BARBERTON, Ohio — They’re the cornerstones and identities of most communities, so making changes to schools usually doesn’t come without controversy.
Parents in Barberton are split on a decision to consolidate the city’s schools. The city’s school board just approved what’s called the Grade Level Consolidation project plan. It will bring teachers, support staff, and students in similar grade levels under one roof.
Currently, the district has two elementary schools–Barberton East Elementary and Barberton West Elementary–that serve children in grades Kindergarten through fourth grade.
Beginning next school year, Barberton West Elementary will become Barberton Primary (Kindergarten through second grade), Barberton East Elementary will become Barberton Intermediate (third grade through fifth grade) and Barberton Middle School will become only sixth through eighth grade.
Administrators said it will help students academically, but some parents are concerned about geographical logistics and transportation.
“I think it's a fantastic idea on many levels,” said Emily Cunningham, who has children in the third and fifth grades in the district.
“I just feel like there are way too many unanswered questions,” said Erin Lepley, who has children in the third and sixth grades in the district.
Superintendent Jeff Ramnytz said the plan has been in the works for three years and will address students’ academic and social-emotional needs while allowing same-grade teachers to collaborate under one roof.
“We have found out over the years that trying to recoup and grow consistency at the middle level–sometimes it's a little bit too late. So we felt that we really needed to go even further down to see how we can build some consistency to improve our academics,” said Ramnytz.
Ramnytz said they believe consolidating the schools will strengthen students’ skills from grade level to grade level so they’re firmly on track for progression.
“What we have found working with our teacher leadership and looking at our test scores and looking at different data analysis is that there's a lot of inconsistencies within the building. And we feel that you know, bringing our schools together in an intermediate, which was a K through second and then a third or fourth or fifth situation, we'll be able to shrink that.”
Cunningham is a fan of the plan and answered favorably on the survey the district sent home to parents several months ago.
“I think the benefits of all of it truly outweigh any negatives,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham thinks having same-grade teachers under one roof will aid in collaboration and allow them to share resources. She also likes that same-age students who previously would not have met until moving onto middle school will have the chance to become classmates and friends earlier.
She’s also thrilled that her son, who is in fourth grade, won’t have to go to middle school next year since fifth grade will be included in Barberton Intermediate.
“What matters to me is that my sweet, innocent 10-year-old fourth grader stays in the same school for another year. And I think developmentally it's huge,” said Cunningham. “And if people truly understood that and understood developmental gains milestones and all there has to do with growing up–a 10-year-old going to middle school is probably not the right, you know, it's just not at the right point for them developmentally to be with eighth-graders. So that to me, it really impacts us and my family the most.”
Lepley, however, is opposed to the plan and she said many other parents are as well.
“Every parent I talked to said that they said no to this consolidation. So, how did it pass?” said Lepley.
Lepley thinks the plan is unnecessary. She is concerned about there being enough space to accommodate students in their new schools and believes it will put a strain on parents and kids, like her son who is in third grade and now has to attend a new school.
“We live on the very, very east side of town to then bus my kids to the very, very west side of town for what? You know, to have almost a 20 minute, 20 to 25-minute bus ride,” said Lepley. “I mean, I clearly bought my house next to a school for the reasons that I did. I mean, I'm sure a lot of parents thought the same thing, ‘We can walk to school, we can bike to school, we can, you know, this is the area where I want my kids in school.’”
She also doesn’t think it will have a huge effect on kids academically.
“My youngest son is in the gifted program. I mean, makes straight A's. My daughter has made straight A's all since kindergarten. I mean, I've never had problems, so I don't understand how that should be a factor. I really don't,” said Lepley.
Ramnytz says he’s spoken to parents who have concerns and is open to speaking to more.
“There were some people that were not happy, of course. But when we looked at the data and we looked at the responses, I think one of the big responses that people really liked about this idea was bringing the fifth grade out of the middle school and giving them one more year to be in that intermediate level. They really like that,” said Ramnytz.
He also is assuring parents that their children will be accommodated when it comes to transportation.
“One of the other things that we looked at really closely is to make sure that we're able to bus everybody and we are going to have different start times so parents will be able to get them. And we have Latchkey if they need to drop them off and if they need any other help, we'll get that,” said Ramnytz.
Overall, he believes the plan is the right move.
“We know that change is hard for some, but there's a lot of positives far outweigh the negatives geographically,” said Ramnytz.
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