Specifics next stage in junior-high plan

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Public meetings on the proposed redesign of Clovis junior high schools wrapped up Thursday, with an intimate gathering of about 20 people in the Gattis Junior High School library.

Meetings were held at Marshall Junior High School and Yucca Junior High School earlier this month.

The force behind the drive to redesign junior high schools in the district, Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm, said those who attended the meetings walked away more informed.

The redesign would transform one junior high school into a ninth-grade academy while the district’s two other junior high schools would house area seventh- and eighth-graders. Eventually, Seidenwurm would like to establish a vocational-technical high school in partnership with Clovis Community College, in which high school students could learn trades such as nursing and automotive technology.

Should the vo-tech school be established, additional room would be freed up at Clovis High School and ninth-graders could move to the high school campus, where they would be instructed in an area isolated from older students. That would create room to transform Gattis, Marshall and Yucca into middle schools, where sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders could be instructed.

With sixth-graders in middle schools, more room would be available at elementary schools for the influx of students expected to eventually arrive with the new mission at Cannon Air Force Base.

“I am excited (about the proposal) because teachers are excited,” Seidenwurm said Thursday.

Teachers overwhelmingly supported the redesign in two surveys, Seidenwurm said.

The redesign proposal was scrutinized by parents at all three public meetings, where concerns centered on logistics of the plan and its effect on sports and extra-curricular activities.

Administrators, however, will not reveal details of the redesign plan — such as which school they suggest transform into the ninth-grade academy, projected costs of the project, and its impact on districting — until a Jan. 9 school board meeting.
Detailed maps of how the district would look should a ninth-grade academy be put at Gattis, Marshall or Yucca will be revealed, according to administrators.

School board members hold the fate of the proposal in their hands and should vote on the redesign in January or February, Seidenwurm said.

School board Vice President Max Best said he has many questions about the redesign, which he will voice at the Jan. 9 meeting.

“There are a lot of details that need to worked out,” he said.

“The plan has its merits. It will enhance academics. There is no doubt about that,” he said.

Below are common questions parents expressed in this week’s meetings:

Q: When would this redesign happen?
A: Next year.

Q: How would academics be affected?
A: Ninth-graders are most at-risk for dropping out in New Mexico.
According to school officials, the academic environment for ninth-graders could drastically improve with the redesign. That’s the reason school officials are pushing for the plan, according to Seidenwurm.

More focus on obtaining important high school credits could be given to ninth-graders, who are already part of the high school, although they are not housed there.

Teams of teachers would be established so that the same group of students would be instructed by the same group of core teachers in math, science and reading. Research shows this gives teachers and students a sense of familiarity that improves academics, Seidenwurm said.

Q: How would sports be affected?
A: Two equally skilled sports teams would be established at the ninth-grade academy and two equally skilled sports teams would be established at the two junior highs through a draft. The teams would have approximately 40 members each and would play neighboring schools, rather than each other.

Q: How would other extra-curricular activities, such as band, be affected?
A: Details about how band and choir would be affected, for instance, haven’t been entirely worked out, Seidenwurm said.
One idea is to send ninth-graders to practice with the high school band and choir and have seventh- and eighth-graders practice together.

Q: How would the redesign be paid for?
A: Bond money or state money could be used.
Certain changes would have to be undertaken to establish the ninth-grade academy. For instance, decals on school property and paint colors might need to be changed at the academy. But painting and other maintenance expenses are annual expenses already figured into the school budget, Seidenwurm said.

Q: Would transportation costs go up?
A: Transportation costs would not rise significantly, mainly because the farthest campuses in the Clovis school district are only 2.5 miles apart. Furthermore, the state pays for transportation costs, not the district, Seidenwurm said.

Q: What if one middle school became more prestigious than the other, for instance, because of its location?
A: School officials are cognizant such a situation could occur and would work to ensure the schools were balanced, Seidenwurm said.

Q: How would school officials staff the ninth-grade center and the two middle schools?
A: Seidenwurm said the preferences and credentials of staff members would be two primary factors in the makeup of staff. Teachers have already indicated which schools they would prefer to work in, she said.

Q: Would students enrolled in a vocational-technical high school be subject to the same testing standards as students in the traditional high school?
A: Yes.

Q: Some Clovis neighborhoods are more dangerous than others. Can school officials guarantee student safety wouldn’t drop at one campus?
A: Gang members attend all junior high school campuses, Seidenwurm said. Measures are taken daily to protect students, but unforeseen situations can occur anywhere, at anytime, Seidenwurm said.

Q: Why not take a few more years to research the re-design and prepare for the transition slowly?
A: Teachers support the redesign so overwhelmingly and administrators believe it could improve academics so greatly, school officials don’t want to wait. Many of aspects needed for the transition, such as professional development groups, are already in place and ninth-grade academy teachers could receive more training over the summer.

Q: What if a student enrolled in the vocational-technical school suddenly decided he or she wanted to attend college?
A: Core subjects such as math and English would still be a part of the technical-vocational curricula. But they would taught differently, Seidenwurm said. For instance, a student in the vo-tech school might study technical writing rather than Chaucer, Seidenwurm said. An aim of both schools would be to prepare students for the rigors of college study, Seidenwurm said.

Next up
Administration will reveal details of the redesign plan such as which school they suggest transform into the ninth-grade academy, projected costs and its impact on districting at the Clovis school board’s Jan. 9 meeting.