“We thought we were at least a year out from anything like this,” says Superintendent Jeremy Siebert. “It’s not our preferred option, but right now, just from an economic standpoint, it was our best option.”
The board cited the national teacher shortage, a decrease in enrollment, and several recent faculty resignations all as contributing factors in this decision. The redistribution will ultimately allow the district to make better use of student spaces and teachers, while keeping all three current school buildings operational and not having to make any staff cuts.
“The board’s plan for right-sizing over time was originally to absorb positions as teachers move to other districts,” says Siebert. “With so many leaving at the end of this school year, a better plan was to find a way to share teachers among more grade levels.”
In the new plan, starting in Fall 2022, the crowded Warren E. Hearnes Elementary School will receive some much-needed elbow room for preschool through 3rd grade classes. This will also allow the kindergarten program to be moved into the main building, so that the district can evaluate the repurposing of the Pod A building.
The CMS building on Main Street, which currently houses grades 6-8, will now house 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. Plans to expand STEAM and science programs are underway, as are other course considerations that will be more suitable in this facility. Principal Adam Grindstaff will reside over grades PreK to 6th and both buildings as part of this plan.
Grades 7 and 8 will move into their new home, joining grades 9-12 at the Charleston High School building on Thorn Street. Strategies for inclusion of 7th and 8th grades into this space include significant building updates, an alternating bell schedule, and a higher number of course offerings and electives available to all students due to the increase of teachers under one roof. Administrators plan to organize core classes so that grades 7-8 will be in a separate hall from grades 9-12. In addition, the alternating bell schedules will allow one set of grade levels to leave their classes as the tardy bell rings for the group before. Principal Jamarcus Williams will reside over grades 7-12, all at the Charleston High School building.
The Charleston High School building was originally designed to hold 1000 students. In the Spring 2022 semester, there are 252 students enrolled at the high school and 106 in grades 7 and 8. The redistribution plan will combine these grades for approximately 358 students next year, which keeps the building well under the intended capacity.
“Students need to be surrounded by peers of similar ages,” said Grindstaff. “A lower and upper elementary setup allows for different levels of role-modeling and different levels of personalized instruction by teachers and staff.”
“As the High School Principal I am excited to bring the 7-8 graders on our campus,” says Williams. “By combining resources and teachers with the Middle School we will be able to offer more electives and upper level math classes for our Junior High students.”
Board President Evin Burke said the redistribution plan also has the potential to help with teacher retention. The board recently raised the teacher salary schedule by 5%, with plans to revisit it again soon following the restructure.
“For the past several years, we have been trying to compete with area districts to attract teachers,” said Burke. “We hope that this plan will allow us to continue raising the salary schedules and become more competitive with other schools, in appreciation for the hard work our employees put in.”
“Several years ago, the board proposed a plan that required a bond issue and major construction,” says Burke. “The big difference with this new plan is that there will be no increase to the tax levy, no major construction, and we won’t be moving 6th grade into a space with high school students.”
“If our enrollment increases, we will obviously revisit the strategy and make a determination at that point as to whether the grades need to be adjusted back,” said Siebert. “This makes the best sense for the cards dealt to us at this time.”
Board Secretary Summer Babb says there are still job openings available for the 2022-2023 school year, and that anyone interested is welcome to submit an application at charlestonbluejays.org/apply/.