Maris Schad speaks
Photo by George Lauby
Linda Clavel, center, talks to the board
The North Platte school board gave Superintendent Marty Bassett the green light Tuesday to continue to look at putting all the sixth graders in Madison Middle School.
Bassett has proposed the change with the aim of focusing on one grade as the students come together from 10 elementary schools. All seventh and eighth graders would attend Adams on the other side of town.
Putting the entire grade in school together would reduce rivalries between middle school students, and allow teachers to collaborate better, he said.
Bassett has not discussed transporation, but said the process would have a "transporation component."
About 400 students would cross town each school day.
Bassett told the board Tuesday that nearly 200 parents and teachers attended public meetings last week at each of the schools.
He said opinions are nearly evenly divided, based on a show of hands and numbers written on sticky notes.
At the end of each of the two meetings, Bassett asked the audience to hold up five fingers if they strongly favor putting the sixth graders in Madison, and to hold up a fist (for 0) if they are strongly opposed.
He told them use numbers 1-4 to indicate degress of opposition or support.
He told the board that 91 people selected 0-2, indicating they are opposed. And, 96 selected 3-5.
Lower test scores
About 25 parents and staff attended the school board meeting. Only one spoke about a prime concern of many parents, that test scores at Madison are not adequate to meet state and federal standards.
Some parents suspect moving students from Adams to Madison is a ploy to dodge the ramifications of low scores, which could lead to less state aid, and in an extreme case, closure of the school.
Several parents fear the move could hurt their students academically.
But one mother told the school board Tuesday that the move would be a good one regardless.
"Who cares if it is for the test scores?" she said. "We would all do better if we could mix some kids sooner. It would help them do better and see that there is something to strive for."
The board and Bassett said the reconfiguration is in the research stage.
Bassett said the decision would have to be final by December or January, if it is to happen in 2014.
In all, five people, including two school employees, spoke to the board and to Bassett. Parent Lindsey Daniels expressed reservations.
Daniels reminded Bassett that told people at the two meetings that the board could quash the possible reconfiguration, but “evidently the decision has been made” to keep going.
She encouraged the board to look at it long and hard, and made a point of thanking Lisa Bianco, the only board member who attended either meeting.
Daniels also reminded Bassett that he told people at the meetings to vote “3” if they were undecided, so it is inaccurate to count a “3” as someone who supports the idea.
Two others, long-time substitute teacher Maris Schad and Buffalo Principal Linda Clavel said they were in favor.
Clavel said putting sixth graders together would create better academic and athletic opportunities for all students.
A former high school teacher and counselor, Clavel said there are deep divisions within high school classes, especially by the time they graduate, and classes would become more unified if they are all in one school by the sixth grade. She said the school district cannot be successful if it is divided.
Clavel said the obstacle of transporting students across town could be overcome.
Schad said algebra classes at Adams now surpass 30 students, creating a burden on both teachers and students.
Moving sixth grade students to Madison would equalize class sizes in both schools at 20-25 students, Bassett and assistant superintendent Tami Eshleman have said.
And, parent Tara Harper told the board that it might be just as cost effective to put 6th graders in an extended elementary school instead of moving them to middle school.
Harper told the Bulletin after the meeting she has three children that would be affected.
Bassett said the board will discuss it further at the next meeting May 14.
The board also approved two major expenditures:
• 270 new laptops for teachers at a cost of $308,987. The computers will be delivered before school is out.
• New materials to teach reading and writing in grades K-5 at a cost of $420,000.
Existing laptops are nearly seven years old, and the language arts materials have not been replaced in more than a decade.
Business manager Stuart Simpson said the money will come from money that has accumulated in depreciation and technology accounts, with a little of it from general funds.