Warren Local OKs new middle school

VINCENT – For the 2015-2016 school year, Warren Local Schools will officially have a Warren Middle School.

With preliminary work beginning this fall, the district will convert Barlow-Vincent Elementary School into a fifth-through-eighth grade building and makes its remaining two elementaries into kindergarten-through-fourth grade schools.

The announcement came at the board’s regular monthly meeting Monday evening and was a result of a year-long discussion on restructuring.

Superintendent Kyle Newton and board members hailed the transition, which is to come at no extra cost, as a door to open more consistent educational and co-curricular opportunities to students.

“We want to improve the opportunities for our students, and there are no other motivations behind it,” Newton said. “For the next year for everyone involved, it will be huge.”

Previously, all three district elementary schools housed a kindergarten-through-eighth grade concept.

Newton said though the change may lead to a few longer bus rides, it will allow for more specialized programming once older students are separated from younger students.

“We can now have more programming and more personalized programming,” he said.

Administrators have already laid out a timeline and have begun brainstorming questions that might arise from parents and the community with teachers and staff, from cafeteria configurations to bus plans.

“I think over time we’ll look back at it and ask why we didn’t do it sooner,” said Board President Debbie West.

Administrators plan to spend this fall drawing maps to decide which elementary building Barlow-Vincent families will send students to, all with the goal of making both elementary schools equal in numbers.

“We want the buildings to be even as possible, so something like 350 per building,” Newton said.

Administrators and the board promised more opportunities for special programs and athletics that are not available now to students because of the K-8 structure, easier collaboration among teachers and better transitions for eighth grade students entering high school for the first time.

“We have a great staff, but they’re discombobulated all over the district,” Newton said. “If we can harness the knowledge into one location and start collaborating and building a middle school based on our needs, it’s going to be amazing.”

Newton said positive feedback came from teachers during the day Monday, even from some who were part of the discussion to make a middle school back in the 1970s.

“This is going to benefit every student from kindergarten through 12th grade in the Warren district,” said board member John Nichols.

By Christmas, Newton said the goal is for every family in the district to know exactly what school their children will attend the next year, and by January, to have teaching assignments finalized.

Newton also said students will be given some choice if they want to go to the elementary school not assigned to them.

“It sounds like it’ll cost more, but it’s the same staff and same buildings,” Newton said. “When students are concentrated in the right areas, it works.”

The board predicted that class sizes will start to go down, with each elementary school having more teachers for each grade level and the ability for more maneuvering without having to travel across the district.

“There’s going to be changes, and I think some of the things we thought of won’t fly, and some things we haven’t thought about will turn into great ideas,” said board member Willie Holbert. “We just have to be ready to answer questions.”

Newton said the district’s goal moving forward is to be as transparent and communicative as possible, and encouraged anyone with questions to call the district or show up to future meetings.

“It’s going to be very exciting, and create a lot of ripples,” he said. “And I think our open enrollment will go up, if not for our academics than for our co-curriculars.”