In what Southwest Licking school board President Don Huber said could be a "risky" move, the board voted 5-0 on May 15 to instruct Superintendent Robert Jennell and Treasurer Richard Jones to create a plan for "banded" classes at the elementary schools and to offer free all-day, everyday kindergarten by the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.
By May 16, Jennell had announced a plan was in place.
"The foundation of an individual's educational path starts in kindergarten," Jennell wrote in a May 16 letter to parents. "I have continued to express my desire to offer an all-day kindergarten program since I was hired in the district two years ago. Grade banding affords the district the opportunity to put an all-day kindergarten program in place for the 2014-15 school year. Additionally, reorganizing buildings into grade bands will maximize resources, create additional opportunities for grade-level collaboration and increase consistency in delivery of instruction."
Grade banding refers to keeping children together from one grade to the next, with most buildings serving no more than two grade levels.
Jennell said next year, the district's three elementary buildings would have the following configuration:
* Kirkersville Elementary School would be used for all kindergarten and first-grade classes and offer all-day kindergarten to all students.
* Pataskala Elementary School would become the second- and third-grade building.
* Etna Elementary School would house all fourth- and fifth-grade students.
"Although the process of change can be scary for all those involved, we will work together to help make this exciting transitional time for Southwest Licking schools a positive experience for staff, community, current and future students," said Jennell, adding that information regarding building start and end times, transportation, open houses for parents, classroom teachers and additional details would be shared as decisions are made.
"We're not going to go forward if we don't take risks," Huber said May 15.
Huber said the Southwest Licking curriculum is good, but "good enough is not good enough."
Huber then addressed Jennell directly.
"The proper thing might be to give you your marching orders on the subject," he said.
The board created a resolution on the spot instructing Jennell and Jones to begin working on a plan immediately to implement grade banding and all-day kindergarten.
"Quicker is better," Jennell said. "There's a lot of work to be done."
"I want the planning to start immediately," Huber said, so the changes would be ready for the new school year.
Board Vice President Debra Moore said parents would need to be educated about the process and what advantages the changes would provide for children.
Jennell said open houses for parents would be scheduled.
Board member Daniel Bell said offering all-day kindergarten might entice some parents to enroll their children in Southwest Licking schools instead of private academies.