Another side to school plan

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Dear Editor,

Your editorial of June 10 stating that "grouping students improves efficiency" only voiced one side of this very controversial issue. McCook Public School administration recommends re-configuring our elementary grades so that pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grades are in one ward school, and second and third grade are in another ward school. While you touted several perceived advantages to this configuration, there are still several questions that should be addressed before change is adopted:

Transitions. Under the proposed configuration, students will attend five different schools in their 13 years of education at McCook. They will be adjusting to a new school environment in kindergarten, second grade, fourth grade, sixth grade, and ninth grades. While it is true that the proposed configuration is only adding one more transition than they currently have, it is adding that transition at the second grade (age 7-8).

Think of the last time you moved from one house to another, or one job to another. Were you apprehensive or uncomfortable? We will be asking our seven and eight year olds to undergo the same uneasiness. How will we maintain a sense of stability in the elementary grades when half of the student population turns over every year?

Parental Involvement. Will the configuration likely increase or decrease parent involvement? Students are not the only ones who will have to adapt to new school buildings, policies, and staff. When children spend only two years in each elementary school, parents will not feel the sense of ownership that they currently feel.

Interaction between grade levels. You stated that one benefit of this recommendation was that there would be less bullying because older students are at different schools than the younger pupils. We will also be losing many positive aspects of having older students and younger students together. One of those positive aspects is the reading buddies program where the older students read with the first graders. The older students learn leadership and self-esteem, while the younger ones see a positive role model. Is segregation the answer to bullying, or is increased interaction and a sense of belonging a better solution?

Teamwork. If all first graders were in one building, all first grade teachers could work together and share materials. By the same reasoning, teamwork and communication between first and second grade teachers will suffer, because they will be in two different buildings. A teacher who is struggling with a challenging student will no longer be able to easily communicate with that student's previous teacher to see what worked and what didn't. The first grade teacher who watched a 6 year old struggle with phonics concepts in first grade will no longer be able to see that same student achieve a top reader award in third grade.

Equity in programs. McCook Board of Education member Jack Clark has stated that the biggest complaint he gets from parents is that one ward school has a special program or assembly that another ward school did not get. Unfortunately, that will not go away with re-configuration. Parents want as many educational and cultural opportunities for their children as possible. We will still be concerned if our kindergartner doesn't get to see a fun assembly that our next-door neighbor's second grader enjoyed.

Parking and traffic flow. With our neighborhood schools, many students are able to walk to and from school. Not only will we be eliminating this convenience for many students, some parents could be forced to make three or more stops before getting all of their children delivered to school. The same problem will exist at the end of the day when students have to be picked up. Will we be staggering start and release times to accommodate this? Will we provide busing?

Costs. This proposal may cut some supply and mileage expense. However, no one has provided parents with a figure, other than to say the savings would be "minimal". What is the estimated savings? Will the cost per pupil actually decrease?

A March, 2002, article by Craig B. Howley on the American Association of School Administrators web site is very enlightening on this subject. He suggests that changing school configuration may "be more for the convenience of educators and not for the benefits of kids, families or communities". The Web site is www.aasa.org/publications/sa/2002_03/howley.htm. Just doing a Google search of "grade span configuration" will bring up several articles that report that narrowly configured schools with many transitions are not the most effective and efficient in meeting the educational needs of students.

Please be assured that parents also want what is "best for the children." McCook parents support the outstanding school system, educators, and administration that make up McCook Public Schools. Our school board and administration has an astronomical task before them as they are faced with the new economic realities. You are absolutely right that "they must be shrewd to get the most they can out of tax dollars."

Regardless of the decision the school board makes, parents will work with their children to make the situation as positive as it can be. I only ask that the school board take the time to hear and address the practical concerns of parents before they make a decision that may adversely impact the quality of life for McCook families.

Shary Skiles


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