School board considers effects of moving 7th grade to high school

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsutawney Area School Board continued to mull over the possibility of some combination of scenarios involving closing Jenks Hill Elementary, moving the third grade into the middle school and moving seventh grade into the high school at its meeting on Monday.

Superintendent Keith Wolfe furthered the discussion by bringing along a compiled list of pros and cons of the specific act of moving the seventh grade into the high school.

"There are some definite pros to moving seventh grade to the high school schedule," he said.

Among them, he first listed the possibility of eliminating some positions, specifically mentioning several related arts positions and others in technical education, consumer science, music and physical education.

He also said that if seventh graders went to the high school, they would be able to share

the same lunch time with eighth grade, making it easier for the cafeteria staff to meet recent nutritional mandates.

Another pro, Wolfe said, is that moving seventh up would create a true secondary schedule, meaning that sixth graders would be able to go back to the regular elementary hours that they're required to have.

Sixth graders also would no longer have to ride buses with the high school students.

The change also would breathe some additional life into online classes and require high school teachers to have fuller schedules.

Wolfe also said that the number of bus runs would not be affected.
However, there were some cons highlighted as well.

Firstly, he said that classroom availability would necessitate more traveling teachers moving from class to class as required.

High School Principal David London confirmed that this would indeed be the case.

In addition, removing the related arts teachers at the middle school would create new scheduling challenges for the remaining faculty.

The district would also have to add smart boards to classrooms that do not currently have them. They would either need to be moved or bought new.

London filled in some details regarding what the high school would look like if the seventh grade was moved in with the other students.

"It would look the same as when we brought the eighth grade down," he said.

He said that the district would try to keep the seventh graders together as much as possible and that the best place to do so would be the part of the building where the eighth graders were previously located.

The eighth-grade homerooms would have to be moved from their current location. Related arts for the seventh graders would likely have to take place in the morning, with the eighth graders assuming the afternoon slot.

"You're going to have to share some teachers," London said.

Afterward, the district would probably have to run the basic subjects, possibly saving time for the students to be in band for eighth period. It would also need periods set aside for reading, health and physical education somewhere in the schedule.

He also echoed that seventh and eighth grade would probably share a lunch period for the benefit of the cafeteria staff.

However, he said that it would be a big lunch, with possibly about 360 kids in there at once.

"It's going to look very, very similar to when you put the eighth grade down there," he reiterated. "That's how you would implement it."

Wolfe clarified that many of the projections would be impossible to know for sure so far in advance of making a decision.

"A lot of the things that are on here say 'possibly,' because until you know exactly which students from which schools are going to which other schools, I can't say that we are definitely going to eliminate all of those support positions," he said. "If you're putting all of these students in the same building, and it's a large class size, then you may need some aide positions. You're not necessarily going to be cutting that aide position."

The debate over the possibility of closures and class movements continued throughout the meeting.

"Let's consider all of the ramifications," board member Roberta Dinsmore said, suggesting that the board perhaps not make the decision for the 2013-2014 school year. "We will have to move fast if next August we want all this done ... Keep looking into things and find out the ramifications."

"The reason why we're looking into this is to save money. Everybody here has said that the way you save money is through staff reductions," said board member Melissa Snyder.

However, looking over the possible cuts, she said she didn't see many positions that the board would actually be able to cut for certain. "I don't see such a monetary benefit or an educational benefit to warrant disrupting the entire district."

Board President Gary Conrad recited a few figures involved in the calculations, such as the roughly $53,602 paid for every teacher on the bottom end. "This can add up," he said. "It's not pennies."

Conrad said that while he was "not pushing this one way or the other," his general philosophy is this: "If it doesn't hurt education, and it saves the district money, then I think that's what we're here for ... That would be my first question."

No official decision was made regarding closures or movements.

As part of his report, the superintendent also mentioned that he would be ordering 25 more band uniforms. In the past year, he said that the marching director had requested 100, which Wolfe did not see as being necessary at the time.

They ended up compromising and sending for 75 of them instead. However, following that, the band is now up to 61 members with 36 more projected for next year. Only four were said to be graduating at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

During Wolfe's report, the board also approved:
• A cooperative agreement for the Student Assistance Program for the 2012-2013 school year between the Community Connections of Clearfield/Jefferson Counties and the Punxsutawney Area School District.

• Student discipline matters.

• Conferences and field trips presented to the board.