By LINDA LOBECK
IRON MOUNTAIN - The Iron Mountain School Board, after listening to parents and staff of middle school students, revisited an earlier concept of moving the students in grades 7-8 into a separate floor of the high school.
The end result Monday night was to unanimously approve moving the students into the high school this year. In the second phase of the bond projects, this floor as well as other floors in the high schools will be renovated.
The idea had first been proposed by the administration and agreed to by the board prior to the first bond proposal vote. The feedback from voters showed that some were opposed to this move. The board listened and decided to move in another direction for the middle school students by putting them in the newer section of Central School - classrooms above the gym/cafeteria area for the upcoming school year.
Other changes involved moving grades 4-6 to East Elementary School, the Community Schools programs including adult and alternative education to the other part of Central School and having students from early kindergarten through third grade at North Elementary School.
This was all included in the plans before going to the voters a second time and the bond proposal passed.
After the last school board meeting when parents expressed concerns about class sizes in the elementary school and the movement of middle schools between buildings during the school day, the administration and some board members met further with staff and parents to discuss these issues.
Katie Maxon, of 1300 E. Grand Blvd. Circle in Iron Mountain, thanked the board and administration for listening to their concerns noting that she appreciated their prompt action to some of the issues that were brought up.
"Tom's open door policy has been good and we want to continue to meet with him. There's been a shift in thinking and some concerns addressed. But telling us to go talk to the state and our representatives is not the answer. Thirty-four kids in a class is unacceptable for a class size. I challenge you to think outside the box on this and bring someone back even if it's only for a few hours a day. You may have to function in the red with your budget to address this issue without teachers having to compromise the students," Maxon said.
Stephanie Brule, of 1303 Evergreen Drive in Iron Mountain, expressed her appreciation for Supt. Tom Jayne and the board for meeting with parents and going ahead to address moving the seventh and eighth graders to the high school.
"Most people didn't understand the number of times - 10-12 times a day - that the students went back and forth from one building to the next. We can't change the number of teachers that are shared between middle school and high school, but this is a better solution for a less than ideal situation. Circumstances have changed since the bond was passed. It's not a good mix with students in adult and alternative education and middle school students in the same building. It's the best thing to do now - move them as well as save money," Brule said.
Chris Solda, of 411 Walnut St. in Norway, indicated her concern for larger class sizes for children with special needs, like a child with autism. She asked the board to look into more Title I help and anything else they can do regarding the special education numbers and how they can support them. She said that they should consider getting some teachers back into these larger classrooms.
Arttie Cudnohufsky of Breitung Township questioned why the middle school students were moving to and from the high school and why the teachers weren't going back and forth. "With 150-plus students - it's safer to transport a handful of teachers back and forth instead of the students. This school within a school idea sounded good last week, but what if it doesn't work, who will be accountable for this? Have you taken into account how the high school students will feel with the middle school students here and the bullying and drug situation that could happen with upper classmen. You know how they treat freshmen let alone middle school age. All it takes is one person to bully or offer drugs to a middle schooler - the risk is too much. I don't believe that the middle school with alternative education students in the same building is a good idea, but I also don't think having them in the high school is a good idea."
Sarah Heathman, of 830 East F St. in Iron Mountain, noted that she was feeling a little more pessimistic about the current situation than Maxon. "I have felt very disrespected as a parent by the board and administration because they didn't listen to us for so long. Hopefully with the new meetings we can work on that and get the information to us that we want. There are rumors out there and we need information so things make sense. I really hope to see changes. We have lost some good families and I hope we don't lose more."
Supt. Tom Jayne said that the rumor that only teachers having a pay cut was incorrect and it was across the board for all employees including administration. He added that he sent out an e-mail to parents on July 12 with a list of eight upcoming meetings for parents, administration, teacher and s board members to attend to continue their communication on issues of concern.
Lisa Carollo, of West B Street in Iron Mountain, said that she initially liked the Central School for the middle school students. "But the money and time saved going back and forth for the students has me all for moving them to the high school building. I hope you do it."
In addition to public comment, the board members also weighed in on the moving of the middle school students this year to the high school.
Board President Marv Harry said that his first inclination was that he didn't feel it would be possible because of the bond. "But then I heard discussions with a probation officer, law enforcement and parents urging us to make the move for the kids. Cece Smith's letter in the paper tonight outlined it well. Following last meeting's closed session, I brought it up after we had heard what the parents had to say urging us to reconsider the move and I felt we needed to look at it again."
Harry also attended a couple more meetings with parents and staff coming to the conclusion that the move "would be in the best interest for the kids."
Board member Ed Mattson said he was already an advocate of this move during the first bond proposal vote. And when it didn't pass, it was decided that the move of the seventh and eighth graders this year was one reason for it failing.
"We're heard about this idea again when it was brought to the board by a lot of parents who want to see it happen this year. There's nothing wrong with changing your mind. With the move there would be safety as well as more teaching time - that's the best thing. Eighty percent of the all districts in the U.P. have the same setup - grades 7-12 in the same building," Mattson said.
Rob Lansford wanted to clear up some misconceptions noting that during the past three years, the board has discussed the fund balance declining. "I have an issue with people saying we weren't reacting to the situation. Our first plan was to close the door at Central school and that got turned down. The board was thinking proactively and got stopped and had to change plans again."
"I'm getting a little upset when people say we aren't doing our jobs and planning. We've gone back the drawing board several times and now are back to remodeling one floor of the high school for the middle school. I sit here meeting after meeting and you can't say I don't care. The board is very concerned about teachers and kids - they are our first concern. We aren't hiding anything and it bothers me when we've worked so hard to make things right to hear this. We care about those kids - that's why we are on the board and would never put anyone in jeopardy," Langsford said.
Board member Mark Pontti expressed his concern about comments made about the kids in alternative education. He noted his father was a community schools director and he grew up around alternative ed kids. "Everyone has a story and some of those kids my Dad worked with are the most prominent business people. We are here to educate all kids - from top to bottom."
According to Jayne, the movement of middle school kids back and forth between buildings has had a long history at Iron Mountain School starting 40 years ago when they went over to the high school to take Algebra I in the eighth grade. "The staff got smaller and that forced more sharing of teachers between the high school and middle school."
On the issue of bullying, Jayne said that he and Principal MaryAnn Boddy can't think of one issue with a middle school and high school student - it's been more high school to high school student issues.
"I'm not saying it couldn't happen, but we've been proactive on the issue of bullying with the student council getting involved now to moving this forward to mentor and partner kids. We were also the only school district in the state to do the Reality Tours about drugs for the middle school age students. We also were instrumental in getting legislators to take the problem of synthetic marijuana seriously - that effort came from our school. We also have a liaison officer - Dave Irwin - who is here every day and knows the kids. "
About the movement of the middle school students, Jayne said that the teachers came to the board and asked them to go back and look at making this change because of the time they are losing in academics each day with the movement between buildings. "Our teaching staff is wonderful and we want to support the teachers. With this move we will reduce the weekly loss of 60 academic hours down to six," Jayne said.
Harry said that when he was the principal at Central School back in the 1990s, the biggest problem with having the teachers move back and forth between buildings was that if they were delayed at all you have a number of kids in a room unsupervised. There is also a problem with having substitute teachers work in between two buildings and having to figure out where they are going. The same situation occurred with kids being unsupervised until the sub got to the classroom.
"What I learned was that middle schoolers are impulsive and reactive and it's a strong move to have them in the high school where a counselor is on site when you need them. Having a counselor one floor up in the high school is another positive with the move to this building," Harry added.
Board member Steve Brooks noted that the history of what's been done is important. The first time around with the bond they looked ahead trying to be proactive by putting the seventh and eighth graders in the high school building.
"But the parents involved in the bond issue were not in favor of moving the students to the high school. Losing by a close vote, we changed our mind and responded to what the public was saying. Why we are here right now talking about this is that we have heard you don't like what's happened. Both parents and teachers have come back to us to tell us they think this is the right thing to do - they want the move made this year," Brooks said. "We do respond to what the public is saying and want to do the right thing - we are listening."
Board member Jeff Michaud said he was having some of the same feelings that Langsford had concerning this situation. "We want to make this the best school district and focus on the kids - that's why we are here. We are all after the same goal and going forward, I encourage you to come to meetings. Together we can figure out the best thing for the students. But we need to hear from people and encourage people to come here."
Linda Lobeck's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.