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Parental surveys indicated that the Elementary of Arts is the top choice of the three proposed elementary schools.

LIVE OAK, Fla. — After sorting through hundreds of parental surveys, the support for the three suggested themes for reconfigured Suwannee elementary schools shows fairly equal support.

The surveys were available for parents to fill out during “Meet the Teacher” days at the three schools and with 542 surveys tabulated, Suwannee County Schools administrators were pleased with the response and the results.

“I was excited to see is it does look to be a very close division between the three choices that we put out,” Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Janene Fitzpatrick said. “That was the main thing we were looking for was to see if the three proposals, the three types of schools would have somewhat equal interest.

“We knew that if we had like 90 percent of people interested in only one of the schools that we would have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a couple other choices. We were excited to see that they’re close enough to even that we can work with them where they are.”

Those proposed themes were Elementary of Arts (dance, musical instruments, art, theater, etc.), Elementary of Innovation (robotics, technology, building/creating, etc.) and Elementary of Leadership (careers, community, character, service, etc.).

Among the 534 parents that answered the survey (more than one answer was allowed), the Elementary of Arts was the top choice of more than 50 percent, while the Elementary of Innovation received around 45 percent and the Elementary of Leadership was just shy of 30 percent.

Both the Elementary of Leadership and Elementary of Innovation received just more than 40 percent of the 511 parents that chose a second option with the Elementary of Arts chosen on just more than 30 percent of those surveys.

“Now to actually say what that’s exactly going to look like and which courses will be offered … is the work we’ll be doing now to actually paint the picture of what each one of those schools really looks like,” Fitzpatrick said, adding it will then go back to the parents to choose their schools.

The district’s goal is have those pictures painted sometime this fall, likely during the second nine weeks of the school year. Parents would then be asked to choose their desired school for their children early next year during the third nine weeks.

Ultimately, the Suwannee County School Board, which approved moving ahead with a plan to reconfigure the three schools in June, will decide the magnet-like themes offered at each location — Suwannee Primary School, Suwannee Elementary School and Suwannee Intermediate School — as well as the enrollment policy for how those choices get made. Under the proposed reconfiguration plan, all three will become Pre-K to fifth grade schools. Currently SPS holds Pre-K through first grade, with SES housing second and third grades and fourth and fifth graders attending SIS.

The surveys also indicated what areas or special interests that parents want their children learning. Topping that list is art and digital art. Technology and robotics followed right behind.

During the last of the three reconfiguration listening sessions the district held at the schools, this one Aug. 20 at Suwannee Intermediate, one parent said she hopes there wouldn’t be too much technology pushed. That while technology is great and is needed for the future, there is still the need for old-school learning like being able to spell and write and even reading cursive.

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Superintendent Ted Roush and Malcolm Hines, the district’s director of safety and security, discuss enrollment and safety in regards to the reconfiguration of the elementary schools.

Other concerns aired at the final listening sessions included a possibility of increased bullying with the wider age range of students at each building as well as a desire to make sure that the three schools are treated equally and one not become the favored school that is “stacked” in talent and performance.

Malcolm Hines, the district’s director of safety and security, who is heading up the safety and attendance committee, said he didn’t see bullying as becoming a problem. While there would be students from Pre-K to fifth grade in each building, they would be separated by classes and in different wings of the school.

Hines also added the stability and familiarity that will come will benefit the students as well.

“I saw the impact in my own home when it comes to the frequency of moving,” Hines said adding his daughter constantly changed schools due to his career in the military. “I’m excited about it for my son. I think it’s going to be better for the students, I think it’s going to be better for the parents. I think it’s going to be better for everyone.

“This is a blessing from the sky, for me personally. I’m excited about it.”

One parent asked whether that stability will actually help boost students’ performance.

Roush said research indicated it does and said he can speak to that from personal experience as his wife teaches at Branford Elementary, where it is a Pre-K through fifth grade school and his child attended there as well.

“The teachers were all in same building, so they talked to each other more, they knew more about the students before the year started and what they needed to learn,” he said, adding that while the district’s plan is not currently in place, it will have to get devised quickly.

Both administrators and teachers from the district will make site visits at other locations where similar changes have succeeded.

“We want to make sure that we’ve got the best product we have and can put forward on Day 1 and not have an experiment. Quality is of the utmost paramount concern.”

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