Where would your child go to school? District mulls jr. high options

Lebanon Community School District board members and staff discussed the possibility of switching sixth-grade students around between schools, to lessen overcrowding, at a work session and board meeting on March 8.

In January and February LCSD held five community forums, distributed an online survey to employees and parents and engaged community members through Thoughtexchange, an online platform that allows anonymous participation.

The issue is being discussed as a way to alleviate overcrowding and low academic achievement at Seven Oak Middle School.

At the Dec. 14 board meeting, former Seven Oak Middle School Principal Wayne Reposa told the LCSD board that 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 of a restructuring of Pioneer School from a K-8 school into K-6 in the spring of 2016.

Reposa resigned Jan. 30, the first day of the new semester. He is taking voluntary personal leave, which is paid, for the remainder of the school year.

Reposa cited the conflict that is currently taking place in the district as the reason he left, but said he was prohibited from further discussing the situation because of the terms of the agreement he signed with the district.

Principals from each school were present at the March 8 work session and offered their input about various reconfiguration options. Vice Principal Jordan Ford represented Seven Oak.

Ford said he has been at the middle school for 13 years.

“I love having (sixth grade through eighth grade),” he said. “But with our increased numbers we’ve had to shift those sixth-graders all over the school.”

He said crowded halls and too few lockers were also problematic.

Numbers-wise, having only seventh- and eighth-graders at Seven Oak “feels pretty good,” he said.

Superintendent Rob Hess told board members that having four K-6 schools in town was the dominant response from participants in the various forums and surveys.

“Achieving this goal would allow Seven Oak to become a junior high for seventh- and eighth-grade students,” Hess said. “Making this transition would achieve the goal of alleviating overcrowding, continuing to provide a range of electives for seventh- and eighth-graders, and help more students be academically prepared when they enter Seven Oak, which will result in more students being prepared for success when they enter high school.”

Riverview School Principal Joe Vore said adding sixth-graders to his school “seems like shifting the problem.”

Teacher prep time and physical space for students were among his concerns.

Hess said Assistant Superintendent Bo Yates, who was not present at the meeting, looked into pricing for modulars that could be used at the schools to alleviate some of the physical space concerns.

The cost for two classrooms would be about $120,000, he said.

Green Acres would face different challenges. They don’t have as many classroom teachers but they do have a lot of programs, said Principal Amanda Plummer.

“We don’t want to create barriers to opportunities,” Plummer said. “Our kids are already less advantaged.”

Green Acres houses the English Language Learning program for the district.

Maureen Twomey, a teacher at Lebanon High School and member of the district’s equity team, spoke during public comments.

“I along with some colleagues who are also members of the equity team compiled some concerns in light of the potential and pending decisions that need to be made about school configuration,” Twomey said.

“I wanted to comment because I did hear that ELL and other programs might be factors in that.”

Some of their concerns focus on how the district would meet students’ needs if they went to their neighborhood school rather than their magnet school, she said.

“We wondered about how the levels of training would have to be managed in order for all the staff to be ready to work with students that had different levels of ELD concerns,” she said. “The district currently has one translator interpreter who must be available to translate for all meetings. The district is still in the process of developing a system to ensure that documents are prepared in Spanish in advance for parent meetings.

Twomey asked if the district would be expanding “its services team to account for supporting for more school locations to support families.”

Hess asked her if the equity team had a recommendation about whether or not to continue the magnet program.

She said they, as a group, did not.

“There were some of us that talked among ourselves, but we didn’t have all the people present,” Twomey said. “It would be nice to be able to have a full turnout at that so we could actually discuss all the different implications and concerns.”

Board member Russ McUne noted that during the hour-long work session which preceded the meeting, academic achievement was not discussed, though it was cited as one of the reasons for possible reconfiguration.

“Are were really overcrowded or can we manage it better,” McUne said. “Seven Oak had issues even before the overcrowding issue. It might be easier to put two mods up at Seven Oak where equity can happen already.”

Board chair Tom Oliver agreed.

“What that doesn’t do, we believe there would be some benefit to kids staying in sixth grade at elementary school,” he added. “What’s the trade off we’re willing to make?”

Oliver was concerned that the “push to do something may overpower the push to do the correct thing.”

Board member Richard Borden suggested the possibility of discontinuing open enrollment, which allows parents school choice within the district.

“It’s always been a popular thing, but it’s another thing to consider,” Hess said.

Borden said he doesn’t want to make a decision in haste.

Board members Nick Brooks and Mike Martin brought up the issue of consistency in regards to academic achievement.

“If we just keep piecemealing these kids out, that’s not fair,” Brooks said. “Then we talk about why aren’t they performing.”

Martin said consistency is a major factor.

“(There are) some schools with four or five PEs a week, and some with two,” Martin said, adding that he would want his children to be at the one with five PE units a week.

“I came to this district in 1979,” Martin said.

At that time there was consistency in the classes that taught at each school, he said.

Brooks said Hamilton Creek and Lacomb should have the same changes as the other schools.

“What we need to provide first is consistency,” Martin said. “Make that the defining purpose. We don’t want to cobble our house together. A lean-to on the side and a bathroom over here. I think we can provide a better house than that.”

McUne said he wants to know what the principals think the district should do.

The board is scheduled to meet on March 19 to give direction about school configuration to district staff.

“I don’t want to make the wrong call because we’re in a hurry,” Oliver said. “If we’re not ready to make a call on (March 19) we need to be willing to accept that.”

School configuration meeting, tonight, March 19

Editor’s Note: Look for a story about the March 19 meeting at LebanonLocalNews.com on March 20).