Input sought on long-range Wicomico schools plan

 

A detailed, long-range plan for schools in Wicomico County is being considered by the board of education, whose members will be listening to public input for the next several weeks.

The Facilities Task Force Long-Range Planning Report contains the ABCs of recommendations through the next  50 years.

At each public encounter, Dr. John Fredericksen, superintendent of schools, will explain the plan.

Input meetings are scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 17 at Fruitland Intermediate School; Monday, Nov. 24 at Westside Intermediate School in Hebron; and Monday, Dec. 1 at the James M. Bennett Auditorium.

“One thing parents are most concerned about is, they are concerned with change,” Fredericksen said this week, after the first public input session, on Monday, Oct. 27, at Pittsville Elementary and Middle School. About 160 attended.

“They think it’s perfect the way it is now. It’s a pretty normal response. They just got new technology and new windows and they are saying, ‘Wait  a minute.’ Now they’re concerned that there will be more change they aren’t familiar with,” he said.

Overall, Fredericksen said the board is “looking at a responsible plan that addresses the slow economic growth we’re experiencing and trying to mesh it with student needs for safe and efficient schools.

“We are also trying to drive scarce dollars into the classroom. That’s where the quality of service issues really happen. People don’t care if you have X number of principals. They care about how many students are in their child’s classroom,” he said.

At the secondary level in Wicomico schools, there are 25 to 30 students in a typical classroom, and 24 to 28 in an elementary school classroom.

“Schools that have money are spending money on classrooms. They are reducing their class sizes down to 18 to 20. Teachers  can get around and spend more time with kids,” he said.

The report advocates that school officials “take a comprehensive, integrated approach to maintaining and improving school facilities, including replacing some school buildings, changing some grade configurations and relocating some programs to more effectively serve students.”

Goals include saving money, preventing crisis situations caused by failing facilities and improving student services.

“In recent years, we have had to wait five years between major projects because we can only build or replace a school when we have state and county funding to do it. On that schedule, addressing the facility needs of our school system one building at a time won’t work,” Fredericksen said.

“This report provides a possible blueprint for meeting the many facility needs while making some program adjustments that would allow us to redirect our limited resources into the classroom.

“We anticipate changes to the overall plan as we move forward as specialized funding becomes available or as components fail prematurely. This plan helps us adjust the interrelated parts to minimize costs and maximize benefits,” Fredericksen said.

In July, the board of education accepted the plan, following months of deliberation by a task force.  Now, board members will hear public input, then adopt, reject or modify it by July 2015.

Proposals include:

*Reducing the number of school buildings so there is less to maintain and manage in the future, and lower management overhead costs.

*Building new schools with larger capacity.

*Set maximum sizes for elementary schools that have pre-kindergarten through fifth grade at 650 students, middle schools at 1,200 students and high schools at 1,600 students.

*Creating a redistricting task force and work with a third-party consultant to evaluate redistricting guidelines.

Measures to accomplish these goals include:

*Unpairing Willards Elementary, where students attend pre-kindergarten to third grade, and Pittsville Elementary and Middle, that has grades four to eight.

Willards would become a pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade elementary school and Pittsville would become a sixth-grade to eighth-grade middle school.

*Opening the new Bennett Middle School and demolishing the old school, then completing Phase 3 site work for James M. Bennett High School.

*Planning and constructing the replacement West Salisbury Elementary as a pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade elementary school.

*Using the Wicomico Middle School building as a swing space to facilitate school replacement projects.

*Make North Salisbury Elementary, currently paired with West Salisbury Elementary, a pre-kindergarten to fifth -school after West Salisbury School opens.

*Making Charles H. Chipman Elementary School an early intervention center with full-day pre-kindergarten, Judy Center and Birth to Five program.

*Making Glen Avenue Elementary School a pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade school, and build a replacement Glen Avenue on the site.

*Partially renovating Delmar Elementary School  and adjusting attendance boundaries based on future parameters of the Bi-State Agreement.

*Unpairing Beaver Run Elementary School and East Salisbury Elementary School and building a new pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade Beaver Run Elementary School at the current site.

*Adjusting boundaries when new pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade schools open.

*Making East Salisbury Elementary School a central office facility, combining the existing central office and its annexes.

*Partially renovating  Parkside High School and assessing class sizes at the high schools to determine if additions are needed.

*Renovating  Mardela Middle and High schools, which would continue to house grades six to 12.

*Unpairing Fruitland Primary and Fruitland Intermediate schools to make two pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade schools, perhaps called Fruitland East and Fruitland West.

*Replacing Wicomico High School and addressing outstanding issues at Wicomico County Stadium.

*Evaluating pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade enrollments and facility indicators countywide to determine the future of Pinehurst Elementary School.

*Making Westside Intermediate a pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade elementary school.

Comments on the plan can be made by e-mailing to comments@wcboe.org or calling 410-677-5251.

The Facilities Task Force Report is posted on the board of education’s Web site at www.wcboe.org.

Contact Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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