Distinct changes are planned for St. Mary School in Platteville, beginning with the 2012-2013 school year.
On top of the list of changes will be a switch to multi-age classrooms due to low per class numbers.
According to information presented to parish members, the school currently has seven grade levels with 12 or fewer students. Two of those classes have five students each. Multi-age classrooms include combining two consecutive grade levels into a single class. The new, combined classes will not exceed 20 students. In addition:
• Multi-age classrooms will be discontinued when enrollment for the combined class is projected to exceed 20 students.
• Math instruction should be delivered by grade level.
• Reading instruction should be delivered in small groups within the classroom utilizing current best practices to target individual abilities and needs.
• The science, social studies, religion, art, music, and physical education curriculums will be redesigned so that one grade-level curriculum is delivered to the entire group each year. Currently, physical education, and music have combined grade levels.
School officials do not foresee first grade students on one side of the room and second grade students on the other side of the room. "Instead, we envision curriculum and instruction that engages all the students in the same topics at the same time, and includes materials and activities appropriate for all of the learners in the classroom."
The proposed classroom makeup will include 4K/kindergarten, 1-2, 3-4, and 7-8. Grades five and six have enough students to sustain their own classrooms.
"I think we have a pretty good idea of how to do this well, but we are still making sure we are staying in touch with all of the people involved in this plan to make sure it is going smoothly and accomplishing what we want it to accomplish," said Julie Addison-Fulton, assistant principal.
Benefits of multi-level classrooms, as outlined by school officials include:
• Distinct social benefits to students who are currently in small classes, especially those classes with just a few boys or just a few girls. Children have the opportunity to create more close friendships, learn from their peers, and develop responsibility, leadership, and independence.
• The new structure offers academic benefits because it allows teachers to better meet the needs of all learners, including gifted and struggling learners, through differentiation, which is widely recognized as an instructional best practice. Also, teachers get to know children well, which allows for them to better meet student needs.
"Once parents understood what the multi-age classrooms would look like then they became more comfortable with that idea," said Addison-Fulton.
The combined classrooms will result in the school employing six teachers, compared to nine currently. Principal Joseph Hood is hopeful the new number can be reached through attrition. "Our hope is that any teacher who is currently working here and wants to work here next year that we can accommodate them," he said. "Our hope is to not have to come to a point where we have to decide between one teacher and another."
For this school year, four new teachers replaced other teachers.
Partnerships have been formed with UW-Platteville and its pre-student teaching program. University students are assisting at St. Mary School as well as in the school's new learning center.
School officials also plan to add Spanish instruction for all grade levels next year. There is a possibility to add other languages, such as Chinese, French, and German, as the opportunity presents itself. A university student will be teaching Spanish at St. Mary School next year. She has previously taught Spanish at the high school level.
Because the multi-level classrooms will free up space at the school, the preschool, which is currently housed at St. Mary's Church, will be moved to the school building. A free half-day 4K program will be offered beginning next year. A new committee for the pre-school/daycare program was formed. That program may be moved to the school as soon as in June.
Addison-Fulton noted they have received enrollments for seven students into the 4k program for next year already. Enrollments for the other grade levels are being to come in.
"We are enthusiastic and optimistic that this is going to be an even better school next year than it is this year," said Hood. "Teachers are working hard to make this a reality."
"This is one of the best solutions we have to keep the school open," said Fr. Faustino Ruiz. "The Pastoral Council and the Finance Committee are happy to keep working on this program. We need to pray and we need the cooperation of the community of St. Mary's to make this dream come true. I am happy to do whatever I can to get this plan working for next year."
St. Mary's Parish currently leases the former O.E. Gray Early Learning Center building from the Platteville School District.