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The Press Newspaper

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The Oregon school board will discuss the district’s final reconfiguration plan at its November 20 meeting.

According to P.J. Kapfhammer, school board president, the board will begin laying out the final plans to reconfigure the district’s two current junior high schools.

In June, the school board began the process of looking  into the possibility of moving grades five through eight into separate buildings to allow for improvements in academics.

The school board is looking at turning either Eisenhower or Fassett middle schools into an all fifth and sixth grade school. The other middle school would then become a traditional junior high with seventh and eighth grade students.

Raising academics, especially in grades five through eight, as well as more stringent common core state standards, which will begin in 2014, are the reasons why the district is seriously considering the changes.

“We are still getting the details trying to find a way to do it without spending more money,” Kapfhammer said. “I believe it is for the best educationally, but we have to make sure it is cost effective as well. I think it has to happen. With the new core standards coming, which are twice as tough as the current standards, we have to prepare these kids. We are just getting ahead of the game now, and [the state] is changing the game again.”

The Ohio Department of Education’s State Report Cards for 2011/2012 gave the district as well as Coy Elementary and Fassett and Eisenhower “Effective” grades. Jerusalem and Starr elementary schools received Excellent ratings.

The district has been involved in the Ohio Department of Education’s (ODE) Ohio Improvement Process for several years because the district has not been able to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), particularly for students with disabilities, on its state report card.

AYP is a federal standard that requires school districts to show progress among all student sub groups, including minorities, children from low-income families, those with disabilities or limited English skills, and those in special education.

The ODE uses several categories to rate a school district's performance. Districts receive grade designations of Excellent, Effective, Continuous Improvement, Academic Watch, or Academic Emergency following state testing.

The district assessments are based on 26 indicators that include results from 28 standardized tests, plus graduation and attendance rates. In order to meet the indicators, 75 percent of the students tested must be at or above the proficient level.

In Oregon, third and fourth grade students have been meeting the indicators in math and reading. Fifth and sixth grade students have traditionally met the state requirement in reading, but have fallen short in math and science.

Seventh and eighth grade students meet the requirements in math and reading, but the eighth grade students have not been meeting the requirements in science.

“We are finally on the upswing and now the game is changing and becoming harder,” Kapfhammer said. “We have a duty to give our kids the best education possible. We are being proactive about this. We want to be ahead of the game and not crushed by it.”

Dr. Michael E. Zalar, superintendent, said the advantages of the reconfiguration are academic.

“We believe it will create a better learning environment for the kids,” Zalar said. “The plan will allow for a more developmentally appropriate environment and it will allow our teachers more time to collaborate and plan together.”

Zalar added that class sizes will be more balanced and students will be able to have the same teachers for two years. Reconfiguration will also relieve space constraints at the elementary schools.

The board has not decided which grades will ultimately go to which building. He said the board anticipates that some students may be on the school bus approximately 15 more minutes than they currently experience.

Additionally, the district may have to complete a few renovations to the buildings, but those would be minor, Zalar said, adding the main cost of the plan would be for additional staffing.

“We will need to add staff back to those buildings,” he said. “The board will demonstrate how the costs related to the reconfiguration would be paid for.”

According to Kapfhammer, the board has held six public meetings and has been working to come up with a plan that will ultimately cost the district little to no money.

Kapfhammer said the district has looked at three scenarios, everything from what he called the dream “Cadillac” plan to the budget “Yugo” plan. Costs for the reconfiguration range from $200,000 to $700,000, he said.

“We are looking at creative ways where we can trim our budget so this does not cost the district more money,” Kapfhammer said. “When someone retires, we will look very hard at whether we need to fill that position. We are looking at trimming budgets by five percent here and there in order to make sure we are being fiscally responsible and delivering what our kids need academically. We are trimming wherever we can. We owe it to the public to do that. Our duty is to give the kids the best education and prepare them for the real world.”

Kapfhammer said the board will hold a special public forum in December to unveil the final plan. The board will then vote on the reconfiguration. The earliest the reconfiguration could take place would be for the 2013-2014 school year, he said.

“We worked hard to make sure the public had the opportunity to speak on this,” he said. “We want to make sure the public is involved. We will be able to tell the public how this will look, what we will provide, and how it will be done. I feel great about where we are headed on this. We have a viable plan to do this without more money. The kids will see the benefits from this from day one. The plan you will see coming forward will be a game changer for the Oregon Public Schools.”

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