Despite the outward disapproval of district parents in previous community meetings, the West Geauga Board of Education approved the reconfiguration of the elementary schools Monday night. In the same vote, the board also approved the establishment of one or more stakeholder committees to ease the grade-leveling transition.

All present members of the board voted in favor of the grade-leveling. Board member William Beers was absent from the meeting and thus did not vote.

Currently, the West Geauga Local School District is made up of four grade school buildings, including Westwood and Lindsey elementary schools, West Geauga Middle School and West Geauga High School.

Under what is now officially titled the West Geauga Elementary School Reconfiguration, as approved by the board, all kindergarten through second-grade students would attend Westwood and all third- through fifth-grade students would attend Lindsey, effective for the 2020-21 school year “and continuing thereafter,” according to the resolution.

The resolution to reconfigure the two schools also included the establishment of “one or more committees of parents, staff and others to identify, examine and discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with the implementation” of the reconfiguration. The committee will meet on a monthly basis for the rest of the 2019-20 school year through June, Superintendent Richard Markwardt said.

Dr. Markwardt explained that the committee should only be needed through June because the district should have any challenges or concerns taken care of before the start of the 2020-21 school year. He added that established Parent Teacher Organizations for the schools could certainly carry on any needed discussions on the matter.

“There needs to be a time limit for this so that we have a beginning and we have an end,” he said. “I want to have this completed well in advance before the actual reconfiguration so that we can address the issues and we’re not letting them drag into the next school year.”

Board member Kathy Leavenworth clarified, however, that there could be a recommendation in the future that the committee could continue if it is found to be necessary.

In previous public community and board meetings, Dr. Markwardt, board members and other district officials have agreed that the reconfiguration is necessary as an interim step toward the district’s master plan of creating a central campus and obtaining high academic performance with sights set on being within the top 5 percent of school districts in the state of Ohio.

With the reconfiguration, the district hopes to eliminate academic and enrollment disparities between the two elementary schools.

According to the state report cards released in September of 2019, Lindsey was the lowest performing school in the district for the 2018-19 school year with a performance index of 102.5 out of a possible 120. It currently has an enrollment rate of 343 for the 2019-20 school year. Westwood, on the other hand, was the highest performing school in the district last year with a performance index of 108.1 and has an enrollment rate of 418.

The district estimates to receive about 120 elementary students from Newbury Local Schools with the pending territory transfer that will go into effect June 30.

While Dr. Beers was not present for the meeting, he expressed, through a written statement read by Treasurer Karen Penler, that he would have voted to support the reconfiguration and establishment of the stakeholder committee.

Through his statement, Dr. Beers addressed the community and described serving on the board to be “like putting together a jigsaw puzzle” with each member of the district able to see different portions of the picture, but unable to see how all the pieces fit together.

“It is important that the board hear from all the stakeholders, but the bottom line is that the community must elect board members that they believe have the best ability to put the puzzle together,” he wrote. “Tonight is one of those times when the board formally puts some of the pieces together. There may still be holes in the picture, but we can work together and get the job accomplished.”

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