Elementary principals suggests a second reconfiguration of grade levels
Northwest Elementary Principal Janine Machholz and Eastwood Elementary Principal Darci McFail returned to the Marshall Public Schools' Board of Education meeting Tuesday evening, Oct. 21, to report on how their configuration fared in combining third and fourth grade in each respective building.
As reported on in the May school board meeting, the principals came up with the idea after the school tax levy failed in April, which would have built a new facility to house grades kindergarten through fifth in two connected buildings. The purpose of the reconfiguration was to lessen the transitions a Marshall student makes in the district.
"I do want to start by saying 'Thank you' from both schools and everyone who's worked for giving us this opportunity to pilot this particular thought process," Machholz said. "I'm just going to tell you in a nutshell, we're pleased as punch. We're very, very happy. It's going well."
Machholz addressed what has gone well and what the challenges are concerning the reconfiguration. First, she reported the distribution of students between both buildings have had few complications, the teachers have adapted well to the reassignment of grade levels and the transfer of materials and supplies turned out to be a smooth process.
She also reported that according to Craig Thompson, director of transportation, it had a positive impact on transportation.
"We transport more than half our children and we were able to lose two buses, so we've already cut down on two buses," Machholz said. "... Anytime we can save some money and get a few more kids off buses and a different way to get home, we think is good."
McFail also provided another positive concerning transportation as more children are walking and riding their bikes to school from home, engaging in physical health and outside activity.
"Another huge positive is what we see in our fourth graders at Eastwood this year," McFail said, offering another positive she sees on the student level. "They came in confident, they knew what to do, they knew the procedures, they role-modeled for the younger kids, because it's not brand new to everybody in the building. It just warms your heart."
McFail said the greatest challenge for the change has been finding a balance between the blending of the buildings and maintaining their respective climates.
After hearing positive feedback from parents and the community, McFail and Machholz got the administrative team together to create a list of pros and cons for extending the configuration to grade levels kindergarten through fifth.
The pros include -- fewer transitions providing a greater connection between students, staff and families, offering a greater sense of school community; fifth grade's placement in elementary is more fitting with curriculum, resources and best practices; and kindergarten classes consolidated in two schools instead of four will offer a closer proximity with students of similar age.
The cons include -- students will be split from their entire grade, the cost to the district, and kindergarten and fifth-grade teachers would be assigned to a new building.
Machholz said the new configuration would have third, fourth and fifth grade housed in Eastwood and Northwest, and grades kindergarten through second to be placed in Benton and Southeast.
Both principals suggested the 2015-2016 school year to implement the transition, if logistics and finances will allow. Machholz also offered another move that would have to take place to accommodate the change.
"The relocating of trailers to fit what we need for fifth grade and kindergarten, that would need to happen, because there's not room in any of the buildings for us to do what we have," she said.
They suggested moving the trailers from Bueker Middle School to each of the elementary school buildings and purchasing three new trailers. They estimated that approximately 175 fifth-grade students and between 90-100 kindergarten students would have classes in the trailers.
"Trailers were never designed to be permanent school buildings, but that's what we need to do for the short term," McFail said. "(We) hope its short term. We need to have more permanent facilities eventually."
Paul Faber, director of business servies, was asked to fill in during their presentation to talk about the cost of the configuration.
"The bottom line is, to do all this at once, you're looking at about $53,500," Faber said. "That would break down to approximately $5,000 per trailer that's existing, to move within a mile."
He also said the cost of the lease for the next two years would be an additional $22,500. The ongoing expenses for the transition could include hiring of more custodians, counselors and english-as-a-second-language teachers.
"We look at curriculum, we look at all the things that are available to us. We look at the research and it says 'less transitions,'" Machholz said. "We've gone to the voters and asked for schools and they're not comfortable with that yet, maybe one day they will be. So as a district, we start to talk about what can we do. If we can't have a new place to put them, what are we going to do with what we have? So this is what we're trying to do."
No action was taken by the board at this time.
Under the central office report, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Diane Gillaspie said that after two months in the district, she feels like she can now look at curriculum and instruction as a whole, offering the tasks to perform for better student achievement and teacher practices.
"One thing that the task that I know Dr. Maher has been talking to you all about at the board retreat was revise the current CSIP (Comprehensive School Improvement Plan)," Gillaspie said. "We feel that there needs to be some focus aligned truly with the mission that's put out by Marshall Public Schools and just to make sure that it's aligned to those goals."
She said the biggest task is to update and write curriculum to better align with Missouri Learning Standards.
"At this point, math has been touched a little bit to be aligned with Missouri Learning Standards," Gillaspie said. "I opened up that binder, I'd say it's workable, but it's not doable."
The biggest area she said needs to be better aligned with the standards are english-language-arts.
In her report, Interim Superintendent Carol Maher, expanded on the importance of a CSIP plan, which was discussed in length at the school board retreat Monday, Oct. 6, at Missouri Valley College.
"The CSIP plan is to the district as the Constitution is to the country," Maher said. "It's very important to know what's in that CSIP plan, to have absolute belief and connection to across the district and our CSIP plan really needs to be revised and tweaked."
The current goals of the district, which is in its early draft form, include -- providing and maintaining a safe and supportive environment which will contribute to academic success, confidence and happiness to its students; recruiting, supporting and retaining highly efficient teachers, staff and leaders who enjoy their work; and promoting involvement and awareness of student diversity and commonalities, and encouraging inclusion throughout the school community.
"One big major portion of the conversation in our retreat was the desire to raise salaries for our teachers and employees in the district," Maher said. "We know that we've lost several good teachers to neighboring districts. We agreed that we want Marshall to be the district where candidates compete to come here, because everyone wants to be here. That's where we want to move forward."
Maher said they have been compiling data out of 18 neighboring schools similar in size to Marshall, and the district is currently ranked eighth at $31,250 in base pay. She said a school finance and budget information session will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13, to determine how the district is funded through the federal, state and local levels. She said the aim is to build the budget to reflect the goals of the CSIP plan.
In other business, Director of Student Services Terri Porter announced to the board about a new program for the district called "Activate," which she hopes to start in November.
"This is something I'm really excited about. It sounds very good, it's research-based and it's suppose to help students that have problems with executive functions," Porter said. "That's the students that have trouble with distractibility, focus, self-control, those kind of things."
Faber, in his report, said the district's facilities has been a focal point during his time here. Some of the highlights he provided were making sure carbon monoxide sensors are present in all school buildings, looking at the heating systems in preparation for the coming winter season and finding leaky pipes that are in need of repair.
The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 24, at MPS' central office.
Contact Jesse Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org
School board hears proposal to reconfigure grade schools
School board urges to vote NO on Amendment No. 3
Under new business, the board approved a resolution opposing Missouri Constitutional Amendment No. 3 in the upcoming Nov. 4 general election, which Paulette Baker, vice president of the Community Teachers Association, read to them earlier in the meeting:
"Whereas Amendment 3 on the November ballot is a state mandate that shows local control for educational decisions away from parents, teachers, administrators and school boards; and whereas Amendment 3 is a poorly drafted and deeply flawed proposal that has many unintended consequences for teachers, administrators and school boards; and whereas Amendment 3 would prevent school boards from hiring, promoting, compensating or dismissing teachers in accordance with board policy; and whereas Amendment 3 would force taxpayers to pay for additional standardized tests at a time when our public schools remain significantly underfunded by the state; and whereas Amendment 3 significantly changes teacher evaluations away from a tool to prevent teacher performance."
Communication with public:
The Marshall school board debuted a new agenda item Tuesday, Oct. 21, titled "Communication with public." The board asks the individual to call the superintendent about the nature of the discussion and to limit themselves to five minutes. Maher said the reasoning behind the screening of information before the meeting was to possibly supply information that would enhance the dialogue.
"We really do value the public's opinion, the public's ideas, the public's collaboration with us," Maher said.
The new agenda item was agreed upon at the board retreat Monday, Oct. 6. No one came forth at the meeting to start any discussion.
New business and executive session:
Under new business, Interim Superintendent Carol Maher announced the district will start advertising for bids for the rental of farm land. The board also listened about a potential trip to Chicago for the Marshall High School marching band and approved the A+ program review.
In executive session, the board accepted the resignation of Will McFail as Northwest's focus room para and approved the hire of Dawn Wheeler to fill that role. The board was also informed of the transfer of Bueker Middle School custodian Austin Scott to Benton Elementary.