EL Board Votes to Start Classes before Labor Day

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018, 8:07 am
Karessa Wheeler

The East Lansing Board of Education last night unanimously approved setting the first day of school this fall as August 28. They will join the other school districts within the Ingham County Intermediate School District to take advantage of a waiver Ingham ISD received last year to start earlier than the state-mandated start date of after Labor Day.

Board members cited the fact that all other regional districts had moved up their schedule and that the ISD’s Career Center also now starts before Labor Day. This created a problem for East Lansing High School students who were also enrolled in classes at the Career Center last fall. “When I found out our students were missing a full week of instruction (at the Career Center) because we were not in session, it made sense that we would align our schedule with the Career Center,” said Board President Kate Powers.

Trustee Terah Chambers also approved the measure although she stated “it is my personal preference to start after Labor Day, but I think there is a real value to align across the ISD…I believe this represents the best move for us.”

Trustee Nichole Martin encouraged the administration to contact as many families as possible to help with their summer scheduling, noting that the school day on Aug. 28 would be a full day for middle and high schools but still only a half day for elementary schools.

The Board also unanimously approved opening up 82 slots for Schools of Choice students for the 2018-19 school year. This is the fewest number of slots offered in recent years. Last year, 84 slots were offered with 144 in 2016 and 220 in 2015.

The 82 slots will be spread across the schools with 24 in kindergarten, eleven in first grade, four in second grade, nineteen in third grade, six in fourth grade, seven in fifth grade, one each in sixth and seventh grades, three in eighth grade and six in ninth grade.

“This is a significant reduction in the number of slots we are offering but as we are going into our school rebuilding, I believe that is prudent,” Chambers said. “We are still not up to cap in each classroom so we still have room for move-ins and unforeseen events.”

Superintendent Dori Leyko told the Board that incoming kindergarten numbers from residential students are down, allowing them to plan for only two sections of kindergarten per elementary school for a total of ten sections all together. Currently there are eleven sections of kindergarten.

Leyko also said ideally the District likes to accept new students either in kindergarten or ninth grades. This year, they are also offering single slots in some grades in order to encourage families to enroll their students in the proper grade. Leyko said the desire to get into East Lansing schools is strong enough that parents have been enrolling kids in grades other than the one naturally occurring after their previous grade.

“Personally I think this says something great about our District, that so many people want to enroll,” said Trustee Karen Hoene.

The Board finished the night with a lengthy discussion on the future of Red Cedar Elementary School. The school has been closed for four years but is currently undergoing renovations to house the students and staff of Glencairn Elementary next school year while Glencairn is demolished and rebuilt. It will then house the Pinecrest population in 2019-2020 and Marble in 2020-2021. But after that, it is expected to house at least seven sections of students.

Trustee Nell Kuhnmuench opened the conversation urging the Board to start considering both what type of programming they would like to see at Red Cedar and what priorities they want to set for deciding the new elementary school boundaries.

“We are going to have to wrestle with these things,” Kuhnmuench said. “This is an opportunity to do something really special.”

She mentioned talking about installing an alternative type of programming such as a Reggio or Montessori curriculum.

Hoene said she believes it is the role of the Board to set the boundaries of the elementary schools and that this is a chance to “right size” all the schools to an even 280 students. However, she believes programming is an administrative decision with input from the Board.

“My opinion would be to share our thoughts with what we have been thinking about and have the administration come back to us with some recommendations,” Hoene said. “Rather than try to form another committee, we could have a community forum within the next 2-4 weeks to give input before the administration starts to discuss programming.”

Other Board members felt it was too early to start getting community input and felt the Board needed to set priorities for programming and boundaries first. But they all agreed that they needed to “start the conversation sooner rather than later,” Chambers said.

“These decisions are not going to be easy. I can make hard decisions but I need to be able to justify those decisions,” Chambers said. “The least we can offer is a thoughtful plan on why we are doing what we are doing.”

Powers suggested the Board members each create a list of priorities for boundaries such as making all schools equitable, keeping neighborhoods intact and avoiding moving students too many times. The Trustees should also investigate what programming options they would like to see at Red Cedar. The discussion will continue at the May 7 Board meeting.


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