Marietta BOE may walk back elementary districts proposal

MARIETTA — The Marietta City Schools Board of Education is considering a plan to walk back its aggressive proposal to realign the district’s elementary school system.

The proposal, made public in December, was the subject of a town hall meeting in January, where an audience largely made up of parents expressed repeated misgivings about the speed at which the district intended to implement the plan and concern about many unclear details.

The proposal, in one version, would have consolidated grade level students and teachers in three of the district’s four elementary school buildings, with kindergarten and first grade in one, second and third in another, fourth and fifth in a third. One of the district’s four elementary schools would close. Another version would have one school dedicated to kindergarten, another for first and second grades, the other for third and fourth, and fifth graders going to Marietta Middle School.

The realignment proposal was offered as a transitional arrangement pending the outcome of a bond request the district intends to put on the ballot that would fund reconstruction and consolidation of the district schools.

At a meeting of the board Tuesday afternoon, a wide-ranging discussion among board members and administrators took the issue apart, starting with concerns expressed by board president Doug Mallett.

“For the realignment plan, can we consider placing all our kindergarten students in one location, just meet that objective, say at Harmar (Elementary School)?” Mallett said.

Curriculum director Jona Hall said that from a teaching standpoint that plan would work.

“It’s possible to immediately implement the kindergarten part,” she said.

The plan they then discussed was to move all district kindergarten students to Harmar, while keeping upper grades there as well and leaving first through fifth graders at all the other elementary sites.

The realignment concept initially grew out of a concern that the district’s kindergarten students were not being adequately prepared academically to go into first grade. With all kindergartners in one location, the teaching and other resources could be more intensively focused, both on students who need help at that level and on better instruction overall. The same concept could be applied across the remaining elementary grades, and the realignment had the additional benefit of being an interim stage in the district’s overall vision, which is to have a single-elementary campus.

The district intends to submit a bond proposal to voters within the next two years, hoping to undertake a construction program to replace its aging buildings with new more consolidated facilities. The original proposal called for a single elementary school, a middle school and a high school, but the board is now also discussing one kindergarten-through-sixth-grade building and one for seventh through 12th grades.

Hall, who was at the town hall meeting in January, said she believes parents don’t oppose the elementary realignment plan so much as they oppose the speed with which the district wants to implement it.

“Parents aren’t against the idea as much as they are against the rush,” she said. Hall said she thinks most teachers are in favor of the grade consolidation but are uncertain about what the board is going to do.

“I’m pretty confident about 75 percent of teachers back this realignment,” she said.

The board was left with a discussion of how to establish a new timeline.

Teachers, Hall said, need a definitive yes or no, even if the realignment plan is stretched out over a longer period.

The board meeting adjourned into an executive session, after which members continued with a new member orientation session. The board will meet again Thursday at 10 a.m. to continue orientation for new members and deal with any other business that arises.