Looking ahead to the future of Marietta’s schools

As I finish my tenure on the school board, I wish to provide my enthusiastic support for the new board and the creative plans that our superintendent, Will Hampton, and our director of curriculum, Jona Hall, have developed for the district. A few months ago, the board directed Hampton and Hall to provide us with options for dramatically improving the education we provide and a plan for new facilities. We are all aware of the challenges that the district faces, with declining enrollment and declining tax dollars, and we are aware that the Marietta City School District needs an innovative plan for academic success.

They presented their first draft of a plan at our December meeting. The long term plan may include consolidation of the elementary schools into one building. This would open up some huge academic and extracurricular advantages. These advantages appear to be so large, that it would be foolish to wait until we have new buildings to enjoy the advantages, particularly when new buildings could take many years and would not benefit the current students.

The board was presented with multiple options, including a plan to keep all four elementary school buildings open, but with two consolidated grades in each building.

This plan will be be decided by the next school board, which will be sworn in during the January meeting. I am not a member of the new board, but after careful consideration, I do want to offer my wholehearted support for the plan.

Ten years ago, the school board tried to pass a levy to build new buildings, and the community chose to vote against the levy. I think that was a grave error. At that time, we would have received significant matching funds from the state. Unfortunately, since that time, the state now has much higher demands and requires consolidation and provides much less money.

There are many advantages to consolidation, however, both to the kids and to the budget. For example, by having all 8 kindergarten classes under one roof, we could tailor the education to the specific needs of each student. Right now, there are a handful of kids in each school who are either struggling or excelling, but we only have 2 teachers in each building to cover all of the kids in that grade. In a consolidated kindergarten, we could have specific classes and teachers for struggling and “gifted” students and students in between. We would also be able to have a full time in-house nurse, art teacher, phys-ed teacher, music teacher, foreign language teacher, computer teacher, counselor, and so much more. The advantages of consolidation could be tremendous.

Nothing is likely to happen with the current buildings for five to six years. It takes that long to pass a levy and break ground and complete construction. Our kids shouldn’t have to wait that long to enjoy these benefits.

At the December meeting, the board discussed putting kindergarten and first grade in Putnam, but that is only a starting point for discussion. I live in Devola, and my daughter went to Putnam Elementary, so I am well aware of the enthusiasm for Putnam Elementary. After seeing all of the school buildings and learning about the advantages of consolidation, I still think consolidation is going to be a huge benefit for all of the kids, regardless of which school they currently attend. Keep in mind that the key person developing this plan, Jona Hall, is widely recognized as the main reason that Putnam Elementary is such a success. She was the beloved principal of Putnam before she was promoted to the position of Director of Curriculum for the district.

Ultimately, the board should pursue whatever plan is best for the kids. Many older Mariettans have fond memories of their tiny community elementary schools, but I don’t think we can provide a full spectrum modern education in such small schools. I realize that private schools like Veritas seem to make the opposite argument, but keep in mind that they are able to cherry pick their students. Marietta City School District takes everyone and anyone in the community and we should be proud of that. The public school system builds the fabric of our community.

After studying the proposed plan, I think some form of consolidation is going to provide a huge improvement in the education we can offer and great opportunities for extra-curricular activities. If we keep the individual class sizes small, the kids will still get the personal attention they deserve. In fact, given the efficiencies of consolidation, we may be able to provide even more personal one-on-one attention than we currently provide.

On a personal note, I attended a rural school district in Virginia and we had one high school for the entire county. I had over 3000 students in my high school, and we had so many more resources and opportunities than is available in Marietta High School. Sometimes bigger is better.

Zane Lazer, MD