When Marietta resident Margie Wesel heard she would have to uproot her four children from Warren Elementary next year so they could all attend what will soon be Warren Middle School, she was concerned.
"Initially, it caught me off guard," Wesel said. "Then I realized I was glad they would all be there at the same time, and I know now they'll have more opportunities there."
Wesel's children, currently in fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grades, will all head over to Barlow-Vincent Elementary School along with all other fifth-through-eighth-graders, as the Warren community prepares to turn one of its three elementary schools into a middle school for the first time.
JACKIE RUNION The Marietta Times
First and second grade students enjoy the playground at Barlow-Vincent Elementary School Thursday morning during recess. It’s the last school year that younger students will run around the grounds of the school before it is converted into Warren Middle School for 2015-2016.
JACKIE RUNION The Marietta Times
Warren Elementary art teacher Diane McDonald helps eighth-grader Hunter Ross with an art project Thursday morning, during the last school year that middle school-aged students will takes classes at Warren Elementary before it becomes a K-4 building.
"This is a super important time because we know we can better serve students, we just have to get the structure right," said Warren Elementary Principal Tricia Delaney. "It will be an extremely daunting task...but we have an entire school year."
Until January, teachers and administrators will be in meetings discussing who will go where, with placement being based on both seniority and certification.
"Some students have certain opportunities that Warren and Little Hocking cannot have not being by the high school, but now it's all equal opportunity," said Jill Lipscomb, a third grade teacher at Warren Elementary who has experience teaching both elementary and middle school students.
At a glance
Restructuring by the numbers
Goal: 350 K-4 students per elementary, all 5-8 to middle school.
2013-14 fiscal year headcounts:
Fifth-eighth graders district-wide: 738.
Warren Elementary total: 412.
Little Hocking Elementary total: 403.
Barlow-Vincent Elementary total: 735.
Source: Ohio Department of Education.
The rationale behind a middle school comes from a wide range of areas, administrators said. Middle school students will now be able to take high school credit courses in addition to more music and technology classes and have unified athletic teams, and elementary buildings can drive more focus into primary, grade-level math and English curriculum with more space and more opportunities for collaboration.
"Kids can now be offered foreign language and technology classes and they can start to build those relationships they'll have before they get to high school," said Mark Daughety, an eighth grade teacher at Barlow-Vincent Elementary. "And for teachers, I don't have to call Warren and ask where they are in class, because we'll all be together."
Daughety and other teachers expressed the difficulty in turning a school where many classrooms are designed for young children to suit middle school students, but agreed that the move will be worth it.
"I think it should have been done a long time ago," said Julie Van Dyk, a first grade teacher at Barlow-Vincent Elementary. "In middle school, you're all in the same social boat and stage in life."
Haley Sloter, 12, will transfer to Barlow-Vincent from Warren Elementary next year.
"Separating the younger and older kids is probably smart," she said. "The little kids won't get run over as much, and we get to meet other kids that we're going to high school with."
Matthew Rauch, 11, said he is excited to be in a more adult atmosphere as he enters seventh grade next year.
"We'll get to have more advanced programs," he said. "I'm really just a little worried the bus ride will be like an hour longer."
By redistributing resources, the district also is planning for the opportunity to have middle school guidance counselors.
Barlow-Vincent parent Beth Moyers had expressed concern about having to take her third-grader to another elementary school and then bring him back to Barlow-Vincent for middle school, but said she would remain open-minded.
"He will have to get used to a new system and then once he's familiar with it he has to switch back," she said. "But as long as he's OK with it, I'll be fine."
With Little Hocking and Warren schools being the only two elementary buildings left, the district is working to split the district up in the hopes of keeping students off the bus for too long.
"That is a part of living in this district that's so spread out," said third grade teacher Tracey Huck. "We bus 250 square miles, and when we used to have kids from Chesterville, their bus rides were much longer."
All of Wesel's children ride the bus every morning, and said the switch to Barlow-Vincent will mean about a six-mile ride from home.
"I'll have to get them up earlier, but they used to have to be on the bus by 7:30 a while back, so I had to have them all up by 5:30 anyway because it was several girls sharing a bathroom," she said. "So it won't make too much of a difference."
The separate middle concept is rare locally, with Marietta City Schools having the only other completely separate middle school in Washington County.
In 2009, Frontier Local Schools moved its seventh and eighth grade students from the elementary schools to the high school in a slightly similar restructure.
"We had less kids when that happened, and then it began to build back up as the years went by," said Newport Elementary Principal Greg Morus. "Having just kindergarten through sixth is a nice thing because we pair them up with a buddy system that works out well."
Jayden VanNoy, 10, said the switch that will make her school into a middle school has its pros and cons.
"I like that I'll be able to take languages like French or Spanish, and I can also take a geometry class that I wouldn't have been able to take otherwise," she said. "But I did do reading with kindergarteners and I like being around the younger kids, so there's some good and bad parts."
Many teachers noted that packing up everything and hauling it to another school will be a lot of work, but are excited at the opportunity to be in closer clusters.
"It's going to create consistency throughout and improve program design," said Josette Boggess, who teaches kindergarten, first, second and sixth grade in the district.