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Marietta teachers weigh pros, cons of centralized campus

MARIETTA — Advocates of the Marietta City Schools building project proposal — for which voters are making a decision about whether to approve $55 million in local tax levies — are emphasizing the educational and resource-allocation benefits of putting all the district’s students on a single campus.

The proposal offers the chance to design an entire school architecture from the ground up instead of retrofitting a group of six scattered buildings, ranging in age from 107 to more than 50 years, to meet the current needs of students.

Unsurprisingly, teachers like the idea.

Pam Stephanik and Jessica Smith are team teachers for first grade at Putnam Elementary School. On Friday afternoon they walked down the main hallway, with the happy racket of a staff vs. students volleyball game fading as they left the vicinity of the gym and turned right down to the end of another hall.

The two, Stephanik a 37-year veteran teacher and Smith a more recent arrival, gestured into a standard classroom, crowded with desks in rows.

“We have 43 students in here,” Stephanik said.

Next door, a less regimented room was furnished with rugs, small round tables and chairs, a space used for small group and individual study.

The design details of the new school complex being proposed by the district will not be known until architecture studies are commissioned and finished, but some of the broad concepts are that the three schools — elementary, middle and senior high — will be in separate spaces that share common elements such as utilities and food preparation. One misconception is that the school is meant to have “open classroom” design — the classrooms are intended to be separate, but structured in “pods” — classrooms that open into common areas, with pods for each grade.

Having all the district’s teachers working in one location, with the grade bands in their own pods, has numerous benefits for teachers and students, both teachers said.

“What I see being at Putnam is that we lack some support and resources, we’re not a Title I school,” Stephanik said. “If we were all under one roof, there would be strong opportunities to collaborate.”

“It would be nice to have the opportunity to work more closely with other teachers, it’s difficult with everyone being in different buildings, hard to get new ideas,” Smith said.

With elementary school students scattered unevenly among four buildings, class sizes lack uniformity — varying from as few as 14 students to more than 20 — something that would cease to be a problem on a single campus. Students, Smith said, would also benefit from having access to teachers with a wide variety of strengths.

“As elementary teachers, you have to be a jack of all trades, but some are stronger, for example, in math and others are stronger in reading or writing,” she said. “With a flexible structure like that, the kids would get the best of the best.”

Alison Woods is a first-grade teacher at Harmar Elementary.

“I think it would be beneficial to have all the grade levels together, to be able to work collaboratively,” she said. “It’s nice to have that feedback through team meetings. We have team days now, but we have to get substitute teachers on those days, and we don’t have a lot of subs, so it’s challenging.”

Having all the schools in one location would also have the benefit of better enabling upper class students to mentor and work with the younger ones.

“I already have a middle school student one day a week to help in the classroom, but it would be easier in one building,” Woods said. “If those students want the chance to help or mentor, it’s a great opportunity to show their leadership skills. But right now, if they don’t drive or have a family member to drive them, that makes it much more difficult.”

Sandy Winans and Kathi Carr also teach at Harmar.

Winans, a kindergarten teacher, said she and Carr, a second-grade teacher, made a list of the beneficial changes that could come with a single campus.

“The biggest thing would be collaboration among teachers, even between grade level bands,” Winans said. “Communication will also be easier, more consistent than they could be among several buildings.”

Carr said students will be better served by having all the needed resources — speech therapists, counselors, intervention specialists — in one place where they are available when they’re needed.

“It will be more equitable, better able to meet the needs of all the students,” Winans said.

Carr noted that some students have to move around frequently, and with four elementary schools they face the need to adapt to a new school environment as well as the stress of settling into a new home. A single campus would give those students a sense of stability in school that they might not have under the current structure.

“We have students who switch buildings, and they won’t have to make that transition,” she said.

A unified campus would also have benefits for parents of all students, Winans said.

“They’ll feel a more welcoming atmosphere when they see everyone in one place working together for the common good of the students,” she said.

Stephanik is preparing to retire next year.

“I see this as something great for the students now and in the future. It’s a great idea that will help us as a district move forward in educating the students of Marietta,” she said.

The Marietta City Schools levy proposes to build a single, multi-school campus on 49 acres on the Washington State Community College campus, a project that would make Marietta home to the first K-14 campus in Ohio. The project is estimated to cost $85 million, with $55 million as the local share and the remainder paid by the state. The local portion would be paid with a 5.36 mill property tax levy over 37 years.

The levy is on the ballot of the Nov. 5 election. The levy committee has held numerous public meetings during September and October, with four left to go: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Oct. 29, and 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 31. The meetings are held in the first floor conference room of the Washington County Public Library main branch at 615 Fifth St. and are open to anyone.

For more information on the levy, go mcslevy.org.

Michael Kelly can be contacted at mkelly@mariettatimes.com.

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Marietta City Schools Levy committee public meetings

* Tuesday, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

* Thursday, 5:30 to7:30 p.m.

* Oct. 29, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

* Oct. 31, 10 a.m. to noon

* All meetings are held in the first-floor conference room of the Washington County Public Library.

* For information on the levy, see MCSLevy. org

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