Oregon school board votes 5-0 to convert middle schools to intermediate, junior high schools


The Oregon school district will be doing away with its middle schools starting in the 2013-14 year.

The Board of Education today in a 5-0 vote, approved  a reconfiguration of grades five through eight that will convert the two middle schools -- Eisenhower and Fassett -- to an intermediate and junior high school, respectively. Eisenhower will house fifth and six grades and Fassett grades seven and eight.

The change addresses academic underperformance in those grades, where math and science scores have been lagging in state assessment tests. Most Ohio districts earning the highest rating, excellent with distinction, separate fifth graders from older students in an arrangement that is considered more developmentally age appropriate.

Oregon's state rating is effective, the rough equivalent of a B grade, and the board and Superintendent Michael Zalar have expressed their determination to put the district in the ranks of Ohio's high-achieving school systems. The vote marked the culmination of a nine-month process of study, analysis, and discussion that included a series of public meetings held across the district.

After the vote, Mr. Zalar thanked the board for its unanimous support of his plan and said, "This truly is a historic night." He noted that this was a welcome change for the district, which has had to cut costs by eliminating staff and programs, and predicted that student achievement would improve in coming years.

School board members, for their part, expressed confidence that they were doing the right thing and praised Mr. Zalar and the district's administrators for formulating the reconfiguration plan and making the case for it.

Board member Jeffrey Ziviski noted that he initially opposed the plan but now "was definitely for this." The reconfiguration is projected to increase the district's operating costs by $551,554 annually, but Mr. Ziviski said this would not be new spending but rather "a different manner of spending . . . We're trying to do things differently, getting in front of the curve."

Mr. Zalar always emphasized that the switchover would not be a cost-cutting move. Extra expenses would result from changes in student transportation and increased staffing, but the superintendent's plan envisions more than offsetting these costs with the district's share of state casino money, belt-tightening, and through staffing adjustments.

Currently, Oregon's three elementary schools house kindergarten through fifth grades, and the two middle schools have the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.

Under the reconfiguration, intermediate and junior high students will receive an additional 20 minutes of math instruction per day.  The elementary schools  will benefit as well, with 20 minutes of additional music and physical education time each week made possible by removing the fifth graders. The fifth grade again will have art instruction, which was cut.

The change also will permit better collaboration among teachers, who will be under one roof at their particular grade levels. Board member Carol Molnar said the change would mean more time for students to get extra help, and teachers would be able to do a better job.

"Teachers working together is a weak place in our system," she said.

Board president P.J. Kapfhammer exulted that the reconfiguration had been talked about for 20 years and finally was being achieved. He said he believed students would excel as a result of it.

Contact Carl Ryan at: carlryan@theblade.com or 419-724-6095.