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JCC grade-alike elementary proposal nearing possible vote

JACKSON -- Better utilization of resources is the key point behind the Jackson County Central school district's grade-alike proposal for the district's two elementary schools.

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JACKSON - Better utilization of resources is the key point behind the Jackson County Central school district’s grade-alike proposal for the district’s two elementary schools.

The board of education may vote as early as the next two weeks on the plan, which would take effect during the 2019-2020 school year. The approximately year-long process has included school board discussions and further consideration from a 22-member district-wide community task force regarding the pros and cons of educating an entire elementary grade in one location or the other. The task force is comprised of various-aged males and females from different residences across the county.

According to JCC Superintendent Todd Meyer, the process has created some confusion, including the false belief that the two schools would consolidate and result in the closure of a facility.  

If the current proposal is approved by the JCC Board of Education, Meyer said, kindergarten through third-grade students will be taught at the district’s Riverside Elementary location in Jackson; fourth- and fifth-graders would attend Pleasantview Elementary School in Lakefield. Preschool will continue at each location, the middle school (grades six through eight) will continue at its Lakefield location and the high school will remain in Jackson.

According to meeting minutes of the task force, its 22 members took an informal vote as to how well the proposal was received. Although a concrete number of how members voted was not reported in the minutes, it was apparent that many members were on undecided about the idea, but leaned more toward supporting the proposal.

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Concerns about the plan expressed at meetings included continued community vibrancy for both Jackson and Lakefield, closeness to children in emergency situations and busing logistics.

From the district’s perspective, the grade-alike structure will likely reap a variety of benefits, including professionally between staff, socially for the students and realization of a cost savings.

According to literature on the district’s website, the structure has the potential to result in a $100,000 cost savings for the district during the first year alone. A $150,000 annual cost savings is estimated for the long term via savings primarily through teachers and support staff  - which the district says is getting to be an increasingly smaller pool to hire from. Potential cost savings may also be realized by reducing duplicated curriculum and classroom purchases, and special assemblies or other opportunities currently being offered at two separate locations.

Meyer said the plan should also enhance teachers’ abilities to collaborate with each other during designated Professional Learning Community time, which is a professional development activity teachers routinely participate in with their colleagues to discuss best practices.

“When you have just one teacher in one grade level, it makes it really hard for him or her to be able to bounce ideas off (with their colleagues),” he said.

According to the district, when students get to the middle school level, there is a noticeable social division between youths that attended elementary school in Jackson and those that attend in Lakefield. Meyer hopes the grade-alike structure will minimize that division.

“We’re also trying to get where the kids grow up together,” he added.

Meyer said there will be opportunities for parents to ask further questions and share their concerns during upcoming parent-teacher conferences. Depending on the feedback that’s received throughout the parent-teacher conference process, the board of education may vote to implement the grade-alike structure during its Nov. 26 school board meeting.

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It’s also possible, Meyer said, that the board will prolong a decision and host a public meeting.

More information - including summaries of the community task force meetings - is available on the district’s website, jccschools.com.

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