Almost a year after holding required public hearings on closing its two elementary schools, West Greene School Board last week made it clear it plans to go forward with constructing the proposed new elementary center.
The district plans to construct a new elementary addition at the middle-senior high school and consolidate all grades at one location. It plans to seek bids for the $15 million construction project this spring, which would allow work to begin this summer. The new addition is expected to be completed in August 2014.
Whenever a school district announces it plans to close a school, and in this instance, two schools, we would expect an outcry from parents excoriating the district for taking away the neighborhood school environment. We haven’t heard that here and, frankly, we have heard more positive comments than negative ones.
At the public hearing last February, comments were more focused on educational issues rather than the expected busing concerns and the elimination of the neighborhood schools.
But in a rural district like West Greene, busing is a way of life for students who attend Graysville and Springhill-Freeport, so we expect being bused to the middle-high school complex will not upset too many people.
What did catch our attention at the hearing was a concern some parents had for outdated textbooks and a lack of supplies in classrooms. Administrators responded that the board has never turned down a request for textbooks, and they had not heard that teachers are doing without the supplies they need.
Of course, building a new elementary complex is not going to have an immediate and direct impact on accelerating test scores or improving grades. One parent said her concern was that students were not getting the education they should get, and she didn’t know how a new building was going to change that.
Well, it probably won’t. If parents up to this point had “educational concerns,” the forum to best address those concerns should be school board meetings or conferences with principals and teachers.
Of course, education is more than bricks and mortar, but we think a lively and new environment could be a catalyst for some students to experience a turnaround if they are now struggling.
In the long run, the project will save the district money. Maintaining one building is surely less costly than maintaining three. And busing all students to one school should save the district in transportation costs, and money saved could translate into buying additional and newer educational materials, if in fact they are needed.
The board had considered various options, spurred by the district’s declining enrollment and aging buildings, before deciding on a building plan. A feasibility study indicated the cost of renovating the two elementary buildings at between $10 million and $12 million.
The educational benefits of consolidation are a real plus and will allow the district to share resources more easily across all grades. A foreign language teacher who may now only teach at the high school will, with the addition, be able to offer classes in the elementary.
We said then, and say now, that we see no reason for the district not to proceed with its plans, and it is hoped some of those educational concerns can be addressed before the first shovel of dirt is turned.