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Lewton: What if the bond referendum fails?

Editor's Note: This is the second of three columns from Hagen Junior High Principal Marcus Lewton. Over the past month, many individuals have asked me, "What if, Marcus?" What if the bond referendum fails and the new middle school is pushed off f...

Editor’s Note: This is the second of three columns from Hagen Junior High Principal Marcus Lewton.

Over the past month, many individuals have asked me, “What if, Marcus?”
What if the bond referendum fails and the new middle school is pushed off for another year. I enjoy when people ask me this question because I believe that any school is representative of the community. The community and its stakeholders need to be informed on important decisions such as the possibility of a new middle school. They need to know how a vote, yes or no, will influence their community.
A “Yes” vote will put the process in motion to design and build a new middle school, which would open in the fall of 2017. The middle school would be built for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students. This would open up Berg as a new K-5 building, which would address growth needs at the elementary level. Hagen Junior High will more than likely be repurposed for immediate needs, which may include alternative education, adult education and central administration. It would also stand as a short-term backup should the district experience more growth than anticipated.
A “No” vote will force the district to make drastic changes in education at the K-8 level. Kindergarten classes are already at an average of 26 students and many of the elementary classes are much above district-recommended levels. The junior high will experience the most difficult decisions first. At approximately 500 students and growing, 21 different classes are provided at Berg Elementary for Hagen students. Starting next year, Berg will begin to reclaim these rooms and eventually recover most or all for sixth-grade sections.
One could argue that Hagen is already beyond its capacity since 21 junior high classes are offered at Berg. However, there are short-term strategies that could occur to maximize space at Hagen. These are decisions that would not be good for teachers and are worse for students, but they could happen.
First, there are courses that we currently offer to assist students who need extra help. Some of these are tied to special education and are required by the federal government, but at least two programs could be eliminated. This would undoubtedly hurt all kids since these programs help those that are at risk, but also help teachers maintain high rigor in the classroom for all students. We could also remove student computers from the building, which would provide us with two more classrooms. However, since the state requires the state assessment be taken online, we would have to purchase laptops and the infrastructure to offer the state test via wireless Internet.
The last thing we could do is have more floating teachers. These teachers would use a cart to push their materials from one teacher’s room to another as those teachers are on prep (time where teachers prepare to teach). This undoubtedly would have a negative impact on learning as well since hundreds of students would lose hundreds of thousands of minutes of instruction as the floating teacher sets up his or her class as there is only 3-minute passing between bells. I would guess that an average floating teacher would lose a minimum of 5 minutes of instruction in any class they offered.
With a school busting at the seams, a balanced schedule would also be imperative. Removing many elective options for kids and creating a staggered bell for seventh- and eighth-grade passing time would allow for a more balanced schedule. Furthermore, a staggered release would almost become a necessity for safety reasons. This would still not be enough to fully address the approximately 600 students who will be at Hagen in the fall of 2017.
Another and quite possibly more realistic option would be for the district to look at an alternative daily schedule or a year-round calendar. In my opinion, it will be very difficult, if not impossible to place 900 students at Berg and Hagen combined. Stretching the day out, where half the students attend in the a.m. and half in the p.m. is one solution. Another solution may be to have the building in use year-round. Students would still only have nine months of school, but they would take their three-month vacation at different times. Some may have three months off in the winter, as an example. This would mean only three-fourths of the student body would be in school at any given time, providing more space.
I hope that this sheds light on the reason the Dickinson Public School District is asking for a bond referendum on Oct. 7. Please remember to vote.

Lewton is the principal of Hagen Junior High School, which serves approximately 510 seventh- and eighth-grade students in Dickinson.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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