By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Kindergartners from Valley Grove and Eastside elementaries will get to know each other well next year, but there won’t be any interactions with older students.
With an increase in enrollment forecast for 2013-14, especially among younger students, Anderson Community Schools has decided to reopen Killbuck Elementary and transport kindergartners from Valley Grove and Eastside to the school in Richland Township.
Superintendent Felix Chow said it became an issue of planning for classroom size and space in the district’s most congested buildings — with 679 students currently in ACS’ kindergarten and 746 predicted for next year.
“We looked at everything available to us and the best alternative is Killbuck,” he said, adding that while there are some issues like pest control to deal with, the school was in the best shape to be reopened quickly.
The intermediate schools are not designed for lower elementary requirements, like no stairs for preschoolers or kindergartners.
Chow said the change will allow school to go on next year without the redistricting of boundaries and keep class sizes smaller.
But parents like Karen Gibson and Brenda Partain are worried ACS doesn’t have the students’ “best interests at heart.”
Partain has four children in the school system and expected them all to go to Eastside Elementary.
“It’s crazy,” she said. “We bought this house to stay put in one school and have never stayed in the same school.”
Her son, who has autism, has been to three schools in three years and goes to Anderson Elementary now. She’d like for him to return to Eastside next year where her twins would have gone but, as kindergartners this fall, are now destined for Killbuck.
It’s frustrating, Partain said, as there is no stability and the kids don’t have a chance to settle in and make friends.
“Kids do better in a familiar setting than changing schools every year,” Gibson added.
She doesn’t like the idea of a longer bus ride for her daughter, Abby, who was set to go to Valley Grove next year. She’s concerned about wintertime bus rides and said longer rides aren’t good for the younger children.
Abby already faces a 40-minute ride this year because, with special needs, she was sent off to Anderson Elementary, Gibson said.
She’d rather her daughter attend Tenth Street Elementary that’s only about three miles away or stay at Anderson.
Parents do have the option of school choice within the district, but must request school transfers by 3 p.m. Friday at the ACS Administration Building, 1600 Hillcrest Ave. Transfers are not guaranteed, either.
Chow said he’s aware the change is upsetting to some, especially those who may have children split up, but that ACS believes the reopening to be the best and least disruptive choice.
“(The concerns are) a real issue and I’m empathetic to the situation, but we vote to do nothing, the only possible scenario is basically an increase in class size from 28 to 34,” he said.
And he added there are “lots of parents and teachers complaining about overcrowding.”
Partain said she’s one of the parents who would rather see boundaries redistricted or more teacher aides in slightly larger classrooms.
Eastside Elementary Principal Val Scott said she just doesn’t have the space to properly accommodate more kindergartners, and added that research shows smaller class sizes provide better learning environments.
In the Killbuck proposal on ACS’ website, it stated Eastside would need 38 classrooms versus the 32 it has with an increase in students. The calculation was based on a class size of 28 in kindergarten through third grade and 30 in grades four and five.
Losing the kindergartners to Killbuck is “bittersweet,” Scott said, but the younger students will still be invited to take part in events like Eastside’s Literacy Nights as Killbuck is serving as an extension of the school.
Chow added that the decision to reopen Killbuck will also allow all three schools to maintain art and music classes.
The estimated annual cost to reopen Killbuck is $400,000 versus $300,000 a year to keep it closed and hire 20 instructional assistants in anticipation of larger class sizes.
Depending on enrollment trends, Chow said, the school may remain open for years. Or, if enrollment begins to plummet again, only for a short time.
Enrollment fluctuations are a common problem for many larger districts, he said, and Anderson has looked at all of the scenarios but doesn’t have a “crystal ball” to see what building choices will have to be made in the future.
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