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Brandon, Evansville schools consider academic pairing

Nearly 100 people were in attendance at a meeting at the Brandon School on Wednesday, February 8 to gain insight into the proposed additional academic pairing between the Brandon and Evansville schools.

A second meeting was held last night, Tuesday, February 14 at the Evansville School.

The two school boards are examining ways to improve academic pairing for the 2012-2013 school year. They are planning a tentative schedule for grades 9-12, based on required coursework and a demand sheet for elective credits.

According to Mark Westby, who serves as superintendent at both schools, the main goals of increased academic pairing are to increase elective opportunities, provide increased student access to staff and reduce movement of students and staff between the two school buildings.

Possible building configurations include:

• Building 1 would house elementary and middle school grades.

• Building 2 would house elementary school and high school.

No decisions have been made yet on which buildings would house which grades. School leaders need to first examine the needs of each of the facilities.

At the Brandon meeting, four students were on hand to share their views.

Evansville juniors Billie Juul and Anna Lundeen and Brandon sophomores Megan Kokett and Kinsley Randt shared what they felt would be benefits of the proposed academic sharing:

• more students in a class, providing more discussion opportunities;

• additional class offerings;

• one-to-one contact with teachers instead of only seeing teachers through an ITV system;

• less disruption from ITV equipment problems; and

• more practice time for band and choir.

Westby stressed to those in attendance at last Wednesday's meeting that the schools will not be combining into one district, but will remain two separate districts.

He also clarified that there are no plans to combine grade levels at the two schools into one class for the purposes of class rank or graduation. Each school will continue to have its own graduating class each year.

One person in attendance asked why the school boards aren't considering consolidation.

"What's the purpose of doing all this and not consolidating?" he asked. "We're doing everything together anyway - we're together for sports, the kids are together for other things, so why don't we just have one school?"

"We're not talking about that at this point," Westby answered. "We've been down that road. Right now we're just trying to enhance what we're already doing. We're simply looking at doing some additional academic pairing."

Another person asked about housing junior high at one school and senior high at another, to which Westby replied, "Then the question is which one goes where? One way or another, one [district] is going to feel like they got the short end of the stick.

"We can't walk away from this with one [district] feeling like they've lost and one like they've gained because then we've both lost. We need each other."

Westby added that the additional academic pairing being considered seems like the best fit for both schools at this time.

Another question asked at the meeting was how much money this type of pairing would save the schools.

Westby answered that it may save some, but the goal of the proposal isn't to save money, but rather to improve course offerings, bring the kids together into a classroom with the teacher and not rely on the ITV system, and to reduce the movement between the buildings.

Another person asked about the effect the proposal would have on staff.

Westby stressed that the school boards are not looking at any staff reductions and that they are not anticipating much turnover from the change.

One parent shared concerns about transporting children to and from school if they were going to school in the neighboring community, and about how the proposed structure would affect bus schedules.

Westby said that those are details that would have to be addressed and worked out.

The issue will be further discussed at the Evansville School Board meetings on Monday, March 12 and Monday, April 9, and at the Brandon School Board meetings on Monday, March 19 and Monday, April 16.

The school boards hope to approve the proposed changes by April 17.

Follow #AlexMN @EchoPress Life Editor Tara Bitzan on Twitter at @TBitzan.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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