By Audrey Caro
Lebanon Schools Supt. Rob Hess presented the School Board with a six-page memo with six options to alleviate over-crowding at Seven Oak Middle School, including the option to take no action, at the board’s Jan. 11 meeting.
The memo was in response to a presentation by Seven Oak Middle School Principal Wayne Reposa’s presentation at the Dec. 14 meeting, in which he said the 2017-18 school year was the first time in his six years as principal that staffing didn’t hold pace with student growth.
The increase in students is the result a restructuring of Pioneer School from a K-8 school into K-6 in the spring of 2016.
Hess said he showed a couple of ideas to board Chair Tom Oliver after the December meeting and Oliver requested him to provide “every feasible option.”
“I added all the ones I think are feasible,” Hess said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t more things that can be done.”
Oliver said the intention of the agenda item was to discuss potential options and determine next steps, including how they will get input from school and district staff as well as from parents.
“We know we need to do something,” Oliver said Thursday, Jan. 11. “‘Do nothing’ is one of the options, but certainly this is a challenge that we would like to overcome and improve the conditions at Seven Oak.”
Minimizing disruption to students and families was a concern of staff and board members throughout the discussion.
Board member Nick Brooks asked Hess which option he preferred.
Hess said he thinks a “sister school” option would be the best long-term solution for students – 10 years from now.
“This was not my idea,” Hess said. “I’m going to give (Assistant Superintendent Bo) Yates credit. He brought this up a couple of years ago.”
The “sister school” option would involve restructuring in-town schools into two P-2 and two 3-6 schools, according to Hess’ memo.
“There are several schools organized this way in (the region) and prior to consolidation in 1995, Waterloo and Crowfoot were designed after this model,” Hess said. “The advantages of this model include having more teachers per grade level, less school shopping/swapping, ability to expand preschool, focus Title dollars to two schools, and design professional development at each school according to student need.”
Under this plan, Pioneer and Riverview schools would become 3-6 schools and Green Acres and Cascades would be P-2. Seven Oak Middle School would be a junior high school, with grades 7 and 8 and the school population would be less than 500.
Board member Richard Borden asked what the short-term effect of this model would be.
“Chaotic,” Hess said. “Big change is stressful. This one would create the most stress in the short term.”
Still, Hess said he thinks this would be the most cost-effective option and would be a more efficient use of space and programs offered.
Other options include expanding Cascades to a K-6 school, expanding Cascades and Green Acres to become K-6 schools, fully implementing the K-6 model for all in-town elementary schools, reverting Pioneer back to a K-8 school.
Yates talked about space and capacity at each school.
Across the district, 150 square feet per student is the average, he said.
“Really, the issue to decide is you guys can remove sixth-graders to make more room, or peel back and take upper classmen out of there,” Yates said.
Yates said hallways at Seven Oak are narrow, there are lockers students need to access.
“It’s a bit of a zoo,” Yates said. “I’ve been over there, coming in with the kids. Our lunchroom is probably undersized.”
In contrast, Green Acres Elementary School has wide hallways and students are not going from class to class as they are at Seven Oak.
“The other issue at Seven Oak is previously, the sixth grade was self-contained,” Yates said. “So they weren’t moving through the halls at the same time as the seventh- and eighth-graders, so you’ve introduced another 200 or so kids into the mix, that human stew, and it’s busy.”
Board member Russ McUne said he appreciated the information.
“I’m a little hesitant to have public comment, because know it’s going to be all over the board,” McUne said. “We’re never going to get a unanimous decision, but it has to happen.”
McUne said he does not want to do a big change followed by another big change in a couple of years.
“To get the full volume of (input) we need to do something along the lines of the 2020 (Vision process),” he said.
Oliver agreed that more time was needed to consider the more complex options, but they still need to do something to alleviate the over-crowding at Seven Oak by next fall.
Yates said sixth-grade numbers at Seven Oaks need to drop to between 150 to 175 students, so the sixth grade can be contained.
Hess said the least disruptive option on his list would be to expand Cascades Elementary to a K-6 school.
“Clearly, there are some are bigger long-term fixes that we are probably not prepared to adequately address right now,” Oliver said. “It requires a lot of input from staff, but can’t make any changes without having a process that allows some public input. We can have meetings at schools that would be directly impacted.”
Hess said Survey Monkey and an anonymous online tool called Thought Exchange could be useful.
“Any meeting we host, we could definitely ask for more solutions,” Hess said.
Hess said he thinks having buy-in from the community and staff is important.
Oliver asked Hess to bring a more refined proposal to next month’s meeting with some recommendations to solicit public input.