Parents get first chance to meet educators at reorganized elementary schools in Tupelo

Tupelo will get a preview of the 2009-2010 school year this week.
Meetings on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday will bring together principals, teachers, parents and students at the schools they will be assigned to next year as part of a reorganization of elementary schools.
“The transition will be as smooth as we can make it,” said Principal Brenda Robinson, who will be moving from Thomas Street Elementary to Carver Elementary.
Starting in August, the district will have five lower elementaries for kindergarten through second grade, four upper elementaries for third through fifth grade and a single sixth- grade school.
“This change will be good for Tupelo Public School District students,” Superintendent Randy McCoy said. “It allows us to concentrate our resources.”
In the current configuration, Tupelo has seven lower elementaries for kindergarten through third grade and three upper elementaries for fourth through sixth grade.
By making the changes, the district is aiming for more stable, consistent ethnic and socio-economic demographics at the elementary schools. Children living in the same zone will attend the same lower and upper elementary schools, keeping students together with their peers as they change schools.
With the reorganization and $5.9 million construction project that will add 42 new classrooms, the district is also planning to expand a 15-1 student-teacher ratio into the second- and third-grade classrooms.
Carver will have the biggest change – a whole new staff – as it switches from being a fourth- to sixth-grade school to kindergarten through second.
Pierce Street, Lawhon and Rankin schools will keep third grade and gain fourth and fifth as they become upper elementaries. Milam will become the sole sixth-grade school.
Church Street, Parkway, Joyner and Thomas Street will keep kindergarten- through second-grade students and lose third grade. Lawndale will gain third grade and lose sixth grade.
To staff the new configuration, the district is shuffling grade levels, principals and teachers to different campuses.
Principals who are making the shifts, like Kim Britton who will move from Carver to Pierce Street, say the important thing is keeping the focus on the students.
“The school is all about the children,” said Britton, who will be talking Tuesday about hands-on learning and keeping students engaged at her Meet the Principal night on Tuesday. “If we have desks in the classroom and children in the classroom, we will get down to business.”

Years in the making
When all the desks, books and computers are in their final places on Aug. 14, it will be nearly two years since the Board of Trustees approved the reorganization plan in October 2007.
Eighteen months of planning and construction will come down to eight tightly scheduled weeks of moving and final preparations this summer, but work on the reorganization goes back years.
Keeping demographic balanceamong the elementary schools so they all remain similar in terms of race and economics has been an ongoing effort.
“That’s been the charge from the community,” McCoy said.
It’s about keeping the culture consistent from school to school.
“You want students to have the same education no matter what neighborhood you live in, no matter what school you attend,” said Trentice Imbler, who co-chaired a facilities utilization subcommittee that helped set the attendance zones.
Under the current model with seven lower elementary schools and three upper elementary schools, demographics were constantly shifting.
“What we found every year is that one or more schools would be outside the parameters we set as goals,” McCoy said. And it wasn’t necessarily the same schools having problems every year.
The process started with a large group drawn from the Parent Forum and representatives from each school. A smaller committee of that forum group – Imbler, John Bryson, Lawrence Deas, Linda Blocker and Charles Penson – worked with professional statistician Jeff Tsai of the North Carolina State University operations research/education lab to best redraw the district’s lines into four large attendance zones.
The committee selected Tsai because he had worked with other school districts similar to Tupelo and their plans had held up well.
“We want it to be many years as long as the populations stay the same,” Imbler said.
Based on directions from the larger committee, Tsai used computer models to divide the city into 117 planning units – which included neighborhoods or groups of neighborhoods. The plan was challenging because the schools are located so closely together.
“We ourselves did not move the lines,” Imbler said. “He gave us different school pairings” based on the computer models.
In October 2007, Tsai told the board that while the demographics on a street can shift from year to year, the populations in the planning zone generally remain stable.
Even with the economic upheaval, the statistical model that the reorganization used still holds, McCoy said.
“All the schools will still be in the parameters set,” he said.
Simply moving to four large attendance zones should ensure some stability. The more stable planning units further stabilize the plan.
“We certainly believe the statistical model will hold longer than it did for seven schools,” McCoy said. “But I can’t say how long.”

Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

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