal of MES and current principal of Oak Grove.

Thomas suggested abandoning the two-year-old plan to transition the three schools to all hold K-6, and go back to the way it used to be: pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade at MES; second and third grades at Westhills; and fourth, fifth, and possibly sixth, at Oak Grove.

"It's not going to be popular - you'll have some parents mad," Thomas admitted, "But I'm thinking about all the children.

She explained that MES was designed to house the small children, and many things, from the small toilets and basins to the small room sizes, make it unsuitable for the larger children in the older grades. Thomas also said there were problems with the age of the MES building: she had been told it could not handle the wiring for the new technology they were hoping to get, the sprinkler system was not up to current code specifications, and it was very short of storage space.

"I've always known MES as K-2," said Wade, the current principal. "That building is not ready for future growth right now - it needs a lot of work."

"I do ask, when you make a decision, make it on behalf of the children," Wade pleaded. "Just give us what we need for our children."

"That's the whole purpose of this meeting: to try to figure out a solution without having to spend money," said committee member Curt Denton. "Everyone wants the best for the students or we wouldn't be here."

The committee briefly considered, and dismissed, the use of portable classrooms, whether purchased or leased.

Michael handed out a sheet of figures that he had prepared. It showed that Marshall County's school population had grown by 1,075 children since 1992. Since that year, Oak Grove, Cornersville Elementary, Chapel Hill Elementary, and an addition to Forrest have been built, increasing capacity by 2,680 places. In Cornersville, for instance, in 2001, when they had K-12 in one building, they had 838 students. Now Cornersville children are divided between the high school (453) and the elementary (466). In other words, there are almost 400 fewer pupils in the high school building than there used to be. LMS housed 664 students in 2002; now it has 414.

"We know we have capacity at LMS," said Michael. "Why can't we leave MES as K-4 and decide what to do with Oak Grove and Westhills?"

"The biggest concern is what to do with the fifth and sixth graders," said Kristen Gold. "When I went to school here we changed every two years, but, as the parent of a fourth grader, I don't want to see her move twice. I love having just two grades at middle school, but you've got to use the capacity you have at LMS."

"Anything that does not move students to LMS is not going to solve the problem," agreed Michael. "If we put the whole of sixth grade at LMS it would be a strain - maybe just consider moving a large portion of the sixth grade there; don't rule out leaving sixth where it is in one or two schools."

"If we've got space at LMS we need to use it," said Randy Perryman.

"The real issue is to be more effective with our utilization of space," said Michael. "Somebody's going to be inconvenienced no matter what we do," he added.

"Could these three principals come up with a plan?" asked Denton.

"Yes, we can do it," exclaimed the three, planning to get together early this week.

"We appreciate what you're doing," said Park. "It's all for the kids. You all are working towards working together better than any board I've seen."

The committee will obviously be spending a lot of time "working together" between now and August to get all of Marshall County's children assigned to schools where they can best benefit from the most important factor in a child's education: the classroom teacher.