Should the Mexico Public School District No. 59 develop an implementation plan that would modify elementary class sizes so they are more equal across grade levels, while allowing for an increase in its early elementary program? That is the question the Mexico Board of Education is trying to answer.
The board will hold a public town hall at 7 p.m. in the gymnasium of Eugene Field Elementary School. The format tonight will be different than question-and-answer-type town halls. The district is expecting about 120 patrons to attend. A number of tables will be set up in the gymnasium, where parents and other district stakeholders may chat with board members and district representatives.
The point of the town hall is not to implement the elementary school reconfiguration, but whether the patron input would convince the board that doing so is necessary. If the board moves forward and approves the district to draw up implementation plans at its Nov. 20 board meeting, the plan development process would take until March 1. The district would like the board to make a decision before the Christmas holiday whether to begin the planning process for implementation or not. If not approved before Christmas, work on an implementation plan likely would be tabled. The district hopes it can have the reconfiguration in place for the 2019-20 school year.
Superintendent Zach Templeton said during a Tuesday work session held by the board that the town hall is a chance for patrons to voice what they see as the pros and cons of changing the educational format of the the district’s elementary schools.
The plan is to make one of the elementary schools into an early elementary — pre-kindergarten and kindergarten — learning center. All students in those grade levels would attend that school. Having an early elementary grade center also would allow the district to increase enrollment in those grade levels.
The remaining elementary schools would be more like a neighborhood elementary school with students in first through fifth grade at each school. Templeton said this will cause classroom sizes in those grade levels to have a more even split than what is happening now.
After introductory information, including survey response percentages from faculty/staff and parents, table-top discussions then will take place. The district is asking patrons to provide input on three questions. For each question, there will be 15 minutes available for patrons to give feedback.
“Basically, each table will have someone who leads the conversation and someone to take notes. … What do you see as pros of the proposal, what do you see as challenges? Then we’ll talk about expanding the early childhood program. … And then we can ask about what solutions would be suggested to create equitable enrollment,” Templeton said.
Currently, the classroom size ranges are: kindergarten, 15-25; first, 15-18; second, 14-23; third, 18-21; fourth, 13-22; fifth, 14-25. With the proposed reconfiguration, the classroom size ranges could change to: first, 20-21; second, 18-23 (dependent on staffing); third, 21-22; fourth, 18-23 (dependent on staffing); fifth, 22 students per classroom.
“All of those are certainly below the recommended standard from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,” said Templeton, adding he is not aware of the Missouri School Boards Association has similar standards.
Board members asked about special education, English language learners and changes in busing. For special education and ELL, all it may mean is having one teacher, who currently is in one of the elementary buildings, begin working out of a different elementary building. The district either will have to add one more bus route, or increase the number of buses that do double-routing. Templeton said the latter is preferred.
“(Double-routing) basically means you take kids (to one school) and drop them off and on your way — let’s say you drop off five kindergartners at McMillan, you swing through and pick up five who are going to Hawthorne. … We do that currently,” Templeton said.
Moving to the grade center/neighborhood school model also could impact students who live within 1 mile of a building. Depending on how the splits are made, students who previously were not eligible for busing because they were in the 1-mile radius, may become eligible if they end up going to a different school. All kindergarten students are transported. They are exempt from the 1-mile radius policy. Students who would have to cross more major roadways, such as Missouri Highway 15, also are bused, even within the 1-mile radius.