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Derry Area School District to study population shifts

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 4:54 p.m.

Derry Area School District needs to explore possibilities for handling shifting student populations in its elementary and middle school classes, Superintendent David Welling said.

Welling suggested at last week's board meeting that the panel form a task force to study options to help make operations at Grandview Elementary and Derry Area Middle schools more efficient and address unbalanced enrollment figures.

“Our numbers are low at the middle school and our numbers are high at the elementary school,” Welling said. “Our information is saying things are out of kilter; we need to make some adjustments. We want to make sure whatever adjustments we do make, that we study it thoroughly and we make sure that those adjustments are going to be best for this district and the students.”

Grandview Elementary houses kindergarten through grade 5, while grades 6, 7 and 8 are at the middle school. Total enrollment at Grandview for 2013-14 after 90 days of instruction was 923 students. The middle school had 447 students at the 90-day mark of the 2013-14 school year. End-of-year enrollment figures at Grandview and the middle school for 2012-13 were 923 and 501, respectively.

Welling said moving fifth-grade classes to the middle school would be one possible realignment strategy the task force would analyze.

“The most on-the-surface, logical look would be a shift of moving fifth grade to the middle school,” Welling said. “While it looks like that would help solve our other issues, what is the cost? What are the impacts? Just moving kids isn't necessarily the best answer. That's what this group needs to do: They need to look at all options, all possibilities of trying to bring a balance to our operations within those two buildings and overall to the district.”

The school board will have a motion to approve the formation of the task force at its next regular meeting, Welling said.

The task force should include principals from both buildings; cafeteria and maintenance supervisors; the district's directors of technology, student services and transportation; teachers, guidance counselors, nurses and parents from each building; school board representation; and administrators, Welling said.

Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Walters will coordinate the task force and update the board throughout the study.

“There are many implications, large and small, that really need to be looked at before any kind of recommendation can be made,” Walters said.

Walters said the task force would visit “some other school districts that have some similar grade bands in their middle schools” to gather information on potential staffing and curriculum implications of a realignment.

Student transportation would be affected by realignment, Walters said.

“Currently, our buses do two runs: They have an elementary run and they have a secondary run,” she said. “By moving a percentage of those elementary students to an earlier bus run with the secondary students, we would need to study what that would imply.”

The district will consult parents regarding any realignment, Walters said, “getting some input from them and their feelings on having fifth-grade students with the secondary students. That's another thing we really need to look at closely.”

Much of the work for the study will be done during the fall, Walters said, and the task force would present a recommendation to the board in February 2015 to give the district time to implement any changes before the start of the 2015-16 school year.

“That's going to be the challenge of that committee, to take an in-depth look at our problem,” Welling said. “It is a problem. We need to look at the problem, analyze it and look at our options as to how to best solve this problem.”

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913, or greinbold@tribweb.com.

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