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Valley’s middle schools configuration work under way

A decision on middle school configurations for the Douglas County School District could be settled as soon as August, trustees agreed on Tuesday during their regularly scheduled meeting.

With ninth grade students due to move to Douglas High School in the fall of 2015, trustees were informed of three options for realignment of Carson Valley and Pau-Wa-Lu middle schools.

Superintendent Lisa Noonan said her No. 1 recommendation — and the first choice of a middle school configuration survey taken in January — is to have both schools open with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students for the 2015-16 school year.

Another option would be for Pau-Wa-Lu to start with sixth-through-eighth graders and to have the conversion temporarily delayed at CVMS. A third option would be for CVMS to continue as a seventh-eighth grade school on a permanent basis, Noonan explained.

“This is going to help elementary schools with space issues,” she told trustees, noting that overcrowding is more of a concern at elementary schools feeding into Pau-Wa-Lu than it is at north county schools that feed into CVMS.

There are pros and cons to consider, Noonan added. Among those are creating consistency of academics for students in the Valley, as well as consistency for staffing and services at both schools.

“We could have a situation where sixth graders will have more opportunities at Pau-Wa-Lu that won’t be available to them elsewhere,” she said.

In her presentation, Noonan informed trustees her goal was to have an action plan ready for consideration at the school board’s regularly scheduled September meeting.

Trustee Neal Freitas asked if an action item could be ready for consideration sooner.

“What’s the earliest time we can take action?” Freitas asked. “If we wait until September, I think that’s going to cause more anxiety of the site administrators because you’re talking about having only nine months to get ready.”

The Aug. 12 school board meeting will be held at CVMS. The trustees will hold their next regularly scheduled meeting July 8 at the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority Visitor Center.

“I think they felt comfortable enough with the presentation that they’re ready to come back and take action in August,” Noonan said.

Noonan added that a committee of teachers, administrators and parents will come back in September to offer suggestions of the format to be used.

“They’ve gone out to visit schools in the region that have had success with that,” Noonan said of the sixth-through-eighth grade middle schools. “There are different ways to organize their programming, organization and opportunities.”

One consideration is construction needed at CVMS that includes electrical work, carpet and painting, windows, gym floor, IT cabling, HVAC updates, plumbing updates and a safety feature for the main entrance, among others. Noonan informed trustees the preliminary estimate for the cost as being $2.2-3 million.

Trustee Ross Chichester asked how the construction would be funded. Noonan indicated that research is being done to determine available funds from sources such as the DCSD’s 10-year rollover bond and even from the Capital Improvement Fund.

“What we don’t know today is how much money is left to glean,” Noonan said of the bond.

“All our research isn’t done,” Chief Financial Officer Holly Luna added. “By September, we should be able to provide you with the hows.”

Pau-Wa-Lu Principal Keith Lewis spoke in favor of the sixth-through-eighth grade middle school plan. For one, it “gives us a little more flexibility” on how the school’s schedule is structured, and it allows the school to provide students with additional elective opportunities they might not get to experience in the current elementary model. “My staff and I are very excited and supportive of a 6-7-8 school,” Lewis said. “I think it’s a good model for this age group. And I think having the ninth graders at the high school is the biggest plus, as it allows them to have an even better high school experience in one location.”