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Published: Tuesday, 1/11/2011

Bedford's Smith Rd. School transition plan in works

TEMPERANCE -- With the decision that Smith Road Elementary will close and sixth grade will shift to Bedford Junior High, Bedford school officials have begun working on plans to foster a smooth transition for students who will be affected by the changes.

Jonathan Whan, assistant superintendent of instruction and student services, said the transition will involve student orientation programs, informational meetings, and open houses for students and parents.

"This is a big step for the school district and a difficult time for the whole community, parents, teachers, staff, and administrators. It was difficult for the administration to make the recommendation to close the school," said Mr. Whan, who came to the district in June.

The Board of Education unanimously approved shuttering the elementary school at the end of the school year in June and merging next year's sixth graders with older students at the junior high.

Superintendent Ted Magrum recommended the elementary consolidation and other changes to the board during a PowerPoint presentation at last week's meeting that drew a standing-room only crowd.

While many parents, mostly mothers of elementary students, urged against closing any elementary during public comment before the board action, most were concerned about the impact that changing the junior high to a middle-school format will have on this year's fifth-grade level.

Mr. Whan said principals at the five elementary buildings are establishing a plan to help transition the students to the junior high, which housed the three grades until Monroe Elementary Road opened in 2001.

"We appreciate the support from the community, staff, and administration. We know it is a difficult time and by working together, we can continue the great success that we have achieved in the past," he said.

He said the junior high has enough classrooms for the additional 400 students.

"There will be 200 fewer students than what was there 10 years ago," Mr. Whan said.

Plans call for sixth-grade classrooms to be on the second floor, the same as when the grade level was there previously.

The closing of Smith Road Elementary is expected to save the district about $650,000 annually, and would impact administrative, custodial and teaching staff.

The move was made to help make up a projected $4.6 million deficit for the end of the 2011-12 school year.

The consolidation also will result in the redistricting of the four remaining elementary school boundaries, with some students changing schools next year.

Mr. Whan said the district hopes to notify parents about the changes in the next month.

"The borders of the schools will shift. We will try to redistrict in a way that affects as few students as possible," he said.

Bedford Schools can look to nearby Summerfield Schools for direction and advice on adjustments to the school structure.

The Monroe County school district went through a similar transition with its junior high students two years ago when the district integrated seventh and eighth graders into the high school for the 2009-10 school year.

Superintendent Jack Hewitt said some parents were skeptical about the change, but the district was able to work through it by being receptive to their concerns. That change was made to reduce the amount of cuts, giving the district more flexibility in scheduling teachers.

"You have to do it for the right reason and you have to do it in the right way," he said.

The superintendent also said the change occurred nearly flawlessly and the students are flourishing.

"If you ask any seventh or eighth grader, they would tell you that they love it here. They are being given opportunities here that the wouldn't have in the elementary school and it has opened up classes they wouldn't have been able to take," he said.

To implement the change, the district held community forums to let parents discuss concerns and held an orientation for the incoming students to mingle with the upperclassmen.



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