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GHAPS plan: full-day K, moving 5th-graders to middle school

Kyle Moroney • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:13 AM

School district officials have confirmed that they plan to shift from half-day kindergarten to a full day, as well as move fifth-graders from the district’s seven elementary schools to one or both of the two middle schools for the 2012-13 school year.

Scott Grimes, assistant superintendent of human services for the district, said the structure shift is a result of the way state funding is changing for Young Fives and kindergarten programs.

Currently, the school district receives “full reimbursement” from the state for each half-day kindergartner. However, beginning in the 2012-13 school year, that funding is expected to be cut in half if school districts continue with their current half-day Y5/kindergarten program.

This state cut would mean a $1.8 million loss for the Grand Haven school district, according to Grimes.

“It will be cut in half if we run the half-day program that we already have been running,” Grimes said on Tuesday.

In order to avoid the sharp funding loss, GHAPS officials said they will convert Young Fives and kindergarten classes to full day Monday through Friday — just like the rest of the elementary school grades.

“For our district, like many others, this has created many challenges because it requires doubling the number of current kindergarten teachers and space without any additional funding,” Superintendent Keith Konarska said in a letter that was mailed to parents districtwide on Tuesday. “The loss of funding ... and opportunities for our students potentially outweighs the additional cost.”

Konarska was out of town this week and could not be reached for comment.

Due to the needed space for kindergarten and Young Fives classrooms and teachers, GHAPS is also looking to reconfigure where fifth-graders will attend school next year. There are several options that have been discussed among 14 reconfiguration committee members — which includes school administration, principals and teachers, as well as parents.

The new configuration would eliminate fifth grade from the district’s elementary schools — leaving them to be Y5/K-4 schools.

One reconfiguration option would convert the district’s current grades 6-8 middle schools — White Pines and Lakeshore — into grades 5-8, according to Grand Haven school board President Chris Houghtaling. Another option is having White Pines Middle School handle fifth and sixth grades, while Lakeshore would have seventh and eighth grades.

The class level structure at Grand Haven High School would remain unchanged.

“No decision has been made yet,” Houghtaling said Tuesday.

However, the letter sent to parents this week stated that “the reconfiguration committee came to the consensus” that the middle schools should be separated into grades 5-6 and 7-8 “as the best way to create the necessary elementary space for all-day kindergarten.”

“Please note that this is not an easy decision for our district as the current middle school model has served us well,” Konarska stated in the letter. “However, given the current funding challenges along with the ever-increasing and expanding expectations for our students, leaving our current structure unchanged is not an option.”

According to the GHAPS website, the reconfigured structure would “maintain neighborhood elementary schools through fourth grade.” It also states that if White Pines only had grades 5-6, the bus transportation schedule would be similar to the district’s current elementary buildings; and if Lakeshore had grades 7-8, then its bus schedule would be similar to the current secondary buildings.

The school board will discuss the issue at a work session at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30, at White Pines Middle School. The board will also host two informational meetings: 7-8:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 12, at the Lakeshore Middle School auditorium; and 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, at the White Pines Middle School auditorium.

Grand Haven resident Jill Hentemann said Tuesday that she is not happy about eliminating fifth grade from the elementary schools, but understands it is necessary. However, she called the recommendation to separate the middle school buildings “disappointing.”

Hentemann has a son in seventh grade at Lakeshore Middle School, and two daughters in the fifth and third grades at Mary A. White Elementary School.

“My (oldest) daughter looks forward to going to Lakeshore,” Hentemann said, referring it as a “neighborhood school.”

Hentemann believes separating the grade levels would create extra transitioning, more bussing and more buildings that families would have to divide their time for involvement.

“I think the fifth- through eighth-grade buildings makes more sense — at least during this transition of moving fifth grade out of the elementary schools,” she said. “To uproot everybody is disruptive.”

Grand Haven resident Brian Gross, however, said going with the separate grades 5-6 and 7-8 buildings is a better option.

Gross’ son, Brendon, is a fifth-grader at Mary A. White. Under the current district structure, Brendon wouldn’t be in the same school as some of his friends until high school. The proposed changes and split recommendation for next year would give Brendon the opportunity to be in the same building with those friends much sooner than high school, his father said.

“I think it’s a perfect combination of transition for kids — for both fifth-graders and sixth-graders,” Gross said. “For me, and our situation, I think it creates a better sense of unity.”

More information about the GHAPS reconfiguration can be found on the district’s website: www.ghaps.org/content/reconfiguration.

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