WILMINGTON — The Wilmington City Schools (WCS) Board of Education voted 4-1 Monday to go ahead with the creation of grade-level centers at the district’s three elementary buildings.
The vote of approval followed comments from seven people who either oppose the move or who wanted to slow or restart the decision process, some of them suggesting the outcome was pre-determined. Another common theme was an erosion of trust between the public and district leadership.
Grade-level centers group children together by grade level, rather than by geography.
The one board member who voted against the action item is Kevin Snarr. He said his greatest reservation is “the process by which this idea was introduced to parents and guardians and those outside the immediate school community, and the way in which the public was asked to share input and ask questions.”
However, Snarr also said at the end of the meeting he will be a champion for the grade-level centers, “and do everything I can from this point forward to make it work the best it can and make it as good as possible, and I suspect it will have many benefits once it’s up and rolling.”
At a Saturday work session held by the school board on the topic, each board member gave their thoughts on the matter.
Board member Larry Roberts II said he doesn’t see a negative. He believes the change will help the district, and take it to the next level “where we need to be eventually, so I’m for it.”
Board President Marty Beaugard said the district can’t be satisfied with where it is now.
“We want to be able to give all kids the opportunity for a great education. The way it is now is kind of segregated in a sense. Sometimes we got to step outside our little bubble, not think about our family [only] but what’s best for all the kids,” said Beaugard.
Board Vice President Michael Flanigan said he has some concerns about some idle time for students due to changed busing patterns, but from an instructional standpoint, he likes the idea that students are more likely to receive the same presentation when under one roof.
“Quite frankly, a lot of the objections I’ve heard are more on the line of the individual: ‘I want my kid in this building, with these friends.’ I get that, I truly do, but as a board member I try to look at it from a more global perspective,” said Flanigan.
Board member Snarr said Saturday he certainly likes “the equity piece” offered by a grade-level centers configuration. However, he said “at least in my world” there are a large number of people just finding out about the prospect, and who want the process to slow down so they can have more information.
He said he feels better about recent language from the district that the new arrangement or structure would put the district in a better spot to do what district leaders think is best for the children. In the district’s early communication on the topic, Snarr thought the rewards of the new structure were very over-sold based on his 28 years in public education.
After Beaugard said “what we got now is not working,” Snarr replied he is “still a little uncertain what we’re trying to fix.” Snarr added the data are mixed on whether academic gains would occur under a grade-level centers arrangement.
But, if the majority of the board has made up its mind, Snarr said he would not want to go through “a charade of listening” for a year more.
Board member Steve Murphy said he has spoken with teachers “on the battle line” who think grade-level centers would be a better setup than the current arrangement.
He said though there’s no guarantee student achievement will increase, he thinks if there’s an opportunity to try to do that, then district leaders “would be remiss if we’re not giving kids a chance.”
After the Saturday work session, parent Christy Snook said she started an online petition at change.org on Tuesday at midnight, and as of 7 a.m. Saturday there were 290 signatures asking the school district to slow the process down.
According to WCS Curriculum Director Nikki Quallen, when it comes to the academic piece of the change, it’s more about an anticipated improvement occurring in teacher efficacy than it is about the new configuration alone.
WCS Superintendent Mindy McCarty-Stewart said Saturday that district educators’ hard work will just begin with the creation of grade-level centers.
“I do view this more as a K through 12 initiative. Here’s where we start, and here’s how it’s going to impact the program moving forward,” she said.
McCarty-Stewart said attrition through the resignations of elementary teachers is expected to mean two fewer elementary teachers going into next school year, and so the board may well be asked to consider not filling those spots due to more balanced class sizes in the elementary grades resulting from grade-level centers.
Snarr said he hopes the cost-savings that would ensue from that could be used to add other personnel who, for example, could ensure principals could get into the classroom more often. The superintendent responded she would love that.
It was stated Saturday that as a result of the transportation model proposed and to allow parents to pick up and drop off students with siblings in multiple buildings, the elementary school day will have to be adjusted by 15 minutes.
The current elementary student day is from 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. The proposed change will be from 9:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
McCarty-Stewart said Saturday it may take a while to see bigger outcomes in student performance. But she added if everyone keeps their eye on the big picture, she thinks the district will start to see that happen.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.