(Updated at 10:49 a.m. Previous version incorrectly assigned grades levels to Morris and Dow’s Prairie schools. That’s not part of the proposal at this point in time. That would be decided at a later date, assuming this process moves forward. – Ed.)
Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – The town’s elementary schools may be reconfigured, with Spanish immersion students divvied up between Morris and Dow’s Prairie schools.
Under the proposal, one of the schools would serve kindergarteners through second graders, while the other would serve third through fifth graders. It hasn’t been decided which grades would go to which campus, although Dow’s Prairie has internal hallways that would make more sense for the younger kids. McKinleyville Middle School would remain the same, serving sixth through eighth graders.
The McKinleyville Union School District Board of Trustees will consider the proposal at its meeting Wednesday, April 9 at the Azalea Conference Center, located at the rear of McKinleyville Middle School at 2285 Central Avenue, McKinleyville. The meeting begins with a closed session at 5:30 p.m. The board will discuss labor negotiations it is having with the McKinleyville Teachers Association and will evaluate Superintendent Michael Davies-Hughes job performance.
At 6:30 p.m., the board reconvenes in open session. When it takes up the school reconfiguration issue, the board will be presented with a variety of options for dealing with issues at the schools, such as over-crowding at Dow’s Prairie.
“The pros and cons for each of the options shall be presented to the board,” wrote Superintendent Davies-Hughes in a report to the trustees. “It is the Superintendent’s recommendation that action planning begin as soon as possible for a K-2, 3-5, 6-8 configuration as it most comprehensively addresses the current critical issues within the District as is supported by the Strategic Planning priorities of the board.”
The proposal will likely face opposition from Morris School parents, many of whom are passionate supporters of the schools Spanish immersion program.
Both Morris School and Dow’s Prairie School now serve kindergarten through fifth grade students. Dow’s provides a conventional curriculum, while Morris is a Spanish immersion school.
All students who enter Morris School are part of the Spanish program. They spend about half the day being taught in Spanish and the other half in English, which allows them to become fluent in both languages.
Although the program gets high marks from many parents, school officials say it has created problems at Dow’s Prairie School.
Students who move to the district after the second grade have to go to Dow’s Prairie unless they already have Spanish skills. Dow’s Prairie also ends up receiving a higher percentage of special education students and students with “high needs” which require “behavior supports,” according to MUSD,
Dow’s Prairie is now full, with no empty classrooms.
“Outside service providers and itinerant teachers must share rooms and use hallways,” Davies-Hughes wrote in his report to the trustees. This problem won’t go away unless something is done.
With the same grade levels spread out on two different campuses, it makes it difficult for teachers to collaborate, according to Davies-Hughes.
There’s also a perceived adversarial relationship between the two schools.
“Competition and conflict between Dow’s and Morris: The adversarial Dow’s vs. Morris situation is historical, and is exacerbated by the perceived inequities between the sites,” Davies-Hughes wrote in his report. “Relationships within the district (parents/staff/students) have the potential to improve considerably within a different configuration.”
If history is any indication, the proposed reconfiguration will be hugely controversial.
Five years ago, back in early 2009, the board wrestled with reconfiguration. At the time, Morris had both Spanish immersion and non-immersion students. The board voted in February 2009 to have Morris School become full immersion, and have the traditional students transferred to Dow’s Prairie.