...two forums on plan: Marion Co. board member, "What we're doing right now is not working;" parents question length of potential bus rides if proposal becomes reality

Lebanon Enterprise, Feb. 22, 2017

‘What we’re doing right now is not working’

Town Hall meeting in Bradfordsville
By Stevie Lowery

Parents throughout Marion County have questions and concerns about a proposed plan to reconfigurethe county’s two middle schools and high school, which is why District 1 Marion County Board of Education Member Carrie Truitt held one of several scheduled town hall meetings last week.

Approximately 21 people, including children, attended a town hall meeting in Bradfordsville Thursday evening. Truitt, along with School Board Vice Chairman Kaelin Reed, spoke and answered questions
for nearly two hours.

The plan being proposed includes the following: Keeping all four elementary schools open, creating a sixth/seventh grade center (at St. Charles Middle), an eighth/ninth grade center (at a new facility to be built on the Marion County High/ Lebanon Middle campus) and a 10th-12th grade center at Marion County High. The plan also involves building a new facility for Calvary, renovating the high school, and moving Lebanon Elementary to the current Lebanon Middle facility.

The purpose of the plan is not just to make school populations more equal, but to address the growing number of students who are falling behind, disengaged and dropping out of school, Reed said.

“It would be much less controversial to move 100 to 150 kids from Lebanon Middle School to St. Charles Middle. We could do that,” he said. “But, that doesn’t’ address why we’re losing kids between fifth and 10th grade. That doesn’t’ address the problems that we’re having.”

According to Reed, one in four freshman and 100 out of 250 10th graders are failing at least one class. When MCPS students leave the fifth grade, 65 percent of them are proficient or distinguished in reading. When they reach the tenth grade that percentage decreases by at least half, Reed said.

When MCPS students leave the fifth grade, 70 percent of them are proficient or distinguished in math. When they get to 10th grade, Reed said, that number drops to 35 percent.

“We are losing kids during that period of time,” Reed said. “How do we fix that? That’s what the school district is trying to solve. That is the purpose behind this.”

Parent Holly Browning suggested some of those issues exist simply because students are getting older and are maturing.

“They are getting older and developing minds of their own and they know that this standardized testing is not going to effect my grade, whereas when they are in elementary school they want
to please their teacher, they want to please their parents. They perform well on those tests because that’s what they think they’re supposed to do,” she said.

“Even if that’s true, we can’t accept that,” Reed responded.

He said it’s imperative that MCPS find a way to keep students engaged during those critical years.

“You have to find a hook for these kids,” he said. “You have to find something for them. And I think that the shift to the sixth/seventh, eighth/ninth and 10-12 centers and to smaller groups is an innovative approach to doing that. I’m not saying it’s perfect. But, no one else has shown me anything that’s any better.”

A drawback to traditional redistricting, according to Truitt, is that it’s an ongoing process. The last time the district completed the redistricting process was 2005, Truitt said, but it should be done about every three years to make sure things remain even.

“We should have probably done it about four times by now,” Truitt said.

And, while some people would like the board to consider redistricting rather than the reconfiguration plan, Truitt said the constant redistricting process would be a huge hardship on families that live close to the attendance zones.

“For people who don’t live that close to the attendance zone lines it’s not that big of a deal,” Truitt said. “But when you are part of those areas that are very close to the current attendance zone lines and your kid has the possibility of being shifted back and forth every time these lines are redrawn, it’s sort of a nightmare situation to consider.”

Traditional redistricting also doesn’t address the diversity issues that exist within MCPS, especially when students begin their freshman year at MCHS.

“We are seeing a lot of behavioral issues in ninth grade because they are coming together for thefirst time,” Truitt said. “Traditional redistricting doesn’t touch some of the morale issues we’re facing at the high school.”

Faye Carol Cochran of Bradfordsville said many parents don’t want their children bussed from one end of the county to the other.

Melissa Gibson said her sons are already on the bus for an hour and 15 minutes. But, according to Truitt and Reed, who both have reviewed bus routes extensively with Scott Spalding, MCPS director of transportation and facilities, students will not be impacted by more than five to 10 minutes if the new plan is approved.

According to Spalding, buses that serve the eastern part of county would come to Lebanon Middle and those sixth and seventh grade students would be shuttled together on one bus to St. Charles. The same would be done for students in the Calvary and Bradfordsville area. The sixth and seventh grade students would be shuttled on one bus from Calvary Elementary to St. Charles. And the district would most likely add an additional in-town bus route, as well.

Truitt said the children who will be most impacted are actually the kids that live in town.

According to Reed, Spalding has been auditing school bus arrival and departuretimes at each school to make sure that the master bus route schedule is correct.

“If Scott tells me he can do it, I trust him,” he said. “Every single person has a logistical issue. If they can’t work it out themselves, we have folks that will help them. The transportation issue is not going to be the logistical problem that people are thinking it’s going to be.”

According to Truitt, Clark County schools approved a similar plan to what is being proposed for MCPS and started it this year. She’s talked to two Clark County school board members that say, for now, the plan is working.

“There is no proposal that is going to fix everything,” Truitt said. “No matter what we do, we are going to have irate people. We have to figure out a proposal that is going to address the most of the problems that we’re facing.”

Several parents asked what the school district’s plan B would be if this reconfiguration didn’t work.

“Our kids are going to pay for it,” Parent Shawn Gibson said. “They are the ones that are going to be jeopardized.”

“But, your kids are paying for it now,” Truitt responded. “What we’re doing right now is not working. So, this is what we’re doing.”

What the school board has to consider is what’s best for the most number of children, Reed said.

“You can’t cling to what’s comfortable if it’s not working, guys,” he said.”

As a school board member, Truitt said she has to put her child’s individual needs on the back burner sometimes so that she can focus on every kid in the school district.

“And sometimes it’s heartbreaking, but that’s what I’ve chosen to do,” she said. “So, while what might be working for your kid, and for now, is working for my kid, there are some kids out there that are failing classes their freshman year because we didn’t reach them when they were 12 years old.”

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