Parents mixed about school restructuring plan

Parents heard from Grand Haven Area Public Schools officials on Wednesday about a recommended plan to change the district's middle schools to four grades and shift kindergarten to full days.
Kyle Moroney
Dec 2, 2011

School — she thinks the Grand Haven Area Public Schools’ recommended realignment might do just that.

“I can’t see sending them to school all day,” Rabideau said during the Grand Haven school board work session Wednesday night about the change to full-day kindergarten. “... I don’t want them being pushed into growing up too fast.”

Rabideau was one of several parents who raised concerns during the work session about the proposed realignment beginning with the 2012-13 school year.

Scott Grimes, the GHAPS assistant superintendent of human services, explained that the district does not yet know next year’s Young Fives/kindergarten enrollment numbers, so they use this year’s number (500) to estimate their funding. Currently, the district receives $7,234 for each half-day kindergartner, totaling about $3.6 million.

If they continue with the current half-day program, the district will receive about $1.8 million less in state funding, Grimes said.

In order to avoid the sharp funding loss, GHAPS officials said they will convert Young Fives and kindergarten classes to full day.

“A lot of districts across the state are going to full-day kindergarten,” Grimes said.

Due to the additional kindergarten and Young Fives classrooms, GHAPS would need to reconfigure where fifth-graders will attend school next year.

“If we do full-day kindergarten, we currently don’t have the room for that in our elementary schools,” Grimes said.

A committee of 14 members — consisting of parents, teachers, school staff and administrators — has been meeting since August and researching realignment options. The group also visited the Brighton and Hartland school districts — both just east of Lansing and similar in size to GHAPS — that have shifted to all-day kindergarten and reconfigured their middle schools.

After months of research and going through about seven options, the committee is recommending changing the Grand Haven district’s grades 6-8 middle schools, White Pines and Lakeshore, from their current format. The recommended option is having White Pines Middle School handle fifth and sixth grades, while Lakeshore would have seventh and eighth grades.

For Rabideau, that would mean her 9-year-old son, Ethan — now a fourth-grader at Peach Plains Elementary School — would transfer to White Pines next school year instead of finishing out his fifth grade year at Peach Plains.

“I think there’s good and bad to it,” Rabideau said after the meeting. “Personally, I’m not 100 percent for it. I would like to see him finish his fifth-grade year at the elementary school level. I just hope they take the time to consider every possible aspect involved.

“But then again, my son is looking forward to it,” she added. “He’s excited. I think he considers himself a big kid now and is going to (a bigger school).”

Parent Betty Strom said she is excited about the new change because it will put her two children under the same school roof.

“They won’t be in two separate buildings,” she said after Wednesday’s meeting. “I’m still in that stage of sorting it all out. ... I think it’s a good thing, and they’ll have these friends from fifth grade and beyond.”

More than 30 people attended Wednesday’s work session, in addition to the 14 realignment committee members, some of whom spoke during the presentation.

Robinson Elementary School Principal Jeff Marcus, who is part of the realignment committee, said his school simultaneously ran a full-day kindergarten program and a half-day program for four years. During some of those years, there were two full-day kindergarten classes. The full-day portion was eliminated due to loss in state funding, Marcus said.

“Parents absolutely loved full day,” he said. “We had waiting lists for the full-day program.”

Marcus said as children spend more time in school, parents will see an increased achievement in their child’s literacy, language development and math. There will also be an improvement in the transition from kindergarten to first grade because they will already be going to school like they were as a first-grader, as well as have more teacher-student interaction.

Realignment costs

Donna Bylenga, business services director for the district, said there will be about $750,000 of ongoing costs associated with the new format — including $736,800 to hire between 11 and 14 additional teachers, and $63,600 for cleaning and food services. The district, however, would save about (correction) $50,400 in transportation.

Bylenga outlined several first-year costs associated with the new plans, totaling about $489,200. Those costs would include new classroom furniture, curriculum, teaching supplies, technology needs, moving and construction of classrooms at White Pines.

“You can’t put little kids in fifth-grade desks,” she said, referencing the new furniture needed for the Y5/kindergarteners. “With the voter-approved bond proposals, we were able to add so much technology in our classrooms. ... But we’re going to have more classrooms to put that technology in and we do not have bond money left to cover that — so it will come out of the general fund.”

Committee members explained that team teaching will continue in both White Pines and Lakeshore middle schools.

Transportation and extracurricular programs

Bussing was another concern raised by some parents. According to school officials, the bus transportation schedule for White Pines would be similar to the district’s current elementary buildings; and Lakeshore’s bus schedule would be similar to the current secondary buildings.

Other issues raised were how athletics and other programs, such as Science Olympiad, were going to be effected by the proposed restructuring. GHAPS

Superintendent Keith Konarska said there might be some changes in how those programs will be run, but the district is “committed” to continue offering those programs to students.

School board President Chris Houghtaling said he has received several phone calls and e-mails regarding the restructuring, and he welcomes more input from the public.

“I’ve had folks who said similar concerns to the public comments that hate to see the young students be pulled from the half-day kindergarten — that they want them to stay small longer,” he said. “And unfortunately that’s being mandated by the state of Michigan with regards to the funding and the requirements for development. And certainly having raised three children, I understand that and certainly have empathy. But unfortunately, the state has tied our hands in many respects.”

The school board will hold two more public input meetings on the realignment later this month before making a decision.

Online:
www.ghaps.org/content/reconfiguration

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