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School reviews junior high options
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HAZEL GREEN—A plan is in place for the Southwestern School to gather more information about the potential changes for junior high students.

Earlier in March, more than 150 people attended the school board meeting to voice their opinions about a potential move of the junior high students to the high school to create more learning opportunities as well as a safer learning environment. Currently, junior high students are walking between the elementary and high school buildings several times a day to attend physical education, art, Spanish and technical education courses. Superintendent John Costello said the walk is a safety concern of his and he would like to eliminate it by either moving the seventh and eighth grade classes to the high school or adjusting to have all of the seventh and eighth grade courses in the elementary building. A committee was formed to review options and favored the move to the high school for several reasons, including course options, scheduling and available space. However, after concerns raised from parents and the community, the committee is looking at other options to propose for the 2017-18 school year.

A special school board meeting was held on March 23 to continue the discussion from the previous meeting, which had become lengthy. A smaller crowd attended the second meeting, but many came with opinions and suggestions to share. Some shared their appreciation for the school district moving forward and thinking of the students’ needs. Others felt the process was moving too quickly and it is not in the best interest of the students at this time.

Holly Clendenen, a parent of a Southwestern student, said a parent group has formed to talk about parents’ concerns and questions for the proposed changes. She said the group is concerned with the rapid speed of the process at this point and encourages the committee and the school board to take time to do research, make a plan and determine how to properly implement it before moving forward.

Middle school teacher and parent Tina Wright congratulated the committee for admitting the need for research, community involvement and a timeline.

“Parent involvement is going to be the key to success in this endeavor,” Wright said.
Costello said the topic has created a lot of discussion, both positive and negative. It also has created a lot of community involvement within the school district.

“It’s been important,” Costello said. “I’ve been in this district for five years and we don’t have a lot of people show up at our board meetings. They aren’t interested in what is going on unless there is a hot topic. I encourage the community members to get more involved in our school, not just for a hot topic, but on a daily basis. Then we can have a lot more information to help us make those decisions.”

He said one thing that troubles him is that this topic has created a divide in the community.

“When I took over as superintendent, one of the things I valued, I tried to do and I want to do is build a stronger community within our own organization and bridge the gap between our community and our school district,” Costello said. “Right now, it has gone in the opposite direction. For that, we need to do something different. I’m going to work on it, our committee will work on it.”

To improve communication, listening sessions have been scheduled for:
~ April 11 in the Southwestern High School multimedia room at 7:30 p.m.
~ April 17 in the Southwestern High School multimedia room at 4 p.m.
~ May 3 in the Southwestern High School multimedia room at 10 a.m.
~ May 24 at the Jamestown Fire Department in Kieler at 7:30 p.m.

Committee members will be at each of the listening sessions to hear any opinions, concerns or ideas from parents or the public. Each meeting is limited to one hour and is an opportunity for the group to gather information and improve communication.

High school principal Cynthia Lacey said the committee will meet monthly to review information and share any updates. The group plans to reach out to other schools of similar size with a list of questions about the situation. The group will also discuss any potential costs, safety concerns, communication, any staff reassignments, public surveys, lunch and breakfast options and potential layouts.