By Deb Patterson
SYRACUSE — Formal discussion has begun to combine Milford Middle School and Wawasee Middle School into one facility.
Superintendent Dr. Steve Troyer alluded to the pending discussion in a newsletter emailed out to parents last week. He officially started the discussion with a presentation to the Wawasee Community School Corp. Board of Trustees Tuesday evening, Aug. 9.
“It is really important to get on the table right now and just be honest and upfront about this. I’ve had a lot of people ask me about ‘Hey, you’re going to close the school at Milford’ and the answer to that is absolutely not. We have no plans and I would say that the board, I’ve never heard plans from the board, for any decision related to closing the school at Milford. Our intention is there will be a school in Milford and there will be a school in the town of Milford for that matter,” Troyer said.
Low enrollment at Milford Middle School affecting the academic possibilities for students is the main reason for the discussion to begin. Approximately 148 students are enrolled at MMS to begin the 2022-23 school year, with over 500 students at WMS. He stressed the reason was not financial but educational.
During his presentation, Troyer stated there has been discussion at length for many years of combining the two middle schools for various reasons. Troyer feels it is time to “take a hard look at the reality of Milford Middle School continuing.”
Troyer stated with the low enrollment it is hard to offer a full middle school experience at Milford.
He had spoken with teachers at MMS at the end of the last school year indicating it was time to have “pretty serious conservations about what we’re going to do with Milford Middle School and what would be the considerations that we have to really think about, plan for and run through if we are going to in fact look at combining the middle schools.”
He admitted the district is spread out, which presents a challenge as there is no real direct route between Milford and WMS. “There are challenges to take a look at … There’s a lot of details we have to figure out, plan for and identify if we look at moving forward as a viable option.”
He stated due to the low enrollment at Milford, educational programming at that school is beginning to suffer. “We can’t offer the same things, experiences, access to programs we have at Wawasee Middle School. This is a big disservice to our students.”
Troyer proposed that over the next couple of months he along with the district leadership team explore the problem formally and put together real “what ifs” and begin to address the real possibility that it is something that needs to be done at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year.
He also addressed comments that once the middle schools were combined a new school would be built halfway between Milford and Syracuse, stating he has never heard this from the board. “The board values having a building in that town. It may just be a K-6 or pre-K to five instead of K through eight.”
Community conversations are planned for October to get the information out to the community. “It is important to us to really communicate well with the community.”
He said he’d like to see a recommendation presented to the board by early December.
“I would make a recommendation for you to consider and that would be a recommendation for the following school year,” he said.
Don Bokhart, board president, requested Troyer provide specific examples of how educational programming has been affected by the loss of students.
Troyer gave two examples. One example was eighth grade math. He said out of 50 students, which is the number for several middle school grade levels, there are 15 students ready to take algebra in eighth grade, while the remainder are ready for regular math.
This would call for a split to two math sections. One would have a very small class while the other would be a large class. “This puts students at a disadvantage.” He also referenced several years ago when geometry was offered for eighth graders. MMS could not offer an in-person class due to less than five kids interested and in one instance several students transferred to WMS so they could take the course.”
Project Lead The Way was also discontinued at Milford not only due to staffing issues but also not enough kids to support a full time teacher. “When you have a building with 500 kids maybe you have 25-30 kids in a class, but when you have grade levels of 50, it is just so much more challenging to offer similar offerings,” Troyer said.
“Part of the community conversation the last time it was discussed was Milford was going to be more of an ag-focused school and WMS engineering-focused. Those are things that I don’t feel great about, not being able to have students have access to the same program because of where they live. … It’s not fair to the kids.”