WILMINGTON — Given the potential benefits, Wilmington City Schools (WCS) educators and others are presently exploring whether it’s doable to create Grade Level Centers in the three elementary buildings.
Currently, the Denver Place, East End and Holmes Elementary Schools have student bodies determined by geographic areas in the school district, and the children at those elementary buildings currently range in grades from kindergarten through fifth grade. A Grade Level Center, on the other hand, will house within a particular building students who are grouped together by grade level and not by geography.
A local Grade Level Center Steering Committee currently is evaluating the workability of the following grade/building configurations: preschool and 5th grade at East End; kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades at Holmes; and 3rd and 4th grades plus students with multiple handicaps at Denver Place.
Parents this week received a newsletter from the school district regarding the prospect of having three Grade Level Centers. It states there are a number of “compelling educational benefits” to structure elementary schools by grade level.
Some of those are: It encourages more collaboration among grade-level teachers; students have an earlier opportunity to become friends with all students in their same grade level; students can connect together prior to the crucial middle school developmental age; it helps in balancing class sizes (considered especially key in the elementary grades); it allows the building staff to focus on the particular learning and the social or emotional needs of children in that particular grade level; and eliminates perceived stigma or labels sometimes attached to a particular elementary building.
The ongoing process of considering whether to create Grade Level Centers is a challenging one, states the WCS newsletter, “but the end result could mean taking a giant step forward in creating a superior educational experience for each and every student attending Wilmington City Schools.”
In an interview, WCS Superintendent Mindy McCarty-Stewart said she thinks the next couple months “will be very telling” in deciding whether to make the change for the 2018-19 school year, or whether to extend the time frame to implement it, or whether logistically the district just can’t make it happen.
The superintendent pointed to classroom numbers for 3rd-grade children at the three elementary buildings. Class sizes at Denver’s four 3rd-grade classes are 27, 28, 28 and 29. That compares to Holmes’ 3rd-grade class sizes of 23, 22, 22 and 20; and with East End’s 3rd-grade classes comprised of 23 and 24 students.
McCarty-Stewart said she doesn’t like seeing pockets of higher student-to-teacher ratios. If all the district’s 3rd-graders were instead in one building, district officials would be able to balance out the class sizes, she said.
Changing to Grade Level Centers is a conversation the district has had in prior years. She said she couldn’t speak to what the specific barriers were in the past that resulted in not moving ahead with the new type of grouping by grade level.
If the change is made, there will be no cuts in teaching staff, said McCarty-Stewart. The move would not be done as a cost-cutting measure, she said, but rather as a way to improve the quality of education provided to students at WCS.
The Grade Level Center Steering Committee includes teachers, parents, administrators, bus drivers and school board members. One of those members is Kristi Fickert, a parent who has had children at Holmes Elementary for the past seven years.
“I’ve come to embrace the idea of grade-level centers and my son was thrilled with the idea when I presented it to him. Initially, I had many questions and concerns and struggled to find the benefits of moving to a system like this. However, through much collaboration with other parents, teachers and administrators, I realized this is a really great opportunity to give our students a much better educational experience than what is currently in place.
“After combing through the data and challenges from our own district (that I was not aware of prior) and comparing that with data and input from teachers in districts that already utilize grade-level centers, it was clear to me that we need to continue to work to find a way to make this happen for our students,” said Fickert. “Any sacrifice our family may have to initially make to adjust to a change like this will be off-set through smaller class sizes, more equitable learning opportunities and more specialized instruction — along with many other positives that outweigh my initial concerns.
Fickert added Friday, “There are still challenges to be resolved, but I do feel confident that our district leaders will not move forward until we have a solid plan in place, and I do appreciate the way they are working to involve parents and stakeholders in the process.”
Parents, grandparents and legal guardians are invited to help with the process by asking questions or sharing concerns. One way to do that is at a link on the district website homepage at www.wilmingtoncityschools.com/glc .
You also can mail questions to: Wilmington City Schools, Attn. GLC Steering Committee, 341 S. Nelson Ave., Wilmington, OH 45177.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.