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School facility future: 'Neighborhood school' question emerges as factor in district's facility plans

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sharon Murdock, left, chats with Wayne Crawford, co-chairman of Citizens for the School Bond, following the public meeting Tuesday, Jan. 19, at Northwest school. Murdock spoke out in favor of returning to neighborhood schools. School district officials say it's not likely true neighborhood schools would work any more, but the school board is considering whether to go to a multigrade school system, which would closer to what neighborhood school advocates desire.
(Eric Crump/Democrat-News)
Editor's note: This is the fourth part of a week-long series looking at various aspects of the Marshall school district's efforts to improve aging facilities.

Call it an example of democracy in action.

Although it's not directly related to the Marshall school district's facility problems -- as school board President Larry Godsey reminded those who attended a public meeting Thursday, Jan. 21, at Bueker Middle School -- the subject of "neighborhood schools" came up repeatedly and insistently when district officials and Citizens for the School Bond committee members talked to people during the bond issue campaign last fall.

Joe Mitchell, a former school administrator, explains at a public meeting Jan. 21 at Bueker Middle School some of the reasons why Marshall school abandoned the neighborhood school approach about thirty years ago, noting that the distribution of students leans strongly to the south part of the city, but the school buildings are split half and half, making neighborhood schools -- as they once were -- impractical to implement now.
(Eric Crump/Democrat-News)
Until about 30 years ago, Marshall elementary students -- in theory -- attended the school nearest their home. Now, all first-grade students attend Benton, second-graders go to Southeast, third-graders go to Eastwood, and fourth-graders go to Northwest. Kindergarten classes are spread among the four buildings.

The school board decided it would have to address the question, and following the failure of the bond issue in November, the board directed Superintendent Craig Noah to study the feasibility of returning to multigrade schools.

Noah plans to report on his findings at the board meeting Monday, Jan. 25, at 7 p.m. in the Central Administration Office at Vest Street and Miami Avenue.

The subject has been raised frequently during the series of public meetings conducted during the past two weeks, too.

Lucy Fletcher said at the meeting Jan. 14 that she has read about studies suggesting that parent involvement and student success are not well served by larger schools. She also said the smaller existing schools better fit Marshall's small-town atmosphere, something many people in the community cherish.

"I went to one school, kindergarten through sixth grade," said Sharon Murdock at the meeting Tuesday, Jan. 19, at Northwest school. "I went to Eastwood. There was some pride in the school you went to. It seems like we want to throw away our past and try to be Kansas City or Olathe or whatever. These kids are having to be bussed all over Marshall."

Wayne Crawford, co-chairman of the Citizens for the School Bond committee, agreed with the sentiment, but noted that he had learned some things since becoming involved in the campaign that he hadn't realized before.

"I like that idea, too. I asked, 'Why not?'" he said. He noted that society has changed, and rules for education have changed. It's no longer acceptable, he said, to have schools that are effectively segregated by demographics, having too many of one sex or one race or one economic class in the same school.

"You're going to end up bussing anyway to blend the students" and to level the number of students per school, he said.

And bussing may not be such a bad thing, at least from the perspective of some school administrators.

"I love bussing, because their safety is our concern," said Northwest Principal Janine Machholz. She noted that when students are picked up by parents or designated caregivers, or when they ride the bus, she knows where they are and that they are in good hands. If they walk to and from school, she doesn't have the same assurance of their safety.

Former school administrator Joe Mitchell provided a brief history lesson to those at the BMS meeting, reminding people why the old system was abandoned in favor of the current system.

He said had been working in the district for two years and was principal of Benton and Eastwood schools when the change was enacted.

At Benton, second-grade classes had 29 to 30 children -- more than current accreditation standards allow -- and at Eastwood, second-grade classes had 17 or 18 students, he said.

The district attempted to even things out by gerrymandering attendance zones, he said, but even that did not work.

"It was a nightmare trying to figure out where the boundaries would be. That's what triggered the decision to create the system we have now," he said. "I don't think those residential patterns have changed any in the last 30 years."

At a meeting Thursday afternoon, Jan. 21, at Eastwood school, Mike Mills echoed some of Murdock's concerns.

"I had four children go through ... right in the middle of when we went to this (current system)," Mike Mills said. "It just caused a lot of problems."

Noah responded that his research and discussions with staff members shows there are positive aspects of going to a multigrade school system again.

"The positives are, you don't transition a kid to a new building" every year, Noah said, noting that changing buildings every year can present challenges for students, parents and even principals and teachers. "Principals and teachers don't know their kids as well. About the time you figure them out, here comes a new group."

Noah noted that -- for the reasons Mitchell noted -- it is not likely the district can return to the neighborhood schools as people remember them. But switching to multigrade schools is an option the district could choose.

"It wouldn't be a 'neighborhood school.' You're going to have to divide the students based on economics, demographics, reading level, etc. But they're going to be in the same building for three years" if that option is chosen.

At the BMS meeting, however, several people spoke out in favor of the current system. One woman said that although her child changes buildings every year, he is acquainted with more students his own age because his whole grade travels together.

"It's a new building every year, but it's not new faces every year," she said.

School board member Teri Wright said if voters approve the bond issue and support building new schools, the question may resolve itself within about a decade.

The district's long-range plan currently calls for building a grade three through five elementary school first if the bond issue passes, and after eight to 10 years, when the bond has been paid down sufficiently, asking voters for permission to build a pre-kindergarten through second grade school, giving the district two multigrade elementary schools.

Contact Eric Crump at marshalleditor@socket.net

Related stories:


The Marshall school board is expected to weigh the pros and cons of staying with the current distribution of grades among the district's elementary schools (single grade + kindergarten at each school) or go to multigrade schools. Which do you prefer?
 Current system (single grade + kindergarten)
 Multigrade (K-2 or K-4, depending on whether a new school gets built)

Your comments about the poll question: (Optional)

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Where did we loose the point of what is good for the students. I challenge anyone who looks at schools such as marshalls size to compare. If you have been to Moberly they have a great set up for there schools an elementary, middle, and high school all located in the same area of town and they have given their children the resources they need to be successful!

-- Posted by alumnus_08 on Mon, Jan 25, 2010, at 1:33 PM

I am opposed to changing from the grade level buildings. I feel many of the people who want to go back to the neighborhood school concept are not aware that there is a great deal of mobility in our community. Some children move 3 or 4 times during a school year. It is detrimental to these children to be uprooted to a new school just because their parents move, no matter what the reason. Oftentimes, the students are ones that can least afford the upheaval in their lives. Also, with grade level buildings, students can be separated from children with whom they have had problems. This is more problematic in a multi-grade school as there are just a few classrooms of each level in each building.

Educational requirements are much more structured now. The present format accommodates many of these mandates.

Yes, I grew up in a kinder, gentler time when we walked to school with our brothers and sisters. There were block mothers who watched out for us. Our mothers walked with us most of the time. Very few mothers are home now. There is NO WAY I would allow my children to walk to school today. Ask any teacher how they feel about it, and I think you'd be surprised to find out many do not feel it is safe for children to walk home unsupervised. Busing is the safest way to make sure kids make it to and from their own homes.

The bottom line is it is the responsibility of the board to provide the best learning environment for ALL children while keeping them safe.

-- Posted by oneofmany on Sun, Jan 24, 2010, at 10:26 PM

Well said, Reader101.

-- Posted by Night Sky on Sun, Jan 24, 2010, at 6:55 PM


No one was being dismissive or belittling. There were legimate responses to Tito's questions.

My response was to the implication that a vote to build a new school would be based on personal actions of an administrator rather than on the children's need for a new school.

If it seems like people are screaming about the kids, it's because they are the ones most influenced by this decision.

-- Posted by hat full of sky on Sun, Jan 24, 2010, at 4:00 PM

Anytime a voter has a question, it is a valid question. How is being dissmissive of, belittling or telling off some one who asks a question, going to get their vote?

It is possible to come up just one vote shy of passing something. Wouldn't it be terrible if instead of trying to answer a voters question, in an honost, polite manner, some one voted no just because of the way they were treated when they asked a question?

To all who scream "THINK OF THE KIDS", please "think of the kids" when responding to questions being asked, or points trying to be made.

-- Posted by Reader101 on Sun, Jan 24, 2010, at 4:05 AM

Good Luck in April!

-- Posted by Tito on Sat, Jan 23, 2010, at 6:00 PM

The principal does live in Marshall. His son is a senior in high school-no reason to uproot him for one year. I hope that your line of thought means you spend all your money in Marshall-don't go to a doctor out of town, don't eat out of town, support all local businesses. There are many people who do not live in this town--yet they care.

-- Posted by mu-grad on Sat, Jan 23, 2010, at 5:27 PM

Tito, it may be that the ***'t Super's children have been in another district for a long time and prefer to stay in a school where they have friends - that IS another possibility. And it also could be that they are in a school that does not have decades-old TRAILERS to house their students, and prefer that atmosphere. In any case, that issue is none of our business!

-- Posted by Miss Marple on Sat, Jan 23, 2010, at 5:27 PM

Never said I did not like the staff..I understand why people would send their children to a parochial school for the religious values. Nothing wrong with that!!!

What I am trying to say the Asst. Supt's children go to another school in another district and this shows me and others they prefer the education there than Marshall. Are they tooooo good to go to Marshall?????or is there something wrong with the schools????? What REAL interest does the Asst. Supt. have other than drawing a check from taxpayers money!!!!Also his wife is a Marshall school employee!! His children are not housed in the Marshall school buildings. Just my thoughts take them or ignore them!!!!

-- Posted by Tito on Sat, Jan 23, 2010, at 4:15 PM

Basing your vote on your estimation of the administration and staff is like beating up the fireman who is putting out your house fire because you don't like the fire chief.

When will people stop punishing the children by voting no just because they don't like the staff? Why can't you understand the flaw in that logic?

-- Posted by hat full of sky on Sat, Jan 23, 2010, at 3:05 PM

Where the children of school employees or school board members get their education should be of no concern to other parents, most especially if they choose to send their children to a parochial school such as St. Peter. And as Taxedpayer points out, it is the school board, elected by the people in the school district, who are driving the bus here, so to speak, not Dr. Noah.

-- Posted by Miss Marple on Sat, Jan 23, 2010, at 1:47 PM


I looked through the Marshall policies at http://policy.msbanet.org/marshall/defau... and couldn't find any mention of supt. residency requirement. But did you miss Bcat's comment? Apparently the Noahs do live in Marshall. Or at least, we've got conflicting comments. Maybe the newspaper will find out for sure and let us know.

Anyway, seems like grasping at straws to nitpick Noah as a way to criticize the school bond. The bond is the school board's decision. Noah job is to do the board's bidding. I think people who have a beef should criticize the plan not the man.

-- Posted by taxedpayer on Sat, Jan 23, 2010, at 1:18 PM

In the past I had always heard that when a Supt. or a Asst. Supt. take a job in the district they must live in the district? Have things changed in the last few years? The Brocks, Harts all were apart of the Marshall community and their children went to Marshall Schools and these families still take part in the town activities.

I think when Administrators live in the district and raise their children in the schools they look at things differently and have more involvement as parents for the school system.

Its too bad Marshall Public Schools changed the residency rules for current administrators....I agree with noshadesofgray about their concerns....would'nt everyone agree???

-- Posted by Tito on Sat, Jan 23, 2010, at 12:42 PM

Dr. Noah and his family do live in Marshall. His kids go to the Marshall Public Schools. John Angelhow's kids do go to St. Peter's. I don't know about the other administrators.

-- Posted by Bcat on Sat, Jan 23, 2010, at 10:19 AM

Is is true that Dr. Noah doesn't even live in Marshall and from what I have heard sends his children to St. Peters. Mr. Anglehow who plays a big role in the representation of the school's side of the issue, sends his children to St. Peters. Marshall's Assistant Superintindent doesn't even live in Marshall nor does his children attend Marshall Public Schools. And the high school principal doesn't live in Marshall nor does his children attend Marshall Public Schools. Is it fair to ask; "Why should Marshall believe that they have the best plan for Marshall when they must not believe in Marshall themselves?"

-- Posted by noshadesofgray on Sat, Jan 23, 2010, at 9:49 AM


I think the Board is going to make that decision at their next meeting. Wayne Crawford is going to present his findings from all of these town meetings, and Superintendent Noah will present information about the feasibility of the multi-grade schools to the Board at that time as well.

To my knowledge, the three choices seem to be:

1) Build new 3-5, keep current K-2 setup.

2) Build new 3-5, switch to three multi-grade/community K-2 schools.

3) Renovate the old schools. (I'm not sure if switching to multi-grade schools is a part of this option).

The public will know exactly what they're voting on very soon.

-- Posted by fvsol on Fri, Jan 22, 2010, at 10:09 PM

I would like the School Board to make a decision on how the remaining elementary schools will be set up.I would also like to know prior to the vote on the bond issue whether they will be single grade + K, or the traditional multi grade K-2, K-3, K-4. This is a very important consideration for me whether we build a new 3-5, or 4-5 middle school, or not.

-- Posted by izaak on Fri, Jan 22, 2010, at 9:48 PM

Yes, there is research on ideal school size. I'm aware of it from at least 15-20 years ago. School planners never cite it. In general, the younger the students, the smaller the school should be for optimum educational performance. As I remember the numbers, Marshall High School is not too big, but could be bigger.

Then there is student experience expressed by one of my former students who left Chicago. He moved from a high school of thousands to one with 200 students. In the small school, he thought he got better, more personal education plus more opportunity for involvement in extra curricular activities that broadened his horizons.

Just to be obtuse, why isn't the big yellow school bus considered a contributor to childhood obesity? Once upon a time, rural students rode the bus while town students walked or rode bicycles. Rural student chores more than made up for their not walking the distance. Is anyone out there going to admit they remember a slimmer student landscape?

-- Posted by Cat13 on Fri, Jan 22, 2010, at 7:19 PM

Thank you Eric.

-- Posted by Scarpetta on Fri, Jan 22, 2010, at 5:48 PM

With this new bond issue, if a new school is built, will any of the old buildings be no longer used?

-- Posted by Scarpetta on Fri, Jan 22, 2010, at 3:13 PM
Response by Eric Crump/Editor:
If the new school is built, Eastwood school would be retired as a classroom building. Craig Noah has said the building would be sold or razed and would not be allowed to deteriorate and become an eyesore.

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