For the second time in two weeks, Clark County school officials were confronted by a large group of concerned parents during a public forum Tuesday about the merger of the county’s two middle schools.
District officials gave a PowerPoint presentation to the overflow crowd that showed a timeline of how the district reached the point of being ready to combine the Clark and Conkwright middle schools, as well as an outline of staffing for the new school and a chart showing how some of the academic programs will be organized.
As they did last week during a regular school board meeting, several parents questioned the speed at which the merger was taking place, as well as the wisdom of having such a large student population in one location.
But much of the discussion during the forum concerned the renovation of the old George Rogers Clark High School building, which will take place after students are moved into the building, and whether or not the current accelerated magnet and SOAR programs will be offered at the combined school.
Seventh grade Conkwright magnet student Hagen Wells gave a passionate plea for continuing the magnet and SOAR programs, saying the magnet students were a close group that had worked hard to get into the program where they were excelling. He also told officials that AP classes were not the same thing.
“If you offer us an AP class and think this is the same thing as magnet and SOAR, you are wrong. We are a family. We've been together since sixth grade. We have and are learning together and it is working for us. Why would you change that?” Wells said.
While the combined middle school will not have the current magnet and SOAR programs, Superintendent Elaine Farris said there will be an accelerated program for those and other students.
“We will be offering accelerated pre-AP courses at the middle school that align with the AP classes that are offered at the high school. We will have some new classes such as second level algebra and geometry for seventh and eighth-grade students, as well as a second world language and accelerated science and math classes,” Farris said. “Those classes will be offered for all students who qualify. So instead of having 50 or 60 students taking accelerated classes, we can have several hundred taking the more rigorous classes.”
Wells and others also questioned the safety of the students during the renovation of the current GRC building.
Architect Mike Smith, who is overseeing the construction of the new elementary school and the renovations of Conkwright and the current GRC, said student and staff safety is always a priority in renovation projects.
With the current school schedules, Smith said, it is almost impossible to complete a renovation project without students in a building.
“I have renovated schools and designed renovations for more than 200 schools across the state. There has not been a single lost instruction day, there has not been a single lack of academic performance,” Smith said. “With school calendars these days, we have basically eight weeks where we can work without students in the building. We can plan it so that it can be phased... so that the student academic day will not be interrupted. Also, we have never had a problem with injury, with any disruption whatsoever, so I am confident we can plan renovation.”
When asked about asbestos and other hazardous materials being in the building, district administrator Paul Christy said every school district must have a hazardous material abatement plan and protocol in place at all times, which the district does, and that no such materials exist in the areas that will be renovated at GRC.
When a parent questioned why the schools were being combined for the 2013 school year, Clark County Board of Education chairman Judy Hicks reiterated that everything that was being done with the construction of the new high school, building of the new elementary school and merger of the current middle schools was a result of the Kentucky Department of Education’s 2006 ruling that the district must close three of the small elementary schools.
“Back in 2006-2007, the state said we were operating too many schools and that there was an inequity in providing educational opportunities for students in school A, which has 600 kids, compared to school B that has 150 students,” Hicks said. “I have always been an advocate for small schools. I believe in small schools. I sat where you are for many years because my passion is small schools. But we have to abide by the regulations of the Kentucky Department of Education.”
Following the meeting, board member Mike Kuduk, who has long been an advocate for more public input on board decisions, said he felt like the forum was a step in the right direction.
“There has been a lot of community concern and up until this point I don't think some of those concerns have been addressed and I think it is a good thing the board is now listening to this and some of these issues will be addressed before the fall,” Kuduk said. “I think this is a start. I think it's good. Any time you've got 100 people here it is a good thing. I absolutely think we should do this more often. Every board meeting should be like this.”
Hicks also said afterward she felt like the forum was successful in answering some of the parents’ questions, and that the board would follow up on some of the questions they could not answer Tuesday.
“I think we were successful in communication some specific information that was not known or had not been communicated well, especially about the programming,” Hicks said. “When we follow up on some of the questions presented that we didn’t have an answer to, we will communicate that information to the community as well.”
Farris invited those in attendance and others to submit further questions to her and the board.
“There are a lot of major changes taking place in our district. Many of these decisions were made several years ago and the board received a lot of public input before the decisions were made. We encourage the community to send additional questions and concerns to the email address listed on the PowerPoint on our website or to me and board members so that we can take them into consideration as we continue planning for the merger,” Farris said.
While no other forums have been scheduled at this time, Hicks said that it is possible more will be scheduled after officials have time to follow up on the submitted questions.
Contact Bob Flynn at email@example.com.