Live Oak —
Superintendent of Schools Jerry Scarborough hosted the first of three town hall meetings at Suwannee Primary School on Thursday night to discuss the possibility of reconfiguring the three Live Oak elementary schools. School Board members and Scarborough were on hand to hear the voice of the public, mostly teachers, before making a final decision in March.
The next town hall meeting is Thursday, Jan. 31, at Suwannee Elementary School from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The school is located at 1748 South Ohio Ave.
The schools being discussed for reconfiguration are Suwannee Primary School, which currently offers Pre-K through first grade; Suwannee Elementary School, grades 2-3; and Suwannee Intermediate School, grades 4-5.
If approved by a board vote in March, the schools would be transformed into three distinct elementary schools that would all offer Pre-K through fifth grade which would go into effect in the 2013-14 school year. Director of Curriculum Dawn Lamb gave a brief presentation to attendees on why she believes reconfiguring is needed.
Lamb said first and foremost, reconfiguration is vital in giving teachers and staff the opportunity to develop relationships with parents and students.
“The students will have the security of knowing the staff from one year to the next,” Lamb said. “The staff can get to know each student and his or her needs and gifts.”
Lamb noted that a student who begins in kindergarten under the current system would change schools five times before they graduate high school. “They never have a chance to build a relationship before they’re moved to another school,” said Lamb.
Lamb told the board that reconfiguring the schools would also lessen the grade level teams for better communication.
According to Lamb, reconfiguring would hold a single team accountable to student achievement measures over time. The staff would have the chance to focus on an individual student’s progress for a long period of time, rather than just two years before being transferred to another school.
“Under our current system, two of the three schools don’t receive a school grade, so we have no way of evaluating their progress,” she said.
Lamb expressed to the board that if it is their wishes to reconfigure, the time is now. “Teacher performance pay begins in 2014-15, and if we reconfigured now, it would give us a year under the new system before performance pay begins,” Lamb said.
The staff is currently working diligently to ensure that students are evenly distributed among the three schools. However, students with autism or medically needy attend SPS. According to the proposed zoning map, the county is divided into three zones. Had reconfiguration taken place this year with the current number of students in the school system, 871 students would attend SPS, 624 students would be attend SIS and 702 students would attend SES.
Following Lamb’s presentation, Scarborough opened the floor and welcomed input. The room was filled with mixed emotions, some for reconfiguring and some against. The majority of those that spoke were teachers. Stephan Blue asked Scarborough how much it will cost to reconfigure the schools. Scarborough told him that he didn’t know the exact cost, but his best guess was about $100,000. However, Sheriff Tony Cameron said it could cost a quarter of a million dollars.
“I was the dean of students at Suwannee High School the last time the schools reconfigured and I stayed on top of it. It costed us $180,000 to reconfigure two schools,” he said. “It will cost $250,000 to reconfigure three schools.”
Cameron spoke against reconfiguring the schools. “I worked in the school district before it changed. It changed because there was a problem. And the problem was ‘The East was the beast’ and ‘The best was the West’ (Cameron noted a popular rhyme that students from the two schools would recite, when there were just two elementary schools in Live Oak). My children went to the beast. I was a nobody, I didn’t know how to fix it. I come from a lower middle class family so I didn’t have any strings that I could pull. I’m sure now I could get my kid into any school I wanted,” he laughed.
“You got looked at different if you went to this school. And when you have a system that can be divided like this, they (lower income families) get the short end of the stick. Bottom line is, our children deserve what is best,” Cameron said.
School teacher Annette Johnson told Scarborough the school system can’t afford to reconfigure.
“You (Scarborough) are saying $100,000 like that’s small change,” said Johnson. “But when you’re looking at it from a teacher and a parent perspective, being five percent down as a teacher right now because of the retirement and the Social Security increase and raises not even a relevant topic for conversation, a $100,000 is a lot of money. The budget’s already been working in reserves and with the FTE (full time equivalent) we took a big hit in funding. So, how can we justify spending $100,000 to change a system that is working?”
Scarborough said we can’t afford not to reconfigure. He mentioned mediocre school grades as one of the reasons for reconfiguration.
“Personally, I don’t think we can afford not to spend it,” Scarborough said. “But you have to invest money to make things happen. I know that $100,000 is a lot of money. But we can’t continue to do what we’ve been doing. It’s not working. And as your school superintendent, I have to put forth initiatives and challenges to help us improve our academic achievement for all of the students.”
Scarborough continued, “Our faculty and staff are working extremely hard, and I don’t know what else we can do to help our faculty. You’ve heard building relationships time and time again. It’s important that we have a system so our children know we care. It’s about our kids.”
Suwannee Elementary School Principal Melissa Moseley said she never has to time to fully get to know a student.
“Every year I get 375 new kids on campus,” she said. And by the time she gets to know them it’s time for them to leave.
Branford High School Principal Jimmy Wilkerson addressed some of the concerns of the people. One of those concerns was bullying.
“In Branford, having a student for seven years, if we do have a bully on campus, it gives us the time that is required to identify that bully and to go through the process to make that bullying stop instead of shipping that bully along with his classmates to a brand new staff where they have to start the process again,” said Wilkerson. “Sure, the paperwork does follow, but all of the circumstances that goes along with it are not all documented and there’s no way to do that.”
“The biggest issue is relationships,” Wilkerson said. “I take it for granted that my child is in the first grade at the Elementary school and all of the teachers know her name and they pat her on the back. It’s not because I’m the principal at the high school, but it’s because they want to get to know her. They get to know these kids and they build these relationships with them. That relationship component is a big deal.”
SPS and SIS taught students through fifth grade prior to the 2006-07 school year. With the addition of Suwannee Elementary School on US 129 South, the three schools were reconfigured to be able to meet class size reduction mandates.