ONTARIO — It was a nearly-packed house in the Alameda Elementary School gym on Thursday evening, as parents and community members of Ontario came to a parent/community forum to learn, ask questions and voice their concerns regarding a potential restructuring of the elementary schools in Ontario School District.
Using money from the Student Success Act, Ontario School District administrators are working to restructure the elementary schools of the district so that the three bigger schools (Aiken, Alameda and May Roberts) are each assigned specific grade levels.
The restructuring of the schools would lead to a new look for almost every school in the district. The proposed changes follow:
• Alameda Elementary School would be turned into Ontario Primary School, and will house the kindergarten and first grade.
• Aiken Elementary School would become Ontario Elementary School, with second- and third-graders.
• May Roberts Elementary School would have the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders and be renamed Ontario Intermediate.
• Pioneer Elementary School would be renamed to Ontario STREAM Academy and would change into a kindergarten through sixth grade school focused on science, technology, reading, engineering, arts and math. This means that the school district could choose a different structure of education for that school.
• Cairo Elementary School would change into Ontario Rural School and remain as a seven-classroom school serving kindergarten through sixth grade in a “traditional small rural” setting.
Where’s it going?
One of the biggest questions raised in Thursday’s meeting at Alameda Elementary was making sure that everyone knows the full breakdown of the Student Investment Account money. During Thursday’s presentation, Alameda Elementary School Principal Andrea Buchholz broke down the many items that the school district could achieve with the SSA money.
The list includes items like: expand extracurricular programs, expand summer programs to all students and update campus security.
Several parents noted that the list provided does not include a cost breakdown. Ontario School District Public Relations and Communications Director Taryn Smith said that Mary Jo Evers, the district’s director of finance, is working on a budget breakdown for the SIA.
Not a done deal
At both the Pioneer and Alameda meetings, parents brought up worry that the reconfiguration of the elementary schools was something that was for sure to happen.
“Nothing is a done deal,” O’Hara-Rines said. “Nothing is sewed up, or wrapped up.”
The Ontario School Board of Directors does have to vote to approve the Student Investment Account plan, which includes the restructured elementary schools. That vote will take place during its next regularly-scheduled meeting on March 30.
During the Tuesday morning informational session, Ontario School Board members Derrick Draper, Eric Evans and Renae Corn all specifically stated that they would not vote for the proposed changes if the vote had been that day, each citing that they needed to receive more parent and community feedback. Board member Blanca Rodriguez and Chairman Mike Blackaby did not specify what way they would vote if the vote had been on Tuesday.
Tuesday morning’s discussion was not the reason for the parent/community forums (which were planned ahead of the meeting) but it was the reason why the administrators of Ontario School District are creating a task force that can help facilitate the parent/community voices.
It was mentioned in the forum that if the board decides to not go with the reconfiguration of the elementary schools, the SIA would be mostly the same, just without that item. Buchholz noted that one item that could be added if the restructuring of the schools doesn’t go through could be readdressing the school zones.
While the topic of busing students to multiple schools was addressed, Buchholz said she had a parent come into her office to ask about conferencing. Buchholz said this parent is facing the chance of having five kids in five different schools in the district and wanted to know about how parent-teacher conferencing would work in that instance.
Buchholz said one plan that’s been brainstormed has been holding the parent meetings at a centralized location, like one of the schools or even at Four Rivers Cultural Center.
One community member brought up the worry that moving all of the fourth, fifth and sixth graders into one location could exacerbate bullying in the schools.
Buchholz turned to Alameda Elementary counselor Jennifer Goldthorpe to talk about mental health.
“The county as a whole needs to address this,” Goldthorpe said. “But whether the reconfiguration happens or not, mental health is being addressed.”
Of the items listed in the district’s SIA plan, three of those items specifically are addressing mental health.
Goldthorpe added that switching to the grade level plan would allow counselors at the schools to specialize in working with students of that age range, while currently the counselors are working with students of all ages.
“We know that bullying spikes in second and third grade,“ she said. “We would have counselors in the second and third grade school who would specialize in working with those students.”
When asked about how the switch could affect Talented and Gifted students, Buchholz said it would be beneficial for teachers, who can spend more time dedicated to the students of a specific grade level.
Buchholz said having more classes from one grade in the same building would also open the door for more students to take classes that are above their grade level. Swan added that some classes in the district currently have maybe five TAG students per grade per school. If all of those students are together, that becomes a whole 20-person class.
“It makes me excited,” Buchholz said. “Just the kind of things we could do with academics in this model.”
Several other concerns were brought up, some without direct answers at the time. One concern brought up was with the naming of the schools, bringing up that losing the historical names of the schools (like May Roberts and Aiken) would be a blow to the history of Ontario.
Another concern that was brought up was the potential cost to renovate the schools to accommodate the change in students: renovating classrooms to fit all smaller or bigger students, and fitting the bathrooms to accommodate certain sizes of students.