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Crowd questions junior high move
SW Crowd
A large crowd gathered for the school board meeting at Southwestern High School on March 9. - photo by Dena Harris

HAZEL GREEN—Approximately 160 people filled the multimedia room at Southwestern High School on March 9 to learn more about the proposed move of the junior high from the elementary/middle school building to the high school building.

Southwestern School administrators created a committee earlier this year to discuss the options for eliminating student travel between the two school buildings during school hours. Currently, the 80 seventh and eighth graders walk along the driveway between the two buildings several times a day to attend physical education, art, Spanish and technical education classes. Some students also make the trip to attend high school courses such as algebra.

“Weather and loss of instructional time is the reason behind not wanting the students to walk back and forth throughout the day,” district administrator John Costello said. “This topic has been on my radar for the last couple of years. I’m trying to move the district forward. I see tremendous things we can do as a district to grow and provide better opportunities for our students.”

Two options were discussed: create a junior high wing at the high school or make due with services available to students at the elementary/middle school building.

“The committee looked at a couple of options and we took a vote to decide if it was best to move our seventh and eighth grade to the high school,” Costello said. “It was a unanimous vote that the committee thought it was best to move our seventh and eighth grade to the high school. The only question was, would we do it this coming school year or the following school year.”

Several attending the meeting asked that the school wait a year to avoid rushing it, allow for meaningful discus- -sion and work out any kinks that may come up.

“I would like it to happen next year,” Costello said. “Waiting would only prolong the movement.”
He said waiting a year is an option if the committee, school board and others involved felt it was best.
Costello addressed concerns that the school was moving too fast on this topic.

“As a board or an administrative team, we can sit back and do absolutely nothing,” Costello said. “But that doesn’t help our kids.”

Costello said he has tried through scheduling to reduce the number of times students walk between the buildings, but it doesn’t work because of too few staff members for the classes that must be offered to the students.
There were several reasons sited for moving the junior high to the high school:
- inadequate gym space for elementary and middle school students due to the size of the elementary classes
- music space for rehearsals is not large enough for all of the middle school students in the program.
- technical and agricultural education classes are not available at the elementary/middle school because the equipment being used at the high school and installing a shop at the elementary/middle school building would be expensive for only two semester-long courses.
- seventh and eighth grade students would be limited on the number of high school courses they could take.

Costello said the loss of instruction time per class is approximately five minutes each way, adding up to a significant amount of time lost over the course of the school year as students travel between the buildings. He said moving the junior high to the high school will utilize staff better, too.  Costello said some teachers may be changing some roles, but no teachers will be losing their jobs.

In the 2017-18 school year, all students in grades six through 12 will need individual plans to prepare them for college and careers. This state mandate, called academic career planning, will have each student meeting with teachers and administration to create a plan for after high school.

“Having the seventh and eighth grade at the high school will make it a much easier transition for that process,” Costello said.

A proposed layout of the high school building grouped the junior high classrooms together along the commons at the front of the school. The proposal includes two sets of double doors to separate high school and junior high hallways. The doors would also double as security during after school and weekend events.

The layout has science, social studies, English and math classrooms designated for the junior high students. They would still have to travel into the high school hallways for Spanish, art and technical education classes, as they currently do.
There are separate restrooms for high school and junior high students and they would each have separate locker areas as well. The lunch periods would likely be divided with seventh through ninth graders eating at one period and grades 10-12 another period.

Some mentioned concern for the noise during the split lunch hour as the junior high classrooms are along the commons area. High school principal Cynthia Lacey said most of the students eat quickly and move into the gym for the remainder of their lunch hour. A teacher commented that it can be distracting teaching from those classrooms during lunch.

Costello said he’s talked with superintendents from other school districts that currently have a similar set-up.

“They said the high school kids act better when the middle school kids are around,” Costello said. “The high school kids act as role models. And the seventh and eighth grade kids act better because they don’t want to upset the high school students. They see a little bit better behavior sometimes.”

Elementary/middle school principal and special education director Jen Gallagher said the special education program at the school district needed change anyway, and the move helps balance the number of students requiring assistance at each building. She currently has 20 at the elementary/middle school and nine at the high school.

The move will have a cost. The school will need to purchase science tables, lockers, Chromebooks, Smartboards, instrument storage and doors.

A special school board meeting to further discuss the topic is planned for 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 23.
Costello encourages people to call or e-mail him to ask questions or further discuss the topic. He can be reached at 608-854-2261 or

Facilities review

The school board also heard a presentation from one of the firms for a comprehensive study on the school’s facilities. Jim Wede, business development manager, and Ed Hurtz, lead engineer, both from Performance Services in Franklin, made a brief presentation about their findings after a walk-through of the buildings.

They determined that there is aging equipment that will likely need to be replaced soon, including two boilers that are over 30 years old, at least five years past a normal life expectancy. The high school also faces an air quality issue that will require adding a cooling system to the building.

“This would be a necessity, not a luxury,” Wede said.

The cooling system would control the humidity in the building that has created hazardous conditions in several areas.
Other areas needing work are the fire alarm system, restrooms that need to be ADA compliant, roofing repairs and energy-efficient controls. They also recommended adding a vestibule to prevent the loss of heat when children enter and exit the elementary building for recess.

“Some of these items need to be addressed quickly, others can wait a few years,” Wede said.

This is the first step in a process to determine how to move forward with the school’s maintenance. Costello said three different companies will be assessing the school’s buildings and making recommendations for upgrades.