Elementary school students in Mexico Public Schools currently are spread between three separate buildings. A proposal from the school district won’t change that, but what it will do is change how the schools are configured.
The proposed plan is to make McMillan Elementary School into a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten grade center, while Eugene Field and Hawthorne Elementary Schools will be neighborhood schools with first through fifth grades at these schools. A grade center school is similar to Mexico Middle School and Mexico High School, where all students in particular grade levels attend one school building, rather than spread out across multiple buildings. The proposal also would allow for the district to increase the number of pre-k and kindergarten classes.
Parents, educators and other district stakeholders met at a Thursday town hall at Eugene Field to discuss the proposal and its benefits and challenges. If the Mexico School Board were to approve moving ahead with the proposal, class sizes overall would equalize. With students spread across three buildings at present, class sizes can range from 13 students to 25 students in the classrooms in the six grade levels — kindergarten through fifth grade.
“The entire time I’ve been here, we’ve had conversations about class sizes,” said Superintendent Zach Templeton. “We’ve also had conversations about trying to expand and trying to increase the number of students we can serve in our early childhood.”
The district’s early childhood center is at capacity and has a waiting list of at least 30 potential students. The district conducted a survey of staff and parents about the proposed changes. Eighty percent of parents would like if class sizes were equitable, while 83 percent would like to see an expansion of the early elementary program. Ninety percent of faculty/staff would like equitable class sizes, and 92 percent would like an early elementary expansion.
What was discussed?
Input from the town hall’s table-top discussions will be compiled and put into a document on the district website. One table at the town hall noted having equitable class sizes and expanding early childhood education has a possible net-gain benefit of increased revenue. Public school funding from the state is dependent on enrollment numbers.
Moving students around
“It should be an even distribution of class sizes, but they could do that now if they wanted to,” said Maria Loyd, physical education teacher at McMillan. “That might even distribution of behaviors.”
Putting all pre-k and kindergarten students in one building also would allow more teacher collaboration, Mexico Middle School Principal Deborah Haag said. English Language Learners teacher Julie Stevenson wondered what would happen with her students. Presently, ELL students are taken to one location. Will they now be split between buildings?
“Depending on how the lines are redrawn and if they’re going to be forced to go to their domicile school or if they’ll still get bused to one building. I see that as a huge concern for my population of students and their parents,” she said.
With the proposal to have all pre-k and kindergarten students at McMillan, educators and parents also worried about what happens to student friendships as they transition from one school to the next. Students who became friends at McMillan, if the plan goes through, have the potential to be split into the other two elementary schools depending on where they live within the school boundary zones.
The biggest aspect of the changes is having more pre-k and kindergarten students. Early elementary sets the basis for the rest of education career.
“You’ve got to learn how to learn,” said Rebecca Seward, high school and middle school Spanish teacher.
Possible transportation changes
There is a considerable financial aspect to changing to grade center/neighborhood school model, Transportation Director Curtis Jackson said. Early childhood needs specialized buses to transport students, which include 4-point restraints on seats and a paraprofessional on each bus.
“Those buses are $25,000-30,0000 more expensive than what we’re buying now,” he said. “We pay $92,000 for a bus, so you put another $25,000, $30,000 on top of that. … You need at least two people on that bus, so it’s a staffing issue. … We can’t get drivers now. We’re three drivers short as we stand right now.”
There are grant programs available, but they have requirements on how a bus is used if purchased with grant funds, Jackson said.
There is no clear picture at present to how boundary lines may be redrawn for the three schools. Currently, students who attend Eugene Field come from the central hub of Mexico, while students who attend Hawthorne and McMillan are within the more outlying residential and rural areas of the district.
It will be up to the Mexico Board of Education to determine the path forward for the elementary schools. If the board approves the proposal, the district would draw up implementation plans that should be ready by March 1. The district would then be able to implement any boundary, busing and staffing modifications for the 2019-20 school year. The next school board meeting is 7 p.m. Tuesday at the district office.