School changes by as early as next fall would provide district with much-needed upgrades, administrators say
The Grafton School Board should seriously consider establishing a kindergarten program for 4-year-old children and moving fifth-grade classes to the middle school by as early as next fall, district administrators said Monday.
Supt. Mel Lightner told the board that he and other district administrators reviewed a 2009 study by the Elementary Schools Task Force and concluded that adding a 4-K program, reconfiguring grade levels and having more efficient busing routes should be seriously explored.
“There is a high degree of interrelationship” among those options, Lightner said in a preliminary report.
In 2009, the board considered adding 4-K classes in response to a survey indicating that more than 80% of district parents of 4-year-olds supported the plan, but the proposal was tabled due to cost concerns. However, Lightner said Grafton is at a competitive disadvantage by not having a 4-K program that could attract 80 or more children in its first year.
“It’s not babysitting. It’s a learning opportunity for our children,” Lightner said. He said a review of 120 Grafton students currently enrolled in kindergarten and first grade showed that those who attended a 4-K program are less likely to need remedial reading services.
“We see a real need for it with the higher (academic) standards we have now,” said Grafton Elementary School Principal Jeff Martyka, one of several staff members who joined Lightner in reviewing the 2009 study.
“We still have kids in kindergarten who don’t know letters of the alphabet.”
Lightner said the district has several options for establishing a 4-K program, including offering its own classes and partnering with a community child-care facility or parochial school. In Grafton, St. Paul Lutheran and St. Joseph Catholic schools both have 4-K programs currently attended by about 110 students.
“We have underserved children, and what are we going to do about it?” Lightner asked the board. “We have an obligation to look at ways to help those families who can’t afford to send their children to 4-K right now.”
More than 360 of Wisconsin’s 424 school districts currently offer 4-K programs, including Port Washington-Saukville, Northern Ozaukee and Cedar Grove-Belgium locally.
“It’s not a new thing,” Lightner said. “More and more districts have them.”
Several board members said they supported having Lightner contact parochial schools to discuss the feasibility of a 4-K partnership with the district but voiced concern about the cost.
In 2008, a study estimated that establishing a 4-K program at one or more of Grafton’s three elementary schools would cost nearly $241,000 the first year and $264,000 the second year. The same study estimated that by the fourth year, the program could generate more than $209,000 in revenue as the district received additional state aid.
However, Lightner noted the district could save money by partnering with an existing 4-K program at a parochial school that has its own teachers. Those teachers could not provide faith-based instruction, he said.
“Usually, it costs more the first year to start a 4-K program, and then you generate revenue,” said Lightner, who suggested that the district could use its fund balance to cover the cost.
Board member Clayton Riddle said he wanted to see more research “that shows (4-K) has a long-standing positive effect” on academic achievement.
“If we’re going to do it, let’s have a good reason,” he said.
Although the district’s elementary schools don’t have enough room to add 4-K classes, that problem could be solved by moving all fifth-graders to John Long Middle School, a move that Lightner said would have other advantages. In addition to filling available space at the middle school and making room in the elementary schools, fifth-graders could be integrated with older students, he said.
“We have wonderful elementary schools, but fifth-graders are more like sixth-graders,” Lightner said.
John Long Principal Mike Leach said his school, which currently has 450 students in grades six through eight, could accommodate 150 fifth-graders but that the move would require additional administrative support and restructuring space.
“Getting fifth-grade students the multi-teacher experience gradually” would be a major advantage, he told the board.
Leach also proposed changing class periods for middle-schoolers from the current schedule of 8:05 a.m. to 3:16 p.m. with nine 45-minute periods for all students to a schedule of 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., with four 90-minute periods for fifth and sixth grades and three 120-minute periods for seventh and eighth grades.
“The schedule will allow for much more flexibility, project-based blocks, longer amounts of time for students to engage in in-depth discovery within a topic,” Leach told the board.
Moving fifth-graders to the middle school would also save the district at least $37,000 in transportation costs annually, Lightner said.
Martyka said that 105 students who live in the Grafton Elementary School attendance area are unable to attend school there and have to be bused to Kennedy or Woodview schools.
“We don’t have neighborhood schools for those students,” Martyka said.
Lightner said moving fifth-graders to the middle school would allow the district to reconfigure the elementary schools’ attendance areas and help ensure school facilities are used more efficiently.
The board took no action on any of the proposals. Lightner said the district will contact the parochial schools to gauge their interest in a 4-K partnership. An update will be provided to the board this fall before any possible action early next year, he said.
Any changes for the 2014-15 school year should be approved by late January or early February, Lightner said.