Debate Ensues Over School Reorganization

By: Lisa Kang
Posted 11/7/19

Heated debate erupted during a public forum on adopting kindergarten through fifth-grade elementary schools in Warren County for the 2010-11 school year. The forum took place during the school …

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Debate Ensues Over School Reorganization


Heated debate erupted during a public forum on adopting kindergarten through fifth-grade elementary schools in Warren County for the 2010-11 school year. The forum took place during the school board's regular meeting Thursday, Aug. 13, at Black Hawk Middle School. It appears that while many district teachers and administrators support the reorganization of R-III schools, many parents oppose it. Seven main arguments have been raised to support the reorganization of R-III elementary schools: fewer building transitions for students, cross-age activities, six-year involvement for home and school partnerships, continuity of instruction, convenience for families, enhancement of special services and improved ability for schools to meet federally mandated targets for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Jill Lawson, director of curriculum and instruction, explained the AYP issue. Because the vast majority of school districts have multilevel elementary schools, they are allowed to factor student improvement over several years into their AYP calculations, she said. Such schools use Missouri's growth model to measure individual progress. Unfortunately, Warrior Ridge is unfairly penalized because it cannot utilize the growth model to demonstrate students' progress, school officials said. Since testing begins in third grade, students leave Warrior Ridge immediately after their first test results. Therefore, Warrior Ridge has no way to measure improvement and demonstrate progress toward proficiency. "While Warrior Ridge's test scores are 0.2 percent higher than those of an elementary school in a neighboring district, because we cannot use the Growth Model, Warrior Ridge has been given a School Improvement Level 2, while the school with lower scores achieved School Improvement Level 1," Lawson explained. It is not clear at this point what consequences will result from Warrior Ridge's School Improvement designation, Lawson said. "However, the district is required to offer students after-school tutoring by an independent service at district expense," she noted. On a related point, should the district move to kindergarten-fifth grade elementary schools, it is likely that they will have the opportunity to start over in terms of school improvement levels, Superintendent Dr. John Long explained. "If we go to K-five schools, progress on the levels of school improvement starts over again if at least 50 percent of the children and teaching staff are different in a given school," he said. In terms of cost, district administrators estimate that the transition to K-five schools could reach $500,000, Long said. However, the district does have the funds for these changes. "There are things we are unsure of, but our plan would be to do this out of existing budget dollars. At no point would we go to the taxpayers and ask them to pony up $200 per household to make this happen," he said. Many parents attended the school board meeting and several took the opportunity to express their opinions. One district parent, John Cornell, took exception to the assertion that changing to K-five schools would definitively impact home and school partnerships and connections. "I challenge you to find administrators who are in the same place today that they were five years ago, or even two years ago," he said. "I think to say that you are going to have the staff consistency with the students is not consistent with the changeover of administration and teachers. In addition, Cornell argued that reorganizing schools is not the best way to address issues related to test scores. "This is an issue where we haven't met MAP scores, what can we do to hit the reset button and buy ourselves time?" he asked. "If you come into compliance with the growth rate, it doesn't change the fact that we are still not meeting the scores." Cornell also feels that moving to K-five schools would divide the community. This sentiment was echoed by Jennifer Sommers who said, "I like that my kids know all the second graders, and they're not divided up. I have concerns about the boundaries and what that would do. how would that segregate the community in socio-economic terms?" Some parents expressed fears for younger children's safety in K-five schools. For example, Priscilla Richardson worried that K-five schools will cause younger students to be exposed to inappropriate influences too soon. This concern was echoed by Julie Matheson. "My daughter is concerned about being around the big kids. How do you separate age groups in a K-five school? What if a little kid is going down the hall and a big kid pushes her into a locker?" Matheson asked. Deana Dothage said that she has been forced to re-evaluate her feelings against reorganizing the district's elementary schools because so many teachers support it. "They know what's best for the students," Dothage said. Steve McDowell, president of the Warrenton Education Association, asserted that teachers' opinions of the proposed reorganization have not yet been definitively established. "We're going to try to generate a survey within the first few weeks of school so that we can get some feedback on what their opinions are," he said. "I don't think we can say right now, 'Well I think all the teachers are for this or not for this.' We can generate that and get some feedback back to the board of education." Dale Schowe, school board president, stressed that there will be many opportunities for community input concerning this issue. "We will have town hall meetings, feedback drop boxes, and certainly we will listen," Schowe stated. Long emphasized that no decision has been made, and the opinion of the community will be seriously considered. "The time will come when the R-III district will need to change to K-five schools. However, this step will be taken only when the community is ready," Long said.