First appeared on Blogcritics.
We have all had our individual experiences going to school. Some of us went to traditionally aligned schools with grades K-8 in one building or had the experience of going to K-2, 3-5, and 6-8 schools and then on high schools. There are many various configurations out there, and one could argue that they are all valid depending on the district and the students it serves.
In a recent article in District Administration writer Jennifer Fink explores how “School leaders nationwide are exploring innovative group-level groupings and thinking beyond the typical K5 elementary school, grades 6 through 8 middle school and grades 9 through 12 high school model” mostly in order to save money. In doing so they are also uncovering the academic and social benefits that can be derived from this regrouping process.
As a parent who has sent his children to a K-8 school, the thing I appreciated most was that they were in the same building. Besides the comfort level there was also the convenience – dropping them off at different buildings would have been a hassle. I imagine many parents would agree with this as they bring their children to school and rush off to their hectic day ahead.
As a former school administrator who once oversaw two K-8 buildings, I sympathized with parents on that level but I also realized a salient truth – I could have done so much more for our students academically and socially and saved my school a good deal of money too.
I once made a proposal to the school board to reconfigure the two buildings as an upper and lower school. Since we shared special teachers between the two buildings already (physical education, art, music, foreign language, special education, and computer teachers) and our motto was “one school, two buildings,” this would have gone a long way to actually fulfilling the philosophy we espoused publicly.
Of course, the board politely took my idea under consideration because it included substantial savings. For example, in the K-8 model we had 4 first grade classes (two in each building) each with a small enrollment. In the lower school model I had proposed we would have had two classes in the same building with more reasonable enrollments, saving two teacher salaries. With the lower and upper school model (broken down K-4 and 5-8), a similar scenario could be projected all the way up to 8th grade.
Another mitigating factor in the drive to reconfigure classes was the no small matter of “us verse them” between the two buildings. My proposal highlighted the fact that we could say we were “one school, two buildings” all day long, but kids in Building One who never stepped foot in Building Two in nine years of attendance would be hard pressed to consider that their school too.
The teachers also had a similar philosophy, and as I walked around both buildings, I would frequently hear a teacher saying, “Well, we’re doing that because they’re doing it in the other school.” Note that it was not the “other building,” which would have at least promoted the semblance of unity as one school, but “the other school.” How could we expect kids to think of it as one school if the teachers did not?
Alas, despite the cost savings, the ability to get our children to experience student life in both buildings, and the actual fulfillment of our motto to be “one school, two buildings,” the board shot my proposal down because “parents summarily rejected it.” I understood it was about convenience – parents do not like having to drop their children off at two different buildings. I understood it was about losing teachers – parents knew the plan would eliminate staff they had grown to know and love. I understood it was about seeing change itself as negative – as a parent I know change in my kids’ school would be scary too.
Unfortunately, they didn’t see the benefits that would come with such a change in alignment. Besides the most obvious one of finally making the “one school, two buildings” motto a reality, there were many others. The savings on staff salaries would have gone directly into improving the school. We could have updated our computer labs and our physical education programs which both sorely needed upgrading. More importantly, we would have had funds to increase professional development for our teachers in order to meet the challenges of standards and curriculum.
If I had it to do all over again, I still would have advocated the change I proposed, but would have asked the school board to hold multiple meetings with parents to talk about the change extensively. Of course, there would have been emotional people vehemently opposed to the plan, and they should have been the ones we sat down with first. The parent-school relationship is the most important one if a school is going to be successful, and you cannot ask parents to buy-in to a plan without learning about it.
Changing the way grade levels are grouped is what is happening now in some school districts across the country. They are looking at creative ways to save crucial funds in order to be able to meet the ever growing and increasing needs of their students. However a district plans to regroup grade levels, the most important thing is to bring it to the attention of parents immediately and to highlight all the benefits that will come with the change. Parents will have hundreds of questions, and it will be necessary and compelling to have all the answers if the district wants the plan to succeed.
Sometimes it is a tough sell. Some parents went to the same schools their children now attend, and it is not only a refusal to accept change but a case of nostalgia – to alter the landscape of “their school” is a loss that they are unwilling to face or accept.
In the end parents, teachers, and administrators have the same ultimate goal – the best possible education for their children. Change for change’s sake is never advisable, but a realistic view of reconfiguring grade levels to meet the needs of students must be considered. When looking at all aspects of a change in configuration of a school building, this should be the only and highest priority.
Photo Credit: cnn