After removing the vote on reconfiguring the elementary schools from the December board meeting agenda, the West Geauga Local School Board of Education discussed several alternatives to this master planning interim step during a special meeting last week.
Members of the school district filled the board office on Dec. 27 as the BOE tossed ideas around and out surrounding the current plan to “grade-level” the schools, which includes putting all kindergarten through second-grade students in Westwood Elementary School and all third- through fifth-grade students in Lindsey Elementary School.
Alternatives included moving all fifth-grade students to the middle school, which would free up space for incoming Newbury students; moving all elementary students to Westwood; keeping all students in their current buildings, including the Newbury students in at the Newbury Elementary School; moving all open enrollment students to Lindsey and creating a Westwood “grey area” that would move 100 Lindsey students to Westwood; just moving all Newbury students to Lindsey; and moving all open enrollment students to Lindsey and splitting the Newbury students to equalize enrollment.
In November, the West G BOE approved the pending territory transfer of Newbury Local School District into West G, which would go into effect for the 2020-21 school year. As a result of this, West G expects about 120 additional elementary students out of a total estimated 230 to be split between West G and Berkshire local schools.
The board agreed to eliminate some ideas, like moving all fifth-graders to the middle school for concerns that they are too young to interact with the older students, keeping all students in place because of costs associated with the Newbury Elementary School and creating the Westwood “grey area” because of the isolation of effected students and families, among others.
Other ramifications to alternatives centered on the idea of creating an “us vs. them” atmosphere in the schools between the West G and Newbury students.
“We want to make sure that when the Newbury students come in, they’re treated the same as any of the students who have been here in the past,” Superintendent Richard Markwardt said.
As the board discussed the alternatives, board Vice President William Beers suggested the “out of the box” idea of moving all middle school students to the high school and all elementary school students to the middle school as a way to speed up the centralization while keeping grades together and equalizing educational disparities.
“One of the things that I’ve heard is that people like the idea of the central campus, and they liked the idea of grade-leveling associated with a central campus,” Dr. Beers said. “Is there any way that we could accelerate the central campus concept?” he asked, noting that the high school has room to hold more students, which would free the middle school up for the elementary grades.
“It would be tight, but yes, I think it could be done,” Dr. Markwardt said of moving all elementary students to the middle school.
Board President Ben Kotowski pointed out that the middle and high schools would need reconfiguring to accommodate the changes, separating younger and older students in the high school and making alterations to the middle school for kindergartners.
“It would be worth studying if it were multiple years out,” Dr. Markwardt said.
“You couldn’t pull it off for next year, I understand that,” Dr. Beers said. “But what if you could pull it off a year down the road (for the 2021-22 school year) and leave things as they are now for next year?”
Dr. Markwardt pointed out that the costs of grade-leveling the elementary schools would be miniscule to the costs of altering the middle and high schools.
Board member Chet Ramey noted the high school would need a great deal of reconfiguring to separate the older and younger students.
“If we cannot pass a bond issue to build a new school, I think that’s a really good fallback plan,” Mr. Kotowski said to Mr. Ramey’s point, noting it would be too expensive to put money to reconfigure a building the district wants to replace. If the district cannot pass a bond levy as a result of grade-leveling costs, however, he said the district might be able to ask the community for a smaller levy for maintenance and reconfiguration of the current buildings.
Also in discussion to address concerns from parents, board member Dan Thoreson suggested creating stakeholder groups similar to the master planning as a way to meet with parents more frequently through the potential grade-leveling process. Dr. Markwardt agreed to this, suggesting meeting monthly.
“There’s no way to satisfy everyone,” Mr. Thoreson said, adding that the board could help ease concerns with improved communication.
“You have to have reasonably articulated concerns,” Mr. Ramey said, noting that more meetings would help the board and parents communicate. “We can’t offer a firm plan at a blurry target.”