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Brandon elementary school changes studied



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May 16, 2012 - District officials are continuing to look at proposed plans to reconfigure the elementary schools in the district.

At a special meeting May 10, Superintendent Lorrie McMahon offered two restructuring options that differed from initial changes proposed at an April 24 finance committee meeting. In both of the options that are now being considered, Oakwood Elementary would house all first and second grade classes and Harvey Swanson Elementary would have third and fourth grade classes.

In option 1, an early childhood center would be created at Belle Ann Elementary, with all preschool programs, as well as all kindergarten classes at Belle Ann. H.T. Burt would continue to be home to the alternative high school and the early childhood wing of Burt would be available for rental, or would be closed.

In option 2, the early childhood center with preschool and kindergarten would be housed at H.T. Burt and the alternative high school would be moved to Belle Ann. Because alternative education would not require all the space available at Belle Ann Elementary, part of the building would be closed.

The moving of the alternative high school is hoped to alleviate concerns some parents have had since the program moved into the H.T. Burt building (adjacent to Harvey Swanson) after Oakwood Elementary was built and the Sherman Lifelong Learning Center was closed.

"We are continuing to look at this," said Superintendent Lorrie McMahon this week. "There could be savings, but it might not be what the school board wants to do. We've had lots of input, ideas, concerns, and we're weeding through the opportunity."

McMahon has estimated the district could save nearly $400,000 by restructuring the elementary schools. The savings would be realized through the reduction of about six teachers, which would be possible because consolidating grades into separate buildings more evenly distributes class sizes.

Positive attributes to the change, she said, include students going through their entire k-12 education as a group; classes balanced within each grade; accommodations for advanced students being easier to implement; and teachers being able to engage in specialized, continuous professional development.

Minimal renovations would be required and while bus schedules would have to be juggled, she estimated the increased cost in this area to be about $15,000 and said it would be well worth the savings.

Concerns about the grade span buildings would be that it's not the same kind of neighborhood school; parent groups would need to reorganize; transition plans would need to be made every year; and opportunities for older students to mentor younger ones would need to be deliberately created.

Marla Abney, a district resident and mother of two young children, is opposed to the plan.

"It's not developmentally appropriate to have that many building transitions in their education," she said. "I will strongly consider what my options are for next year if these changes are made… How can parents be involved when their kids are split up all over the district? You get a feeling of community from your school and they won't get that when they are moved from building to building."

McMahon researched other districts that have done similar reconfigurations, but they are few. Goodrich is one, but Reid and Oaktree elementary schools are situated next to each other, on one solid campus, and this is also true of DeWitt and Coopersville school districts' elementary schools.

"We haven't talked to anyone that has it and doesn't like it, but there are not many examples in Michigan," she said.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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