Friday, January 18, 2002

Mason pares school construction

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        MASON — The rapid enrollment growth in Mason schools has slowed slightly, allowing the district to postpone building a new elementary.

        Plans were to put a bond issue on the ballot sometime in 2002 in order to open a school in 2004. But educators now say they can delay at least a year while reconfiguring other schools.

    The Sept. 3 opening of the new Mason High School and reconfiguration of grades in the other schools will allow the multiage SOAR (Students on the Academic Rise) program to expand.
    The popular program groups first- and second-graders in the same classroom. Students remain with their teacher for two years. There are 125 students in the program with slots for 250 next year.
    Two meetings have been set to explain the program to parents. Each will be at 7 p.m. at Western Row Elementary School. They are Jan. 30 and Feb. 4.
    Parents will receive surveys by the end of the month to gauge interest in the program, district spokeswoman Shelly Benesh Hausman said.
        “It used to be we were getting 600-700 new kindergarten kids but only graduating 250” from high school, said Marianne Culbertson, president of the Mason Board of Education.

        “Now we're getting 600 or so new kindergartners, but we're graduating (close to) 400. We're still growing fast, but not quite at the same pace we were a few years ago.”

        This year's enrollment of 7,357 is an increase of 646 students from last year, but slightly smaller than the previous year's 654. More significant is the number of students new to the district, which is on the decline, district Treasurer Richard Gardner said. .

        Two years ago, there were 500 students new to the district. This year that number dropped to 379, and Mr. Gardner said he's expecting only 350 students to move to Mason by next fall.

        The rest of the enrollment jump comes from the disparity between the large elementary classes — ranging from 546-660 students — and the small high school classes — ranging from 364-490 students.

        “We've trimmed our projections down,” Mr. Gardner said. “The next decision will come at the end of 2002 after looking at enrollment.”

        Meanwhile, a reconfiguration plan will take effect Sept. 3 when classes resume after summer vacation and a high school opens for grades 9-12. Mason High School will become a middle school for grades 7-8.

        The intermediate and middle schools will be operated as one school, housing grades 4-6 only. Western Row Elementary will house grade three and a multiage program that mixes first- and second-graders in the same classroom.

        It will expand from 125 to 250 students. First- and second-grade students not in the mixed program will remain at Mason Heights. Kindergarten students will remain at the Mason Early Childhood Center with preschoolers attending classes at the expanded Mason Heights annex.

        “Students in this district have learned to become very flexible,” Mrs. Culbertson said.


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