Sunday, June 03, 2001

Covington chooses proposals

Plans for middle school high on list

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Plans to create a middle school and put advanced placement programs in every elementary school jumped ahead of the pack Saturday as the Covington school board picked through a smorgasbord of proposals to realign its schools.

        In a four-hour meeting, the five-member board critiqued nine proposals to redraw boundaries for the city's elementary schools.

        Board members narrowed the list of plans to four, rejecting proposals for an all-kindergarten school, an advanced-placement school and a system of primary, intermediate and middle schools.

        Board members showed the most interest in a proposal to create a sixth- and seventh-grade middle school at First District Elementary.

        State officials have encouraged the district to move its junior high off the Holmes High School campus, giving the middle grades their own setting.

        “There's huge interest in the middle school concept,” said board member Col Owens. “We're one of the few districts still doing a junior high.”

        Much of the discussion also centered on what to do with the district's elementary advanced placement program. All fourth through sixth grade advanced students go to a special program at Latonia Elementary.

        However, the board is considering putting advanced programs at every school.

        “When you take the best students out of a school and send them somewhere else, you're hurting that neighborhood school,” board Chairman Mike Fitzgerald said.

        The board plans make a decision on Thursday.

        Covington is redistricting in response to a state audit last spring that launched reform efforts in the low-performing district. State auditors pointed to crowding, a lack of diversity and inequities at some schools.

        The board is also reopening Fourth District Elementary, which it closed in 1998. With a seventh building, the board wants to reduce the numbers of students in its elementary schools.

        Beyond creating smaller schools, the board is juggling several goals.

        It wants to create a better balance of students racially and economically while maintaining neighborhood schools and with as little disruption as possible to current boundaries. It also wants to develop a stronger academic program that serves all children.

        “We may not be able to honor all of them completely, but it's really important to keep in mind the values we maintain as we go through this redistricting,” board member Jim Vogt said.

        About 30 parents and teachers attended Saturday's meeting, most from Latonia.

        Several supported a middle school plan and advanced offerings at all schools but questioned whether the district could put together a quality program for this fall.

        “I can support it if it's done well, but if it's whipped together to play with the numbers, I am very scared,” said Linda Williams, a sixth-grade teacher at Latonia.

        Superintendent Jack Moreland suggested phasing in the new advanced programs over three years and starting the middle school with just sixth graders, adding seventh grade the following year.

        Several parents, along with Mr. Vogt, voiced strong concerns about making a hasty decision.

        “I don't see the big rush, especially when it comes to our children,” said Latonia parent Tim Walz.

        But Mr. Moreland urged the board to move forward, citing the state audit which has put pressure on the district to improve quickly. Other board members also said the district can't afford to wait another year to make change.

        “To put some of these things off a year doesn't make it any easier, it just puts if off a year,” Mr. Owens said.

        Whichever direction the board goes, it needs to decide soon, said Terry Poindexter, a teacher at John G. Carlisle Elementary.

        “Most of us in the elementary schools don't know where we're going to be or what we're going to be doing,” she said. “No matter what decision you make, there are going to be people who are upset. The teachers just want a decision.”


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