Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

April 3, 2011

Is a school just a building? Milwaukee suburb of New Berlin will decide.

Filed under: Education Policy — millerlf @ 9:26 am

For 22 months I facilitated a cohort of 11 teachers working to attain their master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. We met weekly at Glen Park Elementary School with seven of the eleven teachers in the cohort on staff at Glen Park.

You cannot find any teachers as skilled, hard working and dedicated to building community as these seven teachers. Closing Glen Park, dispersing students and staff would be a loss to New Berlin and public education. This is a high performing school whether compared to schools statewide or within New Berlin. It would be a travesty to lose this model program.

Fix the building and continue the Glen Park tradition!

Larry Miller

Following is a posting by By JANE FORD-STEWART Posted: March 28, 2011, NewBerlinNow| (7) Comments

A foundational school problem

District expected to decide whether to fix or close Glen Park

New Berlin — Should Glen Park Elementary School, 3500 S. Glen Park Road, be fixed up or closed?

That is the question the New Berlin schools are wrestling with. Components in the 1960s vintage building have reached their useful life. That is what is pushing the School Board toward making a decision.

The board has known for many years the decision was coming and hired a consultant, who estimated in 2008 that it would cost $8 million to bring the building up to today’s standards. That is a ballpark figure that might actually be $6 million to $10 million, Superintendent Paul Kreutzer said.

Break underlines problem

What is making the decision urgent is the water pipe break that caused Glen Park to close for a day and the students taught at Ronald Reagan Elementary School, Kreutzer said. Although the kind of building shifting that caused the break could happen anywhere, he said, it underlined the urgency of getting a solution. With systems at the end of their useful lives, a lot of them start coming due, he said.

“Another 12-hour move is unacceptable,” Kreutzer said.

That has been part of his message in what he terms his “road shows” – six talks he is giving at schools to the public explaining the three options a school study committee has proposed. The committee analyzed more options, he said, but these are the top ones. However, room is being left for a fourth option that might emerge during the debate.

Although the last “road show” is at 7 tonight at Ronald Reagan Elementary, 4225 S. Calhoun Road, two open houses are slated for next week and three discussion evenings with the School Board will start then. A town hall meeting also is planned. Post cards should have arrived in the mail, several questions will be part of the annual school survey, and those at the “road shows” filled out feedback sheets that will be combed for trends and ideas, Kreutzer said.

Debate set for May

May will bring debate at the School Board level. A decision will be made before school is out. Whether the school is to be fixed up or closed, it will not happen until fall 2012.

The reaction of several of the 17 or so people coming to the first “road show” one morning last week was that Kreutzer seemed to talk most about what the district would do if Glen Park closes.

“It’s a little disconcerting,” one man said.

But Kreutzer insisted, “Fixing up Glen Park is a strong consideration.”

“It is one of the most effective buildings in the community and in the state,” he said.

In fact, he said, the two highest-achieving schools in the district are the two smallest, Glen Park and Orchard Lane.

He agreed with former teacher Peggy Kuhnz, mother of a fourth-grader at Glen Park and two students at Eisenhower Middle/High School, that supervision is better at smaller schools.

Central location is a plus

Also in Glen Park’s favor, Kreutzer said, is that it is centrally located in New Berlin, it adds to the neighborhood feel of the area and children can bike to school.

But the heating and ventilation system, electrical system and other building elements leave much to be desired, he said. Also, the classrooms are much smaller than the district likes and it is sometimes hard to break grades into the right-sized classes because the school is so small with only a couple of classes per grade, Kreutzer said. If a class has an enrollment bulge, two classes of 17 each might be the only option, he said. The district shoots for 22 or 23 students per class, he said.

While fixing up Glen Park is option 1, closing it are options 2 and 3.

Option 2, termed the “mega-school” option, calls for sending the Glen Park students to Ronald Reagan Elementary, 4225 S. Calhoun Road, where a $2 million addition would have to be built to house everybody.

That also would mean a school of 1,000 students, Kreutzer said.

“At first blush, people get a little freaked out by that,” he acknowledged. And in fact, he knows of no elementary schools that big.

It also would increase the imbalance of elementary school sizes in the district, he said.

Shifting to two schools

Option 3, which so far could be called a front-runner, he said, calls for putting only some Glen Park students at Reagan and the rest at Elmwood Elementary, 5900 S. Sunny Slope Road. That would fill both schools. One of the problems there is that Elmwood is in line for growth as the cornfields across the street and elsewhere are developed, Kreutzer said. The school will need an addition eventually, he said.

Option 4 could be anything.

Actually, what is emerging from the continuing staff discussions is putting sixth-graders at the two high schools. That involves about a $2 million investment, Kreutzer said. But he invited anyone with ideas to come forward.

Sooner or later, school officials will have to start playing the numbers game.

Closing Glen Park would save $750,000 annually, officials estimate. That includes the $940,000 cost of borrowing $8 million plus missing the annual savings from closing the school. Offsetting some of that savings, however, would be the cost of borrowing $2 million for work at other schools.

The district will be able to pursue any of the four options even if the Legislature passes Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bills that hit school operating budgets hard, Kreutzer said.

Closing the school would hit some families hard, including that of Justin Koneck who attended the first “road show” with his 5-year-old daughter, Ella. She will go to Glen Park this fall, he said, and then would have to adjust to another school after only a year if Glen Park closes, he said.

AT A GLANCE

Options the New Berlin School District is evaluating for whether to fix or close Glen Park Elementary School:

OPTION 1 – FIXING GLEN PARK

Spend $6 to $10 million to bring the school up to standards, some of which could be spent in phases.

OPTION 2 – MEGA-SCHOOL

Close Glen Park and put all Glen Park students at Ronald Reagan Elementary. A $2 million addition would be needed for the Ronald Reagan, which would hold 1,000 students.

OPTION 3 – THE FOUR CORNERS

Close Glen Park and put Glen Park students at Ronald Reagan and Elmwood elementary schools, filling them up. An addition would eventually be needed at Elmwood due to anticipated land development. The district would then have fairly large schools at its four corners and class sizes would be easier to manage. The option is billed as the 30-year strategy because it would accommodate New Berlin when it is fully developed.

OPTION 4 – COMING

This option is left open for other ideas that emerge during debate. Already, continuing debate among staff has led to the emergence of putting sixth-graders at the two high schools.

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