Projected enrollment leaves North Platte considering changes to grade distribution at its 3 buildings

DEARBORN, Mo. — The North Platte School District plans to take a look at how it can best use its faculty and building space and that could involve a change in which students are housed in each of the district’s three buildings. North Platte superintendent Karl Matt presented the districts 2016-17 enrollment projections at the board of education’s regular meeting held Wednesday, Jan. 20 at North Platte Junior High School. Based on the figures, he presented the possibility to move sixth grade students to the junior high and third grade students to the intermediate school.

Matt said the possibility for change must be considered based on a 14 percent decline in enrollment since 2005. No action item was presented to the board, and discussion will continue on the matter in the coming months before a final decision is made.

“We might not do anything before next year,” Matt said. “We may continue with the status quo. But it may be long term something we want to look at as the overall enrollment changes in this district. It’s something we need to look to see if we’re set up in the best manner for 600 students.

“I think we were set up well for 700-800 students. Are we still set up for 600-650?”

Matt’s proposed moves would take the sixth grade from the intermediate school in Edgerton, Mo. to the junior/senior high in Dearborn, while the third graders would shift from the elementary in Camden Point, Mo. to the intermediate school. He said the existing junior high and high school staff could accommodate the added grade level, while creating more of a middle school setting with the three grade levels opposed to just seventh and eighth.

According to Matt, the moves would also allow the two sixth grade teachers to shift down and create smaller class sizes at the intermediate/elementary level.

Matt first mentioned the process during a district in-service in October. Since then, he has organized a committee comprised of 13 faculty members representing all four schools that will come up with options for the board to discuss.

Another idea would be to align staff in the intermediate school differently to allow the staff to be efficient.

“There may be some ideas we haven’t even considered yet. That’s the idea behind having a committee. It’s not just as simple as saying we’re going to move the sixth grade over here,” Matt said. “It’s very difficult. It’s going to be a significant change.

“It’s a philosophical change. It’s not all about money. I think we’re looking at taking our existing staff and best utilizing them to make class sizes that make sense.”

Currently, there are 280 students on the Dearborn campus – seventh through 12th grades – with that number expected to drop to 257 next year with the 2016 graduating class of 64 students exiting and only 41 students in sixth grade replacing them. The lack of students on the Dearborn campus would leave an excess of staff to cover the necessary class schedule, while the 349 remaining students would be split among 17 teachers or about 21 students per class unless the board makes a change.

“Those class sizes would not be outrageous in most districts, but they’re bigger than what we’ve ever had,” Matt said. “I look at one of the reasons we’ve had the success we’ve had is we’ve had those small class sizes all the way through. That’s always been a priority. I think even as seniors they’ve benefitted from the fact they’ve had that small class.

“If there’s a way we can preserve that, I think we need to try and get to that. If we can’t, those aren’t out of line.”

Preliminary discussion among board members indicated they would prefer a permanent change, rather than creating a situation that requires the board to consistently assess the distribution and make adjustments.

In recent years, incoming classes at North Platte have been right around 50 students, meaning the enrollment should hover around 650 students down the line – much more than the 606 projected students district-wide next year. With those numbers, the district would likely need to revert from the new system at some point in the near future.

The realignment would be the first since the district moved away from K-7 buildings in both Camden Point and Edgerton with the high school in Dearborn. That occurred for the 1983-84 school year, an alignment that has maintained for 30 years.

“The other thing is if we do it, the question would arise in a when the bigger class sizes come through in a couple of years, are we going to be wanting to be switching back?” Matt said. “I don’t think we want to be in a spot where we’re switching one year then back, and we’re back. It creates confusion amongst everybody. We want to make sure it’s well planned out.

“It might not be something we can move toward next year, but I think it could be.”

The board also discussed the calendar for next year.

Matt proposed using the same basic calendar from this year but suggested one potential change. After light discussion, it was decided that the district should not hold school on the day before thanksgiving. The district previously held a half day session on that Wednesday but attendance was poor.

“We have always, as far as I know, as long as I’ve been at North Platte, always gone to school on that Wednesday,” Matt said. “At one time, basically every district in the area did. However, we were one of the only ones in session that day, and our attendance was poor. I was always a strong proponent of going on that day, However if it is hurting our attendance, it is something we should talk about.”

The projected first day of school is Tuesday, Aug. 16 with the final scheduled day on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. The board will approve the final calendar at a later date after final recommendations from the calendar committee.

Matt also announced there would be no election held for the board of education as two candidates filed for the two seats in the upcoming election. Incumbent Eric Meadows filed as well as Carla Shanks of Dearborn. Vince Roberts, currently the board treasurer, will not seek reelection.

The board also approved grant applications, one for the Platte County Parks and Recreation grant to bring in dirt and re level the infield at the baseball field, and another grant to buy a heat transfer machine for students enrolled in family and consumer science courses to be able to design and print t-shirts.