Suwannee Democrat

Suwannee Democrat

February 5, 2013

School reconfiguration: Round two

Live Oak — Superintendent of Schools Jerry Scarborough hosted the second of three town hall meetings at Suwannee Elementary School on Thursday night to discuss the possibility of reconfiguring the three Live Oak grade schools. School board members and Scarborough were on hand to hear the voice of the public, mostly parents, before making a final decision in March.

The final town hall meeting to discuss reconfiguring the schools is Thursday at Suwannee Intermediate School located at 1419 Walker Ave. SW, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

The schools being discussed for reconfiguration are Suwannee Primary School, which currently offers Pre-K through first grade; Suwannee Elementary School, grades 2-3; and Suwannee Intermediate School, grades 4-5.

If approved by a board vote in March, the schools would be transformed into three distinct grade schools that would all offer Pre-K through fifth grade which would go into effect in the 2013-14 school year. 
Director of Curriculum Dawn Lamb gave a brief presentation to attendees on why she believes reconfiguring is needed.

Scarborough then opened the floor for questions and comments.

Shalonda Baker wanted to know what negative effects reconfiguring would have.

“The presentation was awesome, and you all had a lot of good facts. But my question is, to every plan there is an up and a down,” Baker said. “We’ve heard all of the pros to reconfiguring,” but Baker wanted to know the negatives.

Scarborough said the major challenge is to implement this plan with fidelity.

“Once we get the zones established, can we maintain the integrity and be transparent and make sure that we continue to maintain the confidence of our community, parents and students; that we’ll eliminate politics, and do everything we can to make sure these zones are maintained properly,” he asked. “To me, that’s the biggest challenge.”

Scarborough said that zone change requests would be handled at the school board meetings that are open to the public and would not be handled behind closed doors.

Ella Cooper, a retired educator of Suwannee County, shared her thoughts opposing school reconfiguration.

“I’ve worked in the school when we had kindergarten through fifth grade, and I’ve worked the other way,” she said. “You know what’s really important, is the teacher in front of that student.”

Cooper recalled her days of working at the East School (now Suwannee Primary School) that was thought of as “the beast.”

“That does not make you feel very good. I worked very hard and worked with all of my students because I believe God gave me that job. I don’t know why we’re going back to separating the schools,” Cooper said. “We tried that. It didn’t work. We didn’t have an A school then, and just think about the amount of money we’re spending to do this. Give the money to help keep our students safe. And give the money to our teachers to help buy (classroom) supplies.”

Jennifer Floyd, a mother of two children currently enrolled in the Suwannee County school system, said her fear is that instead of fixing the problem, reconfiguring would just redistribute it among the three schools.

“Not only is this about teachers, it’s about parents,” Floyd said. “Teachers can only be accountable for so much. Parents, if they don’t care to help the teachers, they’re not helping their kids. I sit down with my kids every night and we go over homework and we study for tests. If we had more responsible parents, we wouldn’t be in the predicament we’re in right now.”

Shelley Grantham, a parent and teacher at Suwannee Elementary School, said she would like to see the schools reconfigure.

“I went to school here when it was the East and West, and I can tell you I did do great. I didn’t feel like one school was better,” Grantham said. “When they asked us about what we thought (about reconfiguring), we had to submit letters to the school board on our opinion. So I started doing research, and what I found is that kids who transition more have lower scores. I started thinking about that and I have actually seen that this year with my students.”

Grantham said they leave SPS with one score and those teachers did great and did their job. And when they transition to SES, their scores at the beginning of the year are a lot lower than their ending score of the previous year.

“The stepping stone where it should have been just a summer gap becomes this very large gap from transitioning from one school to the next,” Grantham said. “I’m talking from a parent and a teacher standpoint and seeing the loss that the student’s experience in that transition, they’re losing a lot. I look forward to seeing a reconfiguration.”

Ashley Wooley, a parent and an educator at Suwannee Elementary School, said she has been through several reconfigurations.

Wooley said she grew up and attended school in Columbia County where she saw many changes throughout her school career. She then began teaching at the former East School (now SPS) in Suwannee County prior to it being reconfigured in the 2006-07 school year. From a student and a teacher’s point of view, she has experienced them both.

Wooley said that one of the most important aspects of teaching is the relationships that are built with the students.

“I miss my kids. I get to spend 180 days with them, and I get to spend more time with them than some of their parents, and then they’re just gone,” said Wooley. “I want to know how they’re doing.”

From a parent standpoint, Wooley said that the changes would not be a “big deal” because she will work with her son at home.

“My son is in the gifted program. And if he is zoned or go where I am and he is taken out of the program, that’s okay because I will continue to work with him at home,” said Wooley.

Wooley said as a teacher, she wants to collaborate with a smaller group of eight teachers rather than 22. She believes the smaller groups will pave the way for clearer communication and will better serve the students of Suwannee County.
SPS and SIS taught students through fifth grade prior to the 2006-07 school year. With the addition of Suwannee Elementary School on US 129 South, the three schools were reconfigured to be able to meet class size reduction mandates.


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