Time for a change?

Marietta BOE in no rush to reorganize schools

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Steve Brown teaches music to students at Putnam Elementary earlier this school year. The school stands to be affected as part of a sweeping change being proposed by Marietta City Schools to reorganize elementary education.

The new president of the Marietta City Schools board of education said Wednesday he intends to put the brakes on a proposal to reorganize the district’s elementary school system.

Doug Mallett, who was elected to the board in November along with two other new members, Mark Duckworth and Stacey Adams Hall, said he intends to table the matter, which is set to come up on the board’s meeting agenda Jan. 22, to the board’s meeting in February.

“The first I saw it was in December. It may be a good idea, but we’re not in a position to move forward,” he said. “We need more information and data, and I mean to table it for review, to the February meeting.”

Mallett said that doesn’t mean he’s opposed to the idea, which he thinks might have merit.

“It seems to be about kindergartners coming not prepared, there are some who haven’t been prepared in preschool, and that’s one of the things the plan is trying to address by clustering kindergarten together. And, it’s also saving money,” he said. “It’s about doing the right thing and getting kids off to a good start.”

Mallett and the two other new board members are taking orientation sessions this week to get acquainted with the workings of the district and their duties.

“We have a number of issues to look at, and we’re not going to rush into it,” Mallett said. “We’re going to evaluate it, see if it makes sense, and then reach out to the community before we start shuttering schools.”

The reorganization plan began, superintendent Will Hampton said, when the district was looking for options to help children who come into kindergarten inadequately prepared. If those children aren’t helped from the beginning, he said, most are destined to struggle throughout their school careers.

Hampton said consolidating all the district’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes and instructional resources in one place is appealing on several levels, and the plan applies that concept through the elementary grades.

With all teachers at a grade level in one building, teachers could play to their strengths, he said. It would also greatly reduce time used moving around the district for traveling teachers, those who teach subjects such as music and art throughout the district. Class sizes could be more easily equalized – class sizes now range from 19 to 30 in some grades, depending on which school they’re in.

It would also save money for a district that’s in an increasingly acute operating deficit as enrollment drops and state and federal funding are reduced. Hampton said the reorganized elementary school plan could save the district up to $350,000 a year.

“It would improve education and finance in one move, streamline and balance resources,” he said.

Hampton also noted the importance of proximity for teachers, the greater interaction and continuity that comes from being in one place. For the children, it would create a single campus class in which they would grow up with nearly the same group of children through the elementary grades and lessening the shock of realigning relationships when they reach middle school.

The plan would also be of benefit to families who move within the district, he said, because their children would remain in the same school no matter where in Marietta they live.

The proposal has two options, although Hampton said the change isn’t necessarily limited to those.

In the first option, Harmar Elementary School would become a center for pre-kindergarten, transitional kindergarten and first grade. Washington Elementary would house second and third grades, Phillips Elementary would house fourth and fifth grades and Putnam Elementary would close

In the second option, Putnam would become a pre-kindergarten, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten center, Washington would have first and second grades, Phillips would have third and fourth grades and Harmar would close. Fifth grade students would go to Marietta Middle School.

Hampton said one hurdle in both options would be transportation, but that might be solved by using single bus routes in which all students of every grade on one route are collected by one bus instead of sending multiple buses down the same route for different aged children.

At Putnam Elementary School in Devola, after a 4 p.m. PTO meeting, a group of parents discussed the proposals on Wednesday. They had all found out about the plans through Facebook connections, and the discussion ranged from consternation to anger to skepticism.

“I’ve heard only the pros, and no discussion about the cons,” said Holly Menzel, mother of a fourth grader and a kindergartner at Putnam.

“Where are the talks, the community forums?” Maria Berner said. She has two children in Putnam and a third ready to enter kindergarten in the fall.

Lisa Barth, who has a fourth grader and a kindergartner attending Putnam, said she’s not immediately opposed to the plan but provoked by the way it has been rolled out to parents.

“I like a tidy little school, but I know things could improve,” she said. “But the communication has been so poor. My kid heard it in the classroom and is now worried about the school closing. We’re all upset.”

Berner said she’s not persuaded the plan will be as effective as it’s being presented. “In some communities, they’ve tried that and now they’re going back to neighborhood schools,” she said.

Julia Biehl, whose field is social work and who has a daughter in second grade at Putnam, said she worries about the effect on some of the district’s less privileged children.

“For some kids, those neighborhood schools are the only stability they’ve got,” she said.

“My kid in kindergarten, every staff member here knows her name, and she thrives on that,” Menzel said. Under the proposed system, she said, “the second grade teachers won’t know a single kindergartner.”

At a glance

Proposals for elementary education in Marietta City Schools

Option 1:

≤ Harmar Elementary: Pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade

≤ Washington Elementary: Second and third grade

≤ Phillips Elementary: Fourth and fifth grade

≤ Putnam Elementary: Closed

Option 2:

≤ Putnam: Preschool and kindergarten

≤ Washington: First and second grade

≤ Phillips: Third and fourth grade

≤ Harmar: Closed

≤ Fifth grade would go to Marietta Middle School

Source: Marietta City Schools.