By Kelly Pyzik
Currently, the Grinnell-Newburg school district is working through a few proposals that would consolidate the district from five into three school buildings. This would create one high school with grades seven through twelve, with seventh and eighth grade in a separate wing, and two elementary schools with pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. The district’s reasoning is that this would allow seventh and eighth graders to more easily take advantage of upper-level course work, as well as save the district money in transportation, utilities, upkeep and other overhead costs.
The administration feels that, as of right now, the Grinnell-Newburg district is not using its space and resources in the most efficient possible manner. There are empty classrooms in all district buildings and there are both teachers and students who have to travel between schools every week.
“We want to get our elementaries together so the teachers can be in one building,” said Grinnell-Newburg Superintendent Todd Abrahamson. “We want to be using our resources more efficiently, sharing staff instead of staff going between multiple buildings—it’s easier when it’s all under one umbrella.”
Many community members feel that combining grades seven through twelve would be a huge benefit to middle school students who are ready to take high school level classes in math and other subjects. The middle school and high school are currently located across town from each other, which makes it difficult to arrange students’ schedules to be able to bus to and from the high school each day. In addition, the high school is on a trimester system and the middle school is on a semester system, which can further complicate schedules and transcripts.
Past Grinnell-Newburg school district students have mixed feelings about 7th and 8th grade students becoming a part of the high school.
“I do like the idea of the middle school students being able to take upper-level classes, because I know that’s something I always wanted to do, but it wasn’t easily available,” said Lisa Austin ’14. “At the same time, I worry about the different age groups and educational levels being affected, because of the specific needs of these different age groups. I wonder if the individuals who need more attention will fall behind.”
“I have done hours in classrooms in the high school and middle school for Education classes, and I don’t feel the seventh and eighth graders are up to taking any more advanced classes,” said Jarrett Thompson ’14. In addition, former Grinnell High School students worry about the social ramifications of putting seventh and eighth graders with high school upperclassmen.
“Bullying is always an issue high schools face and that problem might be exacerbated by having seventh graders in the same building as high schoolers,” said Will Bennett ’13.
Thompson believes a better arrangement would be to have one elementary school with pre-kindergarten through second, a middle school with grades three through eight, and to keep the high school as is, with grades nine through twelve.
“Groups of four are really good. I feel like seventh and eighth graders aren’t quite to the level where they should be hanging out with seniors in high school. I feel like that could cause bad influences, it could lead to bullying,” Thompson said.
Alicia Mulholland ’15 believes even those age groups would not play well together.
“There is still a big difference between grades three and eight. I think maybe four to eight would be okay. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I wouldn’t have liked that [being in an elementary school] at all. Having fourth and fifth graders in a different school is a good idea because being with the first graders could be really annoying,” Mulholland said.
For certain, changes must be made to the current middle school building. It has large renovation costs arising and the district is not sure whether maintaining the building is worthwhile.
“Our middle school needs a new HVAC system and that’s into the two, three million dollar range. It’s a matter of whether we want to spend that money on a facility that has lasted its life. Should we put new money on an old facility? That’s what we’re trying to weigh out, because sometimes it’s just cheaper to build instead of renovating,” Abrahamson said.
“The middle school needs a new building because it wasn’t built to hold as many students as it is holding now,” Thompson said. “A few years back, they had to renovate and add classrooms into the middle area, and there are a large number of classrooms that don’t have windows. A lot of teachers don’t like that. They feel like windows help the students, especially at that age, be able to focus a little bit more.”
In the next few months, the district administration will begin having meetings with the original facilities planning committee that was put together in 2010, as well as meetings with the Grinnell-Newburg general community. After the proposals are decided upon and plans are finalized, the district will begin moving quickly toward finishing all grade re-organizing and building renovation for the 2013-14 school year.
“If everything goes well with the proposals, we could be breaking ground this upcoming spring,” Abrahamson said.