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Grade-alike transition 'going great'

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The grade-alike transition within the Spencer school system has been hotly debated, but after the first weeks of school have passed, the change has been viewed as an overwhelming success.

"We've been very pleased with how focused the kids have been getting to and from school," said Lucas DeWitt, elementary school principal. "It's been neat seeing the kids form new relationships."

The discussion to move to a grade-alike system began about 20 years ago, when the district decided to close the Jefferson Elementary School. The topic came up again about seven years ago, when students started to be moved to accommodate lower populations in other schools.

"It wasn't really an equitable system," DeWitt said. "Kids were struggling to meet new peers."

One of the largest benefits of the new system, DeWitt noted, was the ability to add a fourth grade class one week before school started, with little change for the students.

"Adding the extra class allowed us to keep class sizes down," he said. "The teacher was also able to have five other fourth-grade teachers to assist in beginning a new job one week before the school year started."

The additional class allowed the class size to be kept at 23 students. Without it, the class sizes would have been as high as 28 or 29 students.

With the transition, the sixth grade class was added to the middle school. A new pod allows them to move from class to class like the rest of the middle and high school grades, but not interact much with the older students.

"The transition has gone really well so far," said Steve Barber, middle school principal. "We did some planning earlier in the spring, and tried to address some of the concerns the parents had with the students transitioning from elementary to middle school."

Barber credits the teachers for the success. "They're familiar with sixth grade students," he said. "They did a nice job setting procedures up."

"We're still trying to work out all the kinks that come up with a new school year, new building or not," he continued. "But we're very optimistic that we'll be able to serve them at the middle school level."

Busing has also "gone really smooth," in the past weeks.

"The parents are excited, and the kids like it," said Julie Nemmers, director of transportation. "The short trip is awesome."

Each bus includes a monitor, who wears a vest with the animal that corresponds to the bus, to help the new and smaller kids.

"The kids like riding with their peers," Nemmers said. "We haven't had near the conduct issues."

The six buses that drive from building to building are already a part of the transportation program. The morning loop is done before and after the transfer, reducing the number of kids at the middle school.

"It's a great convenience for the parents," Nemmers said. "I'm so proud of the drivers and monitors, and we're really enthused at how well it's been going."

One concern the district still has is the parking at Johnson Elementary. The residentially-enclosed school sees heavy traffic at drop-off and pick-up times.

"It not a new issue with this school, but adding preschool and other smaller kids into the mix has been a situation," DeWitt said. "The congestion has been a new thing because there isn't a large parking area."

To keep traffic lower, the school has asked parents not to park on the north side of the road. They also have designated a drop-off and pick-up lane, where early elementary students are helped out of their car and walked into school by staff members. Preschoolers are still walked in by their parents.

The parking issue is something the school board is scheduled to look at next year. For now, however, it's "going as well as could be expected."

"We've been very pleased with the response from everyone," DeWitt said. "Any time you have a change, there will be adjustments and tweaks, and we'll do what we can to improve the process."

He continued, "Obviously, it's been a big deal, but it's gone very well."

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There are a lot of issues that need to be worked out? i know of a lot of parents that are not happy about the busing issues. that is a big concern. i see a lot of kids tring to cross 10th ave in the morning and the traffic is so bad someone is going to get hurt and there is no ploice anywhere to be seen. speed limit is 20 miles per hour during the morning and afternoon , and i can tell you that not half the cars OR BUSES are doing anywhere near that SLOW SPEED, WATCH OUT FOR THE KIDS THEY ARE OUR FUTURE......

-- Posted by moonman on Thu, Sep 6, 2012, at 12:37 AM

As with any new project, there are going to be opportunities. Good and bad. I feel as if the new system is working better then expected. Kudos to the bus drivers and monitors, who make it their job every day to make sure the students arrive safely and in a timely manner. Great job!!

-- Posted by hawkguy on Thu, Sep 6, 2012, at 8:40 AM

"Preschoolers were walked in by their parents." Wow. I know this is the case, having had kids in preschool, but I don't get it. When I was in what was then called Nursery School, I lived three blocks from the school. There was a sidewalk all the way -- I had to cross at one mostly deserted street and take the walk around the perimeter of the parking lot. I guess I wasn't 3 - I was a couple of weeks at most from being 4. All the same, I walked most days from my house to school and back with nary a scratch, and the only problems being that I would talk a classmate into walking home with me to my house, leaving flustered parents at the parking lot until my mother drove him or her back.

Why is it against the law to give children a little independence? I think it's part of what's causing them to live at home until they're 35 playing video games, and not enjoying the big scary world out there.

-- Posted by AmyPeterson on Thu, Sep 6, 2012, at 8:56 AM

Both my grandkids love the fact that they have new friends. The shuttle bus is a great idea and gets them to where they need to go quick and safe. Thank you to all bus riders, teachers and administrators, this was a wonderful plan well executed.

-- Posted by Iowachick on Thu, Sep 6, 2012, at 5:53 PM

I do not understand how it can be stated that 'the change has been an overwhelming success' after 2 partial weeks of school. True the busing has gone better than anyone expected and and 1/4 of the 4th grade class did not need to change schools this year, but that does not make 'the change has been an overwhelming success'. It will not be known if this new structure will be a success until for several years, probably not until the new Kindergarten kids have made it through 5 school transitions will Spencer really be able to tell if this has benefitted our kids.

-- Posted by SpencerParent on Sat, Sep 15, 2012, at 6:53 PM

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