Friday, April 13, 2012

District considers building new school

Plan calls for new facility exclusively for Dual Immersion Program


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Students at Hailey Elementary School donít seem to be concerned with overcrowding. However, the Blaine County School District is considering building a new elementary school as facilities within the district approach student capacity. Photo by Roland Lane

The possibility of building a new elementary school in Blaine County has been floating around for the past three years, but now the School District board of trustees is ready to take the proposal seriously.

As the plan now stands, a new facility wouldn't be any ordinary elementary school. Instead, it would exclusively house the district's Dual Immersion Program, in which students are taught in English and Spanish.

An alternative plan is to build a school for grades K-8, a proposal that would negate the need to build new classrooms at what is becoming an overcrowded Wood River Middle School.

The possibility of building a new school, be it K-5 or K-8, was discussed at a special school board meeting April 5. Molly Michalec, the district's Dual Immersion coordinator, told the board that building a new school exclusively for Dual Immersion students would facilitate management and instruction for the program and would alleviate overcrowding that is expected to soon occur at the district's four elementary schools.

In her presentation, Michalec discussed other options for the Dual Immersion Program, such as cutting back on the number of Dual Immersion students or relocating all of them to an existing elementary school.

Now in its 11th year, the district's Dual Immersion Program continues to grow as new kindergartners are added to the program each year.

Dual Immersion students stay together as a unit from year to year. Members of the first class of Dual Immersion students are now high school sophomores.

The program finished the 2010-2011 school year with 682 students in grades K-9, a number representing about 20 percent of the district's then total enrollment of 3,400.

A typical Dual Immersion class consists of half native English speakers and half native Spanish speakers. Students are instructed half in English and half in Spanish with the objective of teaching them to become fluent in both languages.

Dual Immersion classes are now in place at Wood River High School, Wood River Middle School and at Bellevue, Hailey, Hemingway and Woodside elementary schools.

Overcrowding

District Superintendent Lonnie Barber and Business Manager Mike Chatterton told the board that building a new school exclusively for Dual Immersion students would alleviate crowding elsewhere. Barber and Chatterton noted that student capacity has been reached, or is close to being reached, not only at Wood River Middle School but also at Bellevue, Hailey, Hemingway and Woodside elementary schools.

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Barber said that without the addition of new classroom space, the district's only option is to increase the number of students per class.

The district recognized the possible future need for additional classroom space when it prepared the budget for a 10-year, $59.8 million plant facilities levy that was approved by Blaine County voters in 2009.

The levy budget allocated more than $15 million for more classrooms, with $13.8 million budgeted for a new elementary school and $1.5 million for building eight additional classrooms at Wood River Middle School.

Chatterton said at the April 5 meeting that current student enrollment is close to what was projected prior to the levy vote.

"If we're looking at numbers right now, we're pretty close to where we thought we'd be three years ago," he said.

However, Chatterton's statement seems inconsistent with information released by the district in September to the Idaho Mountain Express. According to the district then, enrollment was projected three years ago at 3,700 for the 2011-12 school year. Instead, after the first week of school last fall, enrollment was only 3,402.

New school

If a new school is built, the location remains undecided. Chatterton said the district owns property about a mile west of Hailey in Croy Canyon but that development there would be "very expensive" because the property does not have existing water or sewer lines.

Furthermore, Chatterton said it would take at least two years for planning and construction, and the earliest that a new school could be operational is by the 2015-16 school year.

District officials are hoping for a decision on a new school sometime this summer. Board Chair Steve Guthrie said the board would want to hear public comment prior to making a decision.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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