A big thank you to the 400 people who took part in the facilities phone poll and the 363 people who took the online survey. With your input, I have been able to get a much better picture of the sentiment and wishes of the district’s patrons.
First, I would like to share with you results about closing the district. In my opinion, this was the most important question presented. When asked about dissolution of the district, 53% opposed or strongly opposed closing it. Another 28% neither supported or opposed dissolving, and there were 19 % who stated they supported or strongly supported closing the district. This is such important information for many reasons, mostly there are many people living in the district who are full of Wildcat pride, and do not want to see their school district closed. As you move forward with making decisions about what is best for your students and communities, knowing that 81% do not support or strongly support closing the district, you will always know that most of your neighbors believe the school district should remain open and effective.
With that said, what else have I learned from the survey? The most obvious answer was there are many people who think the district needs a new high school, just not in Americus. Most of the comments stated if the district builds a new building it should be centrally located.
There is also support for renovating the current buildings.
If we combine the phone poll and the web survey, 79% said the most important thing we should do is build a new high school (just not in Americus). Renovating the current high school had support of 59% and renovating the elementary school had 63% approval. Some comments included, “One roof for all centrally located, Current buildings are just fine, Don’t put lipstick on a pig, Seems silly to add on when a whole new K-12 building is needed, Too much money,” and they went on and on for 62 pages!
Some of the comments mentioned that you shouldn’t build any new buildings because eventually the district will get too small to remain open. I have to disagree with that sentiment. You have 347 students now. Even if you would lose 150 students over the next several years, the district would still remain larger than MANY districts across Kansas, including several in this area. I do not see the district ever getting to the point where it would need to close or consolidate, so I don’t think that statement has validity.
So what should we do next? I am an interim superintendent with no dog in this hunt, so I am going to give you my opinion based on 25 years of school administration. I believe deeply that it is the responsibility of the adults in the community to provide our youth the best educational opportunities available, including facilities that will help them thrive. Our parents and grandparents did that for us and now it is our turn.
The following is from a study at Penn State University: A growing body of research has found that school facilities can have a profound impact on both teacher and student outcomes. With respect to teachers, school facilities affect teacher recruitment, retention, commitment, and effort. With respect to students, school facilities affect health, behavior, engagement, learning, and growth in achievement. Researchers generally conclude that without adequate facilities and resources, it is extremely difficult to serve large numbers of children with complex needs. Thus, facility quality is an important predictor of teacher retention and student learning. The physical and emotional health of students and teachers depend on the quality of the physical location, which makes establishing safe, healthy buildings essential.
It is clear that the facilities in this district are subpar and need updated. The current buildings can be renovated to be adequate for several years. However, I believe you will eventually need to replace both buildings with new, whether that is in 2 years or 12 years. The question remains, when and where should that occur.
Over the next 18-24 months I will give you options that include renovations to current facilities with existing money, and plans for building a centrally located 6-12 building, with an option to include a Pre-K-5 addition onto the 6-12 building. Any new building should be modestly built to address needs and not spectacular or stunning, keeping costs as low as possible. These plans will include exactly where the building could be located, detailed floor plans and outside renderings, along with total costs and individual patron costs. Then it is up to you all to review the plans and make another decision.
Another decision?? Several people commented that the public has said no three times and the Board should stop asking. The Board of Education has a responsibility to continuously improve your school system, whether that be with teachers, administrators, other staff, ideas, and yes, facilities. Whomever is on the Board will always have a responsibility to keep asking the questions, until they come up with a solution that can be supported by the majority of its patrons.
In the short time that I have been here, I have seen a school system that cares deeply about its students and staff, a staff that has embraced the challenges of school redesign, and a district that supports its students in their academic and extracurricular endeavors. I understand the situation we find ourselves in is difficult, and has resulted in many hard and hurt feelings. We must begin to heal and come together for the benefit of our students and all of our communities. I will do my best to help you.