K-8 proposal hinges on middle school closure
If a lively discussion between parents and school district officials on Tuesday night was any indication, the jury is still out on a proposal to convert Jacks Valley Elementary School into a kindergarten-eighth-grade program.
“If you’re not interested in it, then I don’t think we should be moving forward,” School Board Trustee Karen Chessell told a group of about 10 parents gathered at the north county school.
Adopted last spring, the district’s facilities master plan calls for an estimated $23 million renovation of Douglas High School in order to accommodate ninth-graders. Plans are to move freshmen out of the middle schools and back into the high school starting in 2015.
With enrollment on the decline, the master plan proposes closing one middle school in the Valley, consolidating grades 7-8 in the remaining school, and opening a kindergarten-eighth-grade program to complement the single middle school.
Renovations would be funded by the continuation bond approved by voters in 2008.
On Tuesday, Superintendent Lisa Noonan explained why Jacks Valley is the logical choice for a K-8 program. She said Pinon Hills and Gardnerville elementary schools already have moved forward with specific improvements based on current configuration, and Meneley and Scarselli elementary schools already are located near an existing middle school.
If Carson Valley Middle School were closed and Pau-Wa-Lu consolidated, it would mean a long commute for middle school students in northern Douglas County, she said. If Carson Valley Middle School were left open, it could mean more costly renovations for a much older facility.
“The more facilities we are caring for, the more expensive the operating side of the budget becomes,” Noonan said. “We have to be really efficient in what we do.”
Noonan said a K-8 school at Jacks Valley would draw on current zoning, meaning only Jacks Valley students would attend middle school there. She said the program would shave off about 150 students from the single middle school in the Valley, which then would house about 800 students.
“From a geographical point of view, Jacks Valley is the only school for the K-8 configuration,” she said.
“Middle school property was already set aside at Jacks Valley,” added Principal Pam Gilmartin. “That extra acreage was set aside for expansion.”
Gilmartin said 245 surveys were sent out to families with students who would be affected by the reconfiguration. Of those, 86 surveys came back with 44 in favor, 33 against, and nine requesting further information.
“One pro, obviously, is that the kids wouldn’t have to bus far at all,” said parent Tami Matus, president of the school’s parent-teacher-student organization. “There would be no transition issue.”
Gilmartin said research shows student achievement increases with one fewer transition to middle school.
“But what happens from the eighth grade to ninth grade?” she said. “I’m a little iffy about that transition.”
Some parents agreed.
“The social aspect of going from an elementary school to a high school is devastating,” said Nikol Marin, who has both a fifth-grader and third-grader at Jacks Valley. “You could have a little isolated group of kids who don’t know anyone and don’t participate.”
“What about sports, music? Do we get all that?” asked Matus.
Noonan said equity is her greatest concern with the proposal. Legally, she said, the district has to provide certain services, such as special education and gifted and talented instruction. Other areas are not as clear, though. With 150 students, staffing would be a challenge, she said.
“There isn’t enough money available to guarantee the equity part,” she said. “My concern with the proposal is having two models.”
Chessell pointed out that Lake Tahoe students had to adjust to a 7-12 model at Whittell High School after Kingsbury Middle School closed.
“It was a totally different model. They were forced into it, and they’ve made it work,” she said. “But it seems the problematic piece with this proposal is that kids would be moved into the same school from two different models.”
Noonan said one option is to keep both middle schools open with 400-500 students each. She put current enrollment at Pau-Wa-Lu around 600, and at Carson Valley Middle School around 800. She said the district could offer two “nurturing, hands-on mini middle schools,” while using additional capacity for new administrative offices or a vocational school.
“The facility and tools are already there in place,” said Pinon Hills Elementary parent Ron Santi. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”
Noonan said the district is simply exploring possibilities.
“In no way is this going to happen if Jacks Valley Elementary School doesn’t want it to happen,” she said.
Both Noonan and Chessell encouraged parents to view the district’s facilities master plan online at http://www.dcsd.k12.nv.us.