South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Lindbergh eyes task force to address Sperreng space concerns

District considers adding second middle school at Truman

Lindbergh School District administrators are recommending the Board of Education establish a districtwide oversight and planning task force to recommend an appropriate response to space concerns at Sperreng Middle School.

During a special meeting Saturday morning, board members and administrators discussed potential options to address the space concerns at Sperreng Middle School, which has an enrollment of 1,323 pupils. The administration’s recommendation to create the task force was scheduled to be considered by the Board of Education Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

Possible options to address the space issues at Sperreng discussed Saturday morning included construction of an addition to the middle school or the reconfiguration of the district’s existing facilities to house two middle schools.

As discussed, Sperreng and Truman Elementary School would be middle schools serving pupils in grades five through eight with early childhood education, or ECE, at both sites. The district’s existing elementary schools would serve pupils in kindergarten through fourth grade and Concord, the current site of the ECE program, would be renovated into a fifth elementary school.

The options were prepared by an administrative review team that was charged by the board with reviewing enrollment data and demographic capacity, preparing options and then listing pros and cons for each option. The administrative review team was comprised of Nancy Rathjen, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction; Rick Francis, assistant superintendent for personnel; Karl Guyer, executive director of planning and development; Steve Suess, Kennerly Elementary principal; Charlene Ziegler; director of early childhood education; and Board of Education members Vic Lenz and Bob Foerstel.

Demographic information presented to the board showed a steady increase in enrollment is projected at Sperreng through the 2011-2012 school year.

“… It looks like a steady increase going all the way up to 1,370. So again, we are out of space right now,” Rathjen said Saturday, noting the administrative review team considered two options — an addition to Sperreng and using current facilities by reorganizing grade levels.

“… With an addition to Sperreng, the pro would be that you’re not redistricting, which is always a huge issue,” she said. “There would be no change to the organization or the structure of the school district. The con is, of course, is that we already have 1,300 in our middle school and that’s right at the outer edges of what’s considered to be middle-school size.”

Research by Jerry Valentine, a professor in the Department of Educational Leader-ship and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri-Columbia and one of the premier middle-school experts, indicates the optimum middle-school size ranges from 800 to 1,200 with an enrollment closer to 800 considered the ideal.

Rathjen later said, “… The second area that we looked at is what would happen if we had two middle schools? In other words, change the grade composition to a 5-8 situation and this would work out with Truman being one and Sperreng being one. We would move ECE into both of the middle schools, and the elementary schools then would be K-4 (kindergarten through fourth grade) with Concord being renovated to be another elementary school. So then you would change your largest elementary school into a smaller elementary school.

“You would have Truman turned back into a middle school. It was designed as a junior high …”

A “cursory” look at student capacity indicated 113 classrooms would be available in five buildings for K-4 pupils while only 92 would be needed. For 5-8 pupils, two middle schools would provide 126 classrooms while only 96 would be needed.

Rathjen said, “… If you look at pros and cons of reorganizing the grade level. It should stand out immediately that the pro is, is that you have a very nice-sized middle school at both of the different buildings at Sperreng and at Truman. You have very nice-sized elementaries … Instead of having one very large elementary, you would have five that were about the same.

“When you look at fifth-graders and, of course, this is going to be an issue probably with parents — again Jerry Valentine’s research shows that fifth-graders really are in the arena of being considered early adolescents and it’s really a closer fit to have fifth, sixth, seven and eighth together than it is to have K-5.

“Now there would be a great deal of education with it — a great deal of conversation with parents to talk about that and to talk about how you would set it up in the building … So that’s the first con, was the fifth-graders with eighth-graders …”

Board Treasurer Katie Wesselschmidt asked, “And why was it chosen that ECE would only go to Sperreng and Truman, not to all elementaries?”

Rathjen replied, “Well, there is a possibility and we think this is a good one of having one pre-K room at each of the elementaries … We’d still need some centers at Sperreng and Truman to have the 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, the PAT (Parents As Teachers) program, but it would be a wonderful possibility to have that one pre-K room there and the principals really have been asking for that for years. It’s a wonderful transition.

“Then you’ve got another con is the renovation of Concord and you would have your preschool children attending middle school, which, in some cases might be considered a plus. Most of the research on this shows that middle-school children like having the children, the little children, on their site,” she added.

“A pro or a con, you can look at it two ways, is that there would be two ECE sites because you would have one at Sperreng and one at Truman. It’s a pro because it’s nice for the district. You have one site a little closer to the area around Truman; one site closer to the area around Sperreng. When you’re trying to get your kids there at 6 o’clock in the morning, you want a site as close to your house as possible. So that is definitely a pro.

“A con is, is that you have your locations split up into two sites. So that’s a little harder for the directors and the collegiality of the group. So it could be looked at both ways.”

Another consideration by the team was adequacy and equity, Rathjen said.

“… We looked at all of these sites — and again, this is just a beginning look — in terms of adequacy and equity. If you have two middle-school sites, the two middle-school sites need to be adequate and they need to be equal in terms of the facilities that you’re offering to both sites. The same with the five elementaries — what you have at one elementary needs to be available at the fifth elementary …”

Guyer gave a rough estimate of $5.5 million for the cost of renovating Concord plus work at Truman and Sperreng that he said would be needed.

Board members took no action Saturday, but debated at length what the charge of a districtwide task force would be, particularly the task force’s starting point — building upon the work already done or starting from scratch to consider options not presented by the administrative review team.

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