Schools: Fewer students, larger classes

Sean C. Morgan

Crawfordsville and Holley schools are now combined, with a bumper crop of kindergarteners.

Bus routes have changed.

Sweet Home High School has returned to a seven-period day, and district enrollment is down again this year, though you might not know it from the size of some classes.

Generally speaking, the school year started smoothly last week, said Supt. Don Schrader. “So far so good. I’ve been to all the schools. Students look happy. Schools are clean and organized.”

Schrader started off the week at Holley School, which now serves Crawfordsville students as well as those in the Holley and Liberty areas. Crawfordsville School closed at the end of last school following several years of dwindling enrollment at Holley and Crawfordsville. Holley has about 150 students, numbers it reached years ago.

Schrader hit the junior high next and watched eighth-grade leadership students show seventh-graders the ropes.

“It’s a little scary,” Schrader said. “And they have lots of questions.”

Schrader got to talk to a science teacher at the Junior High, and he’s excited about what’s coming up in science there, he said. Schrader, new to the district this year, previously taught science.

He also dealt with a few transportation issues this week, Schrader said. The Transportation Department altered several routes this year, particularly routes that run over gravel roads. In some cases, the district continues to provide transportation, while in others, students are walking to collection points.

“I think it’s smoothing out,” he said. He helped resolve a situation in which a Hawthorne student, who spoke little English, ended up on a bus at Oak Heights.

Elementary schools are running some classes with 28 and 29 students, and a number are above 30 students, Schrader said. “I went to Foster, and she (Principal Glenna DeSouza) told me she had 32 and 31.”

The larger class sizes are not unique to Sweet Home, he said. His last school district, Glide, has larger classes this year.

“There and everywhere else, you’re seeing higher class sizes,” Schrader said.

Overall, enrollment is down about 43 students. As of Sept. 7, enrollment was 2,275.

“What I’ve got from the principals, they’re feeling really good,” Schrader said. “There’s been a focus on instruction, improvement in teaching and other things.”

At the end of the last school year, the focus was on budget problems, he said.

Holley School

Holley and Crawfordsville students and staff appear to be adjusting to the combination of their schools at Holley.

“Things are going amazingly smooth,” said Principal Elena Barton. “We’ve had to make adjustments with our schedules.”

The enrollment is large enough that the school has had to go to a double bell schedule for lunch and recess, she said. Right now, the staff is just fine-tuning around the building.

“I think we’ve had enough time to adapt,” she said. “Everybody has a really good attitude about making it work.”

The staff is working well together, she said, and she hasn’t heard from parents about any problems.

“I think it’s going very well,” Barton said. “I have a great staff. I think the staff has come together. They’re feeling optimistic about the school.”

She said it feels good to have that many students in the building. When the schools are too small, it decreases friend options for students, and it can be tricky keeping some students separate when they need to be.

At the same time, it’s still a small-school environment, she said.

“It’s full. It’s very full,” Barton said. “We’re keeping a lot of storage space at Crawfordsville. All of the classrooms are full.”

The library is doubling as a computer lab, and the resource room is in use as a Title I room, Barton said.

The school may end up using Crawfordsville’s larger gym for some of the bigger programs this school year, Barton said.

The two schools were merged in an effort to save money during budget cutting last spring. Leading into the discussion, then-Supt. Larry Horton had projected some 14 kindergarten students between the two schools. Last year, the schools had only six kindergarten students. The discussion about the merger triggered when enrollment trigger levels decreased to levels set by board policy in 2005.

Officials were surprised to find they had 32 at one point. With one more kindergartener added last week, Holley would have had 33 kindergarteners.

Holley had to send a handful over to Oak Heights to keep the number down, Barton said, and one transferred to Sweet Home Charter School.

Barton is a .4 full-time equivalent principal at the school. Dave Goetz has returned full time to the Junior High where he is assistant principal. He worked .2 FTE at Holley last year. Barton, who also serves as student service director for the district, was a .4 FTE principal at Crawfordsville last year.

Cheryl Thireault is teaching kindergarten. She taught first and second grades at Crawfordsville last year.

Joanna Reisbick is teaching a first- and second-grade blend. She taught first grade at Foster last year. Michelle Hatchard, who taught the first- and second-grade blend last year at Holley, transferred to Hawthorne.

Dan Swanson is teaching third grade. He taught a third- and fourth-grade blend at Crawfordsville last year.

Cathi Collins is teaching fourth grade. She taught a third- and fourth-grade blend at Holley last year.

Brett Bowers is teaching a fourth- and fifth-grade blend. He taught a fifth- and sixth-grade blend at Crawfordsville last year.

Marsha Carper is teaching sixth grade. She taught a fifth- and sixth-grade blend at Holley last year.

Crawfordsville Secretary Cindy Rinehart moved to Holley, and Holley Secretary Suzi Graville is splitting her time between working as a teaching assistant at Holley and working at the district office.

The school cut close to 1 FTE in assistant time, Barton said.

Assistants include Graville, who also is providing secretary time at the Central Office; Crawfordsville assistants Michelle Keeney in media, Shauna Baxter and Amy Lupoli; and Holley assistants Judy Dinsfriend and Mary Hutchins.

Custodian Penny Pratt split time with Karen Polley at Holley last year. Pratt is now full-time custodian. Polley moved elsewhere in the district.

“There’s a lot of things we miss about Crawfordsville – the gym,” Barton said, and it was in a neighborhood where students could walk to school. “But there’s something about a school on a hill. It has a really great feel. I do like the location of Holley, the feel of Holley, definitely.”

Sweet Home High School

To save money, Sweet Home High School returned to a seven-period day after a decade on the trimester five-period schedule.

“The seven-period day, it’s working OK,” said Principal Pat Stineff. “The teachers probably have another 50 kids a day than they had in the past.”

It’s an adjustment for everyone, Stineff said, and it means more work each day for teachers and students.

The school cut 1.5 FTE in teaching, including a physical education position that was vacant because of a retirement and half-time in the autoshop.

So far it’s working out, she said, “It won’t be a problem because we have pros out there.

“Everything’s going well. It looks like we’re going to have more kids. We’re still enrolling kids.”

The school had 731 students on Friday, up from 715 on the Sept. 7 count.

The school year’s started off with a bang in sports, with a pair of big wins in football and volleyball, she said. The girls soccer team and water polo also had wins.

This year’s seniors are the first who will have to pass a test to graduate, Stineff said. They’ll need to pass reading. In coming years, additional tests will be required before graduation.

High school teachers are continuing to work in their professional learning communities – meetings with other teachers to share ideas – using data gathered last year to help figure out how to teach students this year.

“Eventually, we’re going to get into structural changes,” said Assistant Principal Keith Winslow, but right now, teachers are trying to figure out ways to get struggling students the help they need immediately rather than when they retake classes after failing.

Staff members will start figuring out the steps needed for intervention with struggling students, he said, as well as for those who are getting the material and doing well.

“We’re going to be looking at individual student data in the PLCs this year,” he said.

The graduation rate was up last year, and the last reported dropout rate was down, Winslow said. Those are both heading in the right direction.

On top of that, the total number of Ds and Fs is down as well as the number of students earning Ds and Fs, he said.