Friday, June 08, 2001

Covington schools to realign

Plan will take effect this fall

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON - A new middle school and another elementary school are in store for the city's students this fall.

        By a 3-2 vote, the Covington school board narrowly approved a redistricting plan Thursday that will turn First District Elementary into a sixth- and seventh-grade middle school and reopen Fourth District Elementary, which the board closed three years ago.

        The plan also includes phasing out the districtwide advanced placement program at Latonia Elementary and putting advanced programs in every elementary.

        Board member Jim Vogt cast the deciding vote in favor of the middle school plan — joining board members Col Owens and Mike Fitzgerald — despite strong objections to the timing.

        Mr. Vogt said he supports a middle school but urged the board to take a year to prepare before making the change.

        “Our staff has been really stretched this year,” he said. “We've made a lot of changes. ... I am not comfortable with this. I don't believe it's the best way to go. We are asking for more problems than we need to. But there are advantages of a middle school, so I want to pursue it.”

        Board members Rita Wilson and Glenda Huff voted against the proposal, favoring a second proposal that would also reopen Fourth District but maintain seven elementary schools, kindergarten through sixth grade.

        “I don't think the students should be moved now and brought down here” to First District, Ms. Wilson said. “If we want a middle school, do it the right way and think about it.”

        However, Superintendent Jack Moreland said he and his staff could put the plan in place by this fall.

        “If we put it off another year, I don't think it'll make the transition any less painful,” he said. “We can make it work, and we will make it work very well.”

        The redistricting is 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.

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

        “We've had problems in our junior high building with kids being thrown to the wolves,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “Sometimes students feel lost, and we've lost a lot of students up (at Holmes).”

        The board met last weekend to review nine proposals to realign the elementary schools, narrowing the list to two and rejecting proposals for an all-kindergarten school, an advanced-placement school, and a system of primary, intermediate and middle schools.

        The new boundaries approved Thursday lower enrollment at all of the elementary schools and more evenly divide the district's minority and poor students.

        Next year, First District will be sixth-grade only, with a seventh grade added the following year. Eighth-graders will remain at Holmes.

        First District Principal Karen Lyon and most of her staff will move to Fourth District. And a new principal will be appointed to lead the new middle school.

        The district will develop advanced programs at all schools over the next three years, allowing advanced students already enrolled at Latonia to complete the program there.

        Nearly 100 people attended Thursday night's meeting to make their last-minute pleas for board members to hold off on a decision. Several teachers said they supported a middle school but the district should not rush to open one in two months.

        “Our children need to be our first priority,” said Sherry Lindberg, a fifth-grade teacher at First District. “Our sixth-graders have not been prepared for a middle school.”


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