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."