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District officials discuss elementary school configuration

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District officials are trying to determine the best configuration for the elementary school that will occupy the Sierra Mountain Middle School building when a new middle school is built.

At last week’s TTUSD board meeting, district staff and board members decided to go back to the community and ask for input, as well as wait for a current demographic analysis that will give the district a better enrollment projection over the next five years.

“I will never approve this (determining the configuration) until we get some community input,” TTUSD board president Suzanne Prouty said at the Nov. 4 meeting. “If we’re going to look at the options, you need to look at a much broader cross-section of the community.”

Board member Karen Van Epps added, “We need to maintain trust with our community.”

When Truckee Elementary School Principal Cathy Valle asked school staff to give the pros and cons for the three options – K-2 and 3-5; K-3 and 4-5 or K-5 at both Truckee Elementary and the SMMS conversion – keeping both schools at a K-5 configuration received the most pros.

But Valle said at the meeting that the cons teachers listed for a K-5 configuration at both schools are concerns that need to be taken seriously.

“We need to deal with those concerns and address them,” she said. “Some of the concerns came from teachers who have been through configuration changes before.”

If both schools have a K-5 configuration, the student population would be approximately 400 plus students at each campus.

Teachers and staff listed the following comments as “pros” for implementing a K-5 configuration at both schools:

– Better communication between grade levels – students can do cross-age tutoring on-site.

– Keeps the small neighborhood feeling.

– Would be the best option for the bilingual program.

– Offers a whole community of developmental levels.

– Good for program diversity – schools could offer unique programs, language programs, art, music, fine arts and more.

– Provides continuity. Teachers are able to see their students year after year – cross-age and teacher communication is essential.

The cons that Valle hopes to address include fears that the two schools would split resources; that one school would become a “bilingual school” where integration, fund-raising and classroom support is lessened; potential competition between the two schools; and a lack of resources for quality programs at both schools.

Teachers were also asked to respond to a fourth option of expanding the existing Truckee Elementary facility without converting SMMS. District staff have projected the student population at the school would be between 800 and 1,200 students.

Prouty echoed many of the the teachers’ concerns about the fourth option at the board meeting, saying an elementary school with up to 1,200 students is just too big.

“Putting students in an elementary school with a possible 1,200 students is not an option,” she said.

TTUSD Superintendent Pat Gemma suggested the board wait until the district’s demographic/enrollment analysis is completed in December to best determine what the configuration should be. He said the demographics and enrollment in the district have changed dramatically in the last two years, and even in the last six months.

“Maybe SMMS could be something else,” he suggested. “I would like the board to go slow, go back, and allow the (district) staff to come up with more information about the value of the current property that SMMS is on, information about demographics, and ask that you really shoot for making a decision for the January board meeting.”

If the option to expand the existing Truckee Elementary School building was considered, the district would address the possibility of using the SMMS building as a district office.

Another possibility mentioned at the meeting was to sell the property and build another elementary school elsewhere.

Board members and staff will seek input from the community on the options and continue discussion at the next board meeting. They would also like to hear opinions from Glenshire Elementary School staff on the issue.

“They need to know how the ramifications of this decision will impact them down the road,” Prouty said.


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