SYRACUSE — From the start, it was noted the middle school meeting held Monday evening, Feb. 27, in the lecture room of Wawasee Middle School was more about seeking input and suggestions to make Wawasee’s two middle schools even better. Rebecca Linnemeier, school board president, said “we are not here to close a middle school.”
Monday’s meeting was the second of two meetings held by the Wawasee Community School Corp. The first was Feb. 20 at Milford School. The meetings were offered as a way to gather public input in response to the findings of an audit conducted during the 2015-16 school year by Steve Yager and Mike Pettibone, retired school superintendents.
During the audit, where more than 1,000 parents, students or staff members were interviewed during 125 different interviews, there were four specific areas identified as needing to be addressed. One of the four was perceived inequalities in the offerings given to the two middle schools. Wawasee Middle School is considerably larger in the size of its building and enrollment compared to Milford Middle School and there are some differences in courses and clubs offered.
Joy Goshert, assistant superintendent, also mentioned the meeting Monday was not being held to close a middle school. Nonetheless, some of the comments and questions from parents and teachers indicated there is still a concern and the option has not been entirely ruled out.
One parent said test scores aside, “this is more of a culture issue” and putting all the middle school students in the same building would change that significantly. Some of the same people who attended the Milford meeting also came to the WMS meeting.
Another parent asked if there any differences in how Milford Middle School and Wawasee Middle School students perform in high school. Dr. Tom Edington, Wawasee superintendent, said there were noticeable differences several years ago, but now test scores and graduation rates are similar.
Edington said if the two middle schools were combined into one at WMS, it could save approximately $100,000 per year in staffing because a few less teachers would be needed. It could also save an estimated $50,000 in transportation costs due to fewer bus routes. But, he noted, it costs $30 million per year to educate students and though it could be a significant amount in savings it would take more than that alone to make a decision to combine the middle schools.
Edington also noted the two men who did the audit said they had received “mixed messages” about the middle schools. It was also pointed out surveys may not always be reliable or accurate.
There were a few questions posed about course offerings at the two middle schools not being clearly communicated. Some parents indicated they did not know ahead of time what courses are offered. Each middle school does have a parent night and tours of the buildings are given, but more of an effort will be made to effectively communicate course offerings to parents.
Another parent said it appears too much emphasis is being placed on encouraging kids to pick a career path “too early in life.” Edington said the state is really pushing career paths and more funding is available if students stay on those paths, but the intent is to expose kids to more opportunities. A few teachers also commented it is more about opportunities.
Edington said the next step is to process the input received from the two meetings and at some point to report it to the school board, who will then act on it. He emphasized it is too late in the school year to make any decisions effective for the 2017-18 school year.