Columbia reviews elementary reconfiguration
BY K. SCOTT KREIDER, Correspondent
A discussion about the possible reconfiguration of Columbia's two elementary schools drew more than 20 people to a curriculum committee meeting on Monday.
The board heard a report on the issue, but president Tom Strickler said officials would make no decisions without receiving public input.
The move is being considered for the 2014-15 school year. The district would spend next year planning for the implementation.
Because of overcrowding at Taylor Elementary, officials are looking at the option of using Taylor for grades K-1 and Park for grades 2-6 or using Park for grades K-4 and Taylor for grades 5-6.
"We've been hearing rumors through the grapevine that this whole reconfiguration is being considered," Julie Brommer, a parent of a fourth-grade student at Taylor elementary, said after the meeting.
"For me it seems like a huge step, and I just want to be informed."
Strickler said before the meeting that the federal No Child Left Behind policy, which allows parents to choose schools, has resulted in too many parents choosing Taylor over Park Elementary.
"The board, at a curriculum meeting, asked the administration to investigate options. One option was reconfiguration," Strickler said.
"Tonight is the first opportunity the board will have to hear it," he said. "If we decide to move forward, we do want more input, but this is not really going to be the place to do it because we have no idea what we are going to see."
Taylor Elementary Principal Diane Frey and Park Elementary Principal Debra Wallace presented the administration's findings on the advantages and disadvantages of reconfiguration.
Frey said that, according to research, decreasing grade spans in schools and multiplying transitions between schools negatively impacts student achievement.
Frey said that a K-6 grade span in schools allows older children to serve as role models, provides more opportunities for cross-grade activities and can benefit teachers with more knowledge on students passed on by previous teachers.
"So the conclusion of the research," Frey said, "is that the adoption of a K-2 and 3-5 configuration is likely to result in no meaningful educational benefit."
Wallace said talks with officials at other schools in Lancaster County revealed that financial reasons were behind the decisions in many districts.
An advantage of reconfiguration, Frey said, is that overcrowding at Taylor would be alleviated. But she added that the Pennsylvania Department of Education currently is seeking a waiver from the No Child Left Behind requirements. A waiver would make the overcrowding a non-issue.
Other benefits to reconfiguration, Frey said, are that curriculum would be more consistent and unified, after-school programs could be consolidated, special education would be more evenly distributed and there may be cost savings in materials and staff.
Strickler expressed some skepticism about the cost savings.
"I think you will see financial savings for the first year, but they aren't going to continue," Strickler said after the meeting. "I don't see any long-term savings, unless something is missing. That is something we need to look into."
After the presentation, Frey added that reconfiguring could disrupt the sense of community within both schools.
"I have watched the staff at Taylor come together as a community over the past three years, and I would hate to see us lose that," Frey said. "That sense of community does not come easy."
Frey is planning to retire at the end of the school year along with Wallace and Superintendent Barry Clippinger.
Andrew Keener, a physical education teacher for both Park and Taylor elementary schools, said in a phone interview Monday that with the superintendent and two elementary principals leaving, "we'll be facing change anyway" over the next couple of years.
Keener said the change might be tough, but added that reconfiguration could be a positive change. Keener said he knows many teachers who support reconfiguring the schools.
Brommer said after the meeting that she wants to be sure the district does what is best for the students.
"To me, the crux of the matter is why parents are pulling kids from one school to the other," Brommer said. "What are the deficiencies, what is really going on? Why is one school being favored over another? It doesn't seem like they addressed that at all."
Strickler said after the meeting that many parents aren't choosing Taylor for academic reasons, but for personal reasons of convenience.
The problem, Strickler said, is that the federal government doesn't allow limits on how many students may move to Taylor.
"What doesn't make any sense is that we can move the teachers from Park Elementary up to a trailer around Taylor, and that's OK," Strickler said. "I don't want to see our kids put in trailers.
"I'm really on the fence," Strickler added. "I don't see anyone on the board who has made a decision."
Strickler said the issue will be discussed again at the March 5 curriculum committee meeting.
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