by Steve Peterson
West Sioux Community School District residents heard options and gave input as officials outlined grades attendance plans for the 2013-2014 school year April 16.
A second meeting on the options was set for 6 p.m., April 29 at the West Sioux High School with school board action expected.
“At the Northwest Area Education Agency, we normally facilitate meetings where schools have declining enrollment and you have to close down schools. This is a different situation. You have more space and more students,” said Northwest Iowa AEA Chief Administrator Tim Grieves, who led the April 16 meeting.
Grieves said the enrollment growth is seen as a trend and not a “bubble.”
“West Sioux could see a growth to an enrollment of 847 students through the School Year 2017-2018,” said Grieves. “We look at the survival rates of students for three years. Look at the Kindergarten and how many go on to first grade, etc. A three-year average of each class is considered.”
“The trend is you’re going to increase. The trend will adjust itself,” said Grieves.
“It is projected we will have another 100 students in five years,” said West Sioux Shared Superintendent Randy Collins, agreeing it’s a trend, not a bubble.
Options being considered include
• Renovation or a modular classroom at the Ireton School;
• Add rented space in Ireton;
• Move fifth grade Five to West Sioux Middle School and first grade to Hawarden Elementary.
Pros and cons of all options were listed for audience members after consideration by teachers and administrators.
Strengths for the remodel-portable classroom option are Early Childhood Group stays together; respect for Ireton community; added space will not go unused for future years; opens options for classrooms, preschool to relocate; shows growth long term; allows for support services to remain in-house; logistics would not be a challenge, and things remain the same.
Challenges seen by the elementary staff for remodel-portable classroom option: costs; timing, is there time to get this completed; location, which gets remodeled, where do we put a portable?; isolation; and risk due to Open Enrollment.
Building/Grounds Director Bob Brewington shared information on costs of renovation-portable classroom use. One problem is the gym area and various codes set by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
“We looked at remodeling the entrance of the gym. We could take the ticket booth out, and use it as storage space for classrooms. One problem we run into is we would have to get electrical back there. In the gym the fire marshal is not very comfortable with the ceiling made of wood. We would also have to get it qualified to Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) standards,” said Brewington.
The art area of the gym can only be used for brief periods at a time, said Brewington, due to Sate Fire Codes.
“Another area we looked at is the new principal and secretary’s office. We would take a wall out. One of the many problems we have is heating those areas. We have trouble getting heat to that office,” said Brewington.
A portable classroom’s most logical place is the playground area. You have to consider heating that building and supplying water, electrical and sewer, and we have propane tanks that are underground nearby.
Cost estimates for this option include: the gym area is $60,000; the principal-secretary’s area remodeling, $120,000; and portable classroom, $60,000 – $80,000, said Brewington.
Rented Space Option
An option is to rent space within Ireton.
Grades TK-5 Principal Carrie Thonstad said if this is chosen, then the school will work with Ireton Mayor Dennis Burns to find a location and shared some possibilities such as Ireton Christian School, Ireton Community Center, a carpet building, and the basement of an old school house.
Strengths of this option are seen as respect for the Ireton community; a quick fix and short-term. Challenges are instructional time lost for transitions; logistics, moving everything, providing services such as food, support services, sharing resources, custodial; isolation; little to no collaboration and location, is the space large enough?
“We have found space in town in the past,” said Thonstad.
Moving first grade to West Sioux Elementary School in Hawarden from Ireton and fifth grade from the elementary to the middle school is also being considered.
Strengths of this option are it is economical, no cost involved; fifth graders are developmentally ready to take on middle school challenges. Challenges of moving the two grades are it cuts away the culture, team in the Ireton building; and loss of first and fifth grade models.
Middle/High School Counselor Jim Hansen reported there is room for the fifth grade at the Middle School wing. Teachers would walk classes to special periods such as lunch and art.
“We could provide them with three classrooms in a state-of-the-art facility for the 56 students in that class. They would be more self-contained. Movement around would be very little,” said Hansen, adding there would be four periods for lunch and all their classes would be self-contained in the eighth grade area.
One question was the handling of student discipline if fifth graders move to middle school.
“I would have more of a worry about supervision during extracurricular activities than I do during the school day,” said Middle/High School Principal Ryan Kramer.
During audience questions, it was asked about moving the preschool from the Ireton building.
“The preschool was put in place there as a way to draw enrollment,” said Thonstad. “It has value to the building.”
“We were kind of blind-sided when 67 new students came in last fall,” said Collins, who added most of that gain was in the elementary grades.
According to the school district’s budget workbook, the official enrollment was 738.1 students in October. Since then it has declined by 12 at the middle/high school grades.
“We want to find out where the community is at with this,” said Grieves.
“I want to congratulate the school. We should have a solid plan for the future and we should consider expansion in Ireton. I think it (enrollment) is a trend and not a bubble,” said Ireton Mayor Dennis Burns.
Keeping the students safe will be the top priority of the teachers, said fifth grade teacher Tiffany Millikan.
Regarding fourth and fifth grade staffing, if an elementary school grant is awarded, then another position will be available to the elementary grades, school officials said in response to one question.
“Playground would be a challenge for fifth grade because we would not be moving playground equipment up here (to the middle/high school). We would provide organized games and activities,” said West Sioux Grades 6-12 Principal Ryan Kramer.
“I would validate the concern about having students in the same town as their parents but there is the reality of schools in northwest Iowa that kids will have to travel. We all want our children close,” said Collins in response to a question.
An audience member asked if first or fifth grade would move back to the Ireton school if enrollment declines. School officials said “Yes, the grade could be moved back.”
“That is the advantage of that option. It is reversible if the projections are not correct or if something goes different with the economy,” said Collins. “It would be easy with the grade movement option to roll back.”
Other strengths of the grade movement option are increases instructional time for first grade students; provides more opportunities for collaboration across grade levels at the elementary; fewer children are being bused; short-term; provides time to develop a long-term plan for West Sioux’s future; fifth grade teachers stay with fifth grade students; band services would be easier to provide and may increase enrollment; provides new options for Early Childhood Center in Ireton because of added space; supports the fifth grade transition to middle school; eases bulging common spaces in Ireton such as the cafeteria, library, recess, restrooms and gym; and parents in Hawarden like the ease of having their children closer.
Some challenges for moving the two grades are developmental differences for the first graders, not ready for the Hawarden building; could be scary for students who are now in Kindergarten and fourth grade; isolation of staff; elementary resources such as library would need more books; schedules; possible in-house loss of support services; enrollment fluctuates yearly; Ireton community may feel it is losing, is it a domino effect; and fourth grade parents would need reassurance that their students would be “safe” as fifth graders in 2013-2014.
Open enrollment decisions by individual families would always be respected, said Collins.