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The Suburbanite
  • Canton City schools explain elementary reconfiguration to parents

  • Canton City school officials have been holding informational sessions with parents and guardians to explain the changes proposed under the second phase of the Brighter Tomorrow Plan, which will send more than 2,000 elementary students to a new school building next year and greatly shift the enrollment levels at three schools.
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  • Jayde Murphy has been a Harter Hawk since before she could spell hawk.
    But next school year, she will become a Clarendon Cobra for one school year before she must transfer again to a different Canton City building for middle school.
    "It's a lot of change for a kid," said her mother, Daria Murphy-Jevack.
    The fourth-grader won't be alone. Enrollment figures show that roughly 300 Canton City school fourth-graders as well as 360 first-graders will transfer twice in two years under the second phase of the district's Brighter Tomorrow Plan. The plan splits the district's 14 elementary buildings, which now serve students in kindergarten through fifth grade, into seven schools designated for kindergarten through second grade and seven schools for students in grades, three, four and five. It also pairs each K-2 school with a 3-5 grade "sister" school located in the same city quadrant.
    The realignment — the first comprehensive change to the district's elementary school system in decades — means that more than 2,000 elementary students will have to change schools at least once, an analysis of current enrollment figures show.
    EASING CONCERNS
    Principals from sister elementary schools have been holding joint informational sessions with parents and guardians during the past two weeks to ease concerns and explain the changes that will take effect in August.
    Harter Principal Debbie Wensel and Clarendon Principal Nicole Herberghs told parents at their informational meeting this week that new federal and state standards, such as Ohio's Third Grade Reading Guarantee that requires third-graders who can't read well to be held back, have forced school districts to change how they teach. Under the realignment, schools such as Harter that will be designated for K-2 students will focus on reading and math to ensure students can read well when they enter third grade. Schools such as Clarendon that are designated for grades 3-5 will be leadership schools that focus on teaching students science, technology and math skills as well as how to collaborate, communicate and think critically and globally.
    Having only three grade levels in a building also allows the staff to concentrate on age-specific content and gives teachers more colleagues with whom to share and discuss ideas, they said.
    "For example at Harter, if the science teachers are going to meet, it's one fourth grade science teacher and one fifth grade science teacher," Wensel said. "When they are all at Clarendon, there will be multiple teachers for the same content ... more brains to pick."
    Wensel said the two schools will be holding multiple joint activities during the next several months so parents can feel more comfortable. Herberghs added that not everything will be foreign to the students attending a new building as Clarendon's primary grade teachers will be transferring to Harter and Harter's intermediate-level teachers will be transferring to Clarendon.
    Page 2 of 3 - "There's going to be a lot of familiar faces in that building," she said.
    ENROLLMENT SHIFTS
    Under the new alignment, Harter, which will become the K-2 math and reading preparatory school, and Clarendon, which will be the 3-5 leadership school, will keep nearly the same level of enrollment. That's not the case for all the elementary buildings, projections show.
    Belle Stone, which has a building capacity of 473 students, is expected to increase its enrollment from the 269 students it now serves in preschool through fifth grade to 420 students — a 56 percent jump — when it becomes a primary school next year. Mason is projected to add 21 students, but it's already over its building capacity of 224.
    Superintendent Adrian E. Allison said open enrollment, where a students can attend a school for free in a district their parents don't live in, heavily influences Mason's class sizes, so its actual enrollment next year could be lower than projected.
    On the reverse end, Fairmount will use less than a quarter of its building capacity of 411 students when it opens as a leadership school next year. The school at 2701 Coventry Blvd. NE currently serves 235 students in preschool through fifth grade, but the enrollment is expected to drop to 92 under the new alignment, projections show.
    Allison said the district continues to evaluate how it will use its buildings for activities beyond the grade-level classes. The district also has not determined where its preschool classes will be held.
    "Those are things that we have to always assess, to see what's an efficient and effective use for our buildings," he said.
    He said the district used several factors to determine which schools would be designated for grades K-2 or 3-5 and which schools would be paired as sister schools. Those factors include the number of students who walk to school, open enrollment figures, building capacity, facility condition and layout as well as location. Each school is within a 2.5-mile drive of its sister school.
    REACTION
    Not every parent has embraced the proposed change, which Allison said school officials expected.
    "Anytime you implement a change, there's going to be that one year where somebody is going to get a double dose of the change," he said. "(Some of) this year's first graders ... will have to make a transition (to a different school) and then make a transition back."
    Murphy-Jevack, whose daughter will change schools twice in two years, believes her daughter will adjust.
    "The kids are going to deal with it better than the parents are," Murphy-Jevack said. "Adults don't like change."
    She's concerned about sending her daughter, 10, on the school bus for the first time. The family now lives across the street from Harter.
    Page 3 of 3 - She also worries about the parent organizations that support their respective schools through fundraisers and volunteering.
    Murphy-Jevack, who has been president of the Harter PTO for the past four years, said it typically takes parents a few years to get involved and the reconfiguration reduces the number of years the students will attend a school.
    "It's hard enough now to get parents involved," said Murphy-Jevack, who also serves as president of Early College High School parent's group.
    She hopes to reach out to Clarendon's parent group about possibly combining organizations, noting that the reconfiguration means that all five of Harter group's board members will have children attending Clarendon next year.
    For more information about Canton City School's reconfiguration of its elementary schools, including a list of frequently asked questions, visit www.ccsdistrict.org/pages/CantonCitySD/Brighter_Tomorrow_Plan.
    Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or kelli.young@cantonrep.com.
    On Twitter: @kyoungREP