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School board leans to sixth-grade only at MadisonTell North Platte what you think
Photo by George Lauby
Kimberley Kaschke
Photo by George Lauby
Jack Price
Photo by George Lauby
Marty Bassett
Photo by George Lauby
Bulldogs of November: Ian Bridge and Mika Rhodes
Photo by George Lauby
Shining Star Laura Bryant
Photo by George Lauby
Heather Halligan

The North Platte school board clearly leaned toward sixth grade only at Madison during discussion Tuesday, setting a special meeting next week to vote on it.

Board member Kimberley Kaschke expressed some hesitancy during the discussion, but she was about the only board member who did.

Kaschke clarified the fact that if the deal moves ahead but does not go well, the board could reverse the decision in the future.

In response, Superintendent Marty Bassett said he wants a clear signal from the board when they vote – either to reconfigure or not.

The votes will be cast on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at a special meeting starting at 5:30 p.m. No other major items are foreseen on the agenda.

There will be time for public comments.

No one from the public spoke at the meeting, despite the opposition expressed in the Bulletin’s reader poll, where 78 percent of approximately 950 votes are against it.

Kaschke, however, said if the board votes yes and "a road bump that we can't get over," turns up, the board could reverse the decision.

Kaschke said as a mother who has had three children in three separate buildings, she is well aware of the complications that presents to parents.

"I want to be sure we are looking at that," she said.

Board member Jack Price said he is concerned that instruction time might be lost as children travel to and fro.

Bassett agreed. He said he didn't want to decrease instruction time, but said that both schools will have homeroom time for "mentoring, advising and building relationships," that strictly speaking is not instruction time.

Bassett brought up another issue, that "more activities will be available to 7th and 8th grades."

"Children can't stay after school if they have to get on the bus," he said.

But he said there are ways to work those things out. Busing has been around for years, with many bus trips much longer in other school districts, "so there are ways to work all that out."

During the discussion, Price said he is not concerned about the cost of busing students across town.

Transportation costs are projected at as much as $250,000 for buses and $50,000 a year for drivers.

Board member Julie Nielsen expressed support. She said the district will move away from the outdated middle school practice of teachers of all courses collaborating and emphasize collaboration by teachers of specific subjects, such as math.

Nielsen said as a parent with a son in Adams, she felt like someone picked his friends for him when he was placed on the blue team.

Some Adams students are on a gold team and some are on a blue team -- different groups of instruction. As a student go into high school, he or she continues to associate with the same group of students, because "that's where their friends are," Nielsen said.

Board president Kathy Phares said class sizes will be "more equitable, which will be nice."

Currently, most classes have 17-18 students at Madison. There are about 28 students per class at Adams, Bassett said.

Nielsen said she is hearing some concerns about the cost of busing and some people don't think it is something the district should start doing.

"We (the school district) have always chosen not to bus because of the cost, and some wonder why we are considering it in this equation," she said.

In answer to questions he is commonly asked, Bassett said the change would not increase school funds from the state or federal government. Federal funds for low income schools are steadily decreasing, he said.

Bassett also said the reconfiguration is not a way to dodge state sanctions that could be levied against Madison, where students have not made adequate yearly progress in recent years.

Bassett said that if reconfiguration doesn't happen and Madison remains a middle school, and scores don't improve, the state would not take over the school, but would review the plan to get students back on track. He said the district has already been talking to the state about the academic program there.

But, he said the reconfiguration should help improve scores.

"Yes, we are always looking to improve our educational system," Bassett said. "Yes, I think this will improve our district."

Board member Mike Morrell did not comment. Board member Lisa Bianco was absent.

During discussion, Bassett and Kaschke both said if reconfiguration is approved, it might not take place for two years (until 2015-16), depending on how the details come together.

Phares urged anyone with questions to talk to the top administrators or to a board member before the next meeting.

Kaschke agreed.

"It would be best to hear comments before the next meeting," she said.

In other action, the board:

• Went into closed session to review Bassett's performance, an annual evaluation, and to talk about possible litigation as well as negotiations with teachers.

• Approved the annual audit of district finances.

• Welcomed the new executive director of the North Platte Public Schools Foundation -- Heather Halligan. Halligan has been the executive director of the North Platte Children's Museum.

• Recognized seniors Ian Bridge and Mika Rhodes as the Bulldogs of November. Both students are on the honor roll and involved in extra-curricular activities. Rhodes is in band, choir and she is a student manager for the basketball and volleyball teams. Bridge is the student council treasurer, competes on the speech and drama team and holds down a job.

• Recognized the work of substitute custodian Laura Bryant at the Lake and Osgood schools, awarding her a "shining star."

"It has been seamless as she comes in to substitute at our buildings," Principal Midge Mougey said. "She embraces the student and the staff and immerses herself into whatever we are doing or supporting."

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 12/10/2013
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