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SL school could close

Krystle Wagner • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:04 PM

The Spring Lake Elementary Planning Committee has been discussing a potential reconfiguration of Holmes and Jeffers elementary schools since this fall. After much discussion, the group has centered on one of two possibilities. One of the options is closing Jeffers and having all elementary students attend school at the Holmes campus.

Decision-making process

At Monday’s Jeffers Parents Organization meeting, committee member Michelle Prince presented an update on the committee’s discussions to a group of eager parents who gathered in the school’s library.

Prince said they are considering leaving the schools as they are, or building a new school next to Holmes Elementary to house all students in grades kindergarten through fourth at that campus.

She said they’ve made lists of the pros and cons for both options, and architects would decide the best layout and way for the buildings to combine if they recommend this option.

The focus of the reconfiguration has shifted each time the committee meets, Prince said, and some discussions have been heated.

“It has become a think tank,” she said.

At the beginning of the process, Prince said they looked at leaving the two school buildings as they are, but shifting the grades to create separate schools for upper elementary and lower elementary grades.

Committee members planned this week to visit two school districts similar in size to Spring Lake Public Schools to see how they handled a reconfiguration.

A committee meeting planned for Tuesday night was closed to the public, and the newspaper denied access, by Superintendent Dennis Furton.

Furton wrote in an e-mail to the Tribune that he is trying to have a committee weigh the merits of a particular change “without the outside noise of your coverage.”

“Reporting on the work, when it remains quite formative, would not be their preference,” he wrote. “I'd prefer to let the committee do their work without any distractions or disruptions to process.”

Parent reaction

Parents of Jeffers and Holmes students received a newsletter last week to inform them of the committee’s task to research options for reconfiguring the elementary buildings.

“Through thorough examination and thoughtful discussion, the committee felt this standard reconfiguration was not addressing the true needs of the district,” the newsletter reads. “Instead, we needed to ‘reimagine’ how our buildings will best deliver 21st-century learning to Spring Lake. Subsequently, our conversations have turned to address the best model of delivery that will move us into the future.”

The newsletter explained the committee's focus is to provide the best learning environment for young students, to think into the future of education for elementary students, and a thorough analysis of the district's facilities.

As parents expressed concerns during the parent meeting this week, Jeffers Principal Shelley Peets said she was hesitant to talk about the committee’s discussions until they settle on a recommendation to the school board.

“It’s too soon,” she said. “We need to let the committee do its job.”

Parents questioned why Holmes would be chosen over Jeffers, and expressed concerns about potential traffic congestion there.

Prince said the area near Holmes Elementary School would allow students to remain in town.

Peets said the focus should be on the quality of education and not on shutting down Jeffers or building a new school.

“Are we as good as we could possibly be in Spring Lake?” she said. “That’s our center. That’s our focus.”

One parent asked what was wrong with the current system. She said she didn’t see the point of constructing a new building.

“I’m trying, as a parent, to understand,” she said.

Peets explained that the committee might find that the current system is working, but they need to explore other possibilities.

Stefanie Miller, who has two children attending Jeffers and one in the intermediate school, said her concerns surround the possibility of having children on different schedules. She said she already has problems with overlapping schedules between conferences and holiday parties.

Not all of those attending the parent meeting expressed discontent with the idea of consolidating the two schools. One father said it would allow for twice as many computers, musical instruments and books in one location.

“If we combine, there are greater opportunities to grow,” he said.

Amanda Sepulveda, who has had three children attend Jeffers, said it would be great to consolidate students because they will already attend middle school and high school together.

“I think it’s a good idea for kids to continue at one school,” she said.

What’s next?

One mother expressed concerns that parents weren’t being kept in the loop, and should be more a part of the planning process.

She asked if she and other parents could attend the committee’s meetings to sit quietly and listen to the discussions. She said she’d like to hear the research and science behind the recommendations.

Peets responded that parents would hear more once a recommendation is made to the school board. Until then, Prince said the committee members’ names are in the newsletter so parents can send them their comments.

Teachers and parents may also send Peets comments, questions or concerns to be considered at the committee’s meetings.

Peets' school address is Jeffers Elementary, 14429 Leonard Road, Spring Lake, MI 49456. Her e-mail is speets@springlakeschools.org.

The committee members are: Prince, Peets, Holmes Principal Sandra Smits, Liz Boeve, Steve Overacker, Madonna Kramer, Caroline Highhill, Kelly Ortquist, Noelle York, Heidi Ryan, Dana Miller, Tami Rabideau, Rob Henry, Sarah Fuller and Lisa Grimmer.

Furton stressed three points when he initially brought the reconfiguration issue to the Spring Lake school board in October: it’s important, it’s complex, and judgment should be delayed until all of the information is presented.

Peets said the school board will listen to the recommendation in February, but won’t vote until March.

Furton said the committee will report to him its recommendation prior to the February school board meeting.

“I will either forward their recommendation to the board or not, amend it or not, and present it or have them do so, depending,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Furton declined to discuss the process or the committee’s preliminary recommendations until after a final recommendation has been made to the school board in February.

“There is nothing we are trying to hide,” he wrote. “I don't hear the clamoring from our parents or community. They are waiting — some patiently and some impatiently, but waiting nonetheless.”

Want to share your viewpoint on potential reconfiguration?

The Spring Lake school board will meet at 7:15 p.m. Monday, Jan. 21, at the Spring Lake Middle/Intermediate School Media Center, 345 Hammond St.

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