School board members Cody Brown, Donna Zariczny, and Arthur Stewart. File photo by Brian Hagberg.

Board Member Stewart Pushes for More Data Before Choosing Reconfiguration Options

February 27, 2023

RUSSELL, Pa. – Saying that he thought presenting options for school reconfiguration was “premature” at this stage, Warren County School District board member Arthur Stewart asked that more data be presented to the public.

Stewart’s comments during Monday’s Physical Plants & Facilities Committee meeting came in response to a questionnaire from the district’s consultant for the Master Facilities Plan process, Strategy Solutions. Three of the six questions presented to board members asked what changes each board member would propose to building configuration, what options for reconfiguration should be considered, and the pros and cons of those options.

“In response to the six questions, I didn’t put any options back Strategy Solutions, because I thought it was premature,” Stewart said. “I propose that we dig into the data, that we share that data with each of the community, administration, and the board. Take feedback from the community, staff, and administration, and then we discuss proposals for building configuration after that.”

The results of that questionnaire can be found here.

Since the board decided during its January work session that it wanted to have public input, Stewart said one of the board’s goals during this process should be to have a “meaningful dialogue” with the public. That can’t happen, he added, if the public doesn’t have all the data.

“We made a conscious decision to involve the public and I want to talk about whether we’re involving the public in as meaningful a way as we can,” Stewart said. “This has focused quickly on options and not looking enough at needs. You don’t fix a problem until you know what the problem is.”

Stewart pointed to things such as the difference in course offerings at each building (e.g. the number of AP courses offered at Warren vs. Sheffield), the number of teacher preps, and transportation time and distance as just a few of the data points that he felt should be made available to the public prior to the first public engagement session on March 8.

“I’m very much interested in that discussion. So I was dismayed when I got the questionnaire a few days ago, and I saw that (we’re) rushing through the discussion of options before we had that discussion,” Stewart said. “I just wasn’t comfortable with putting options down here until I got more feedback from the community. There’s a way by putting out information before we get to options, that will allow a more meaningful dialogue.”

WCSD Superintendent Amy Stewart said she would look into the possibility of offering a “learning session” to help the public better understand what some of the data points are and how they can be used to make a decision.

Prior to Arthur Stewart’s comments, Strategy Solutions’ Jacqui Catrabone presented the results of the questionnaire sent both to the board, as well as district administration, and all the district’s principals.

“This is what we heard, this is not an interpretation of what we heard,” Catrabone said. “We started this internally, the next part of the process is to talk to a broader teacher pool.”

The first question asked for a rating, on a scale of Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, or Poor, of the current building configuration within the district. Based on the responses, the school board rated the current configuration as Good (44.5%) to Fair (33.3%) while staff rated it as Fair (31.6%) to Poor (26.3%).

The questionnaire also asked about the academic impacts, positive and negative, of the current configuration, as well as the three questions regarding potential reconfiguration. The final question asked what advice respondents would give Strategy Solutions.

The board responses yielded five options to consider going forward, while staff responses had 10 options. The board options were: shift all 9-12 students to two schools, Eisenhower and Warren; shift 9-12 students at Sheffield to Warren; create magnet schools (e.g. students looking for STEM would go to Sheffield, while students focused on art would go to Eisenhower); utilize the space created from reconfiguration for community centers or the Career Center; and (options) should be data-driven to meet academic needs.

The first three board options also appeared on the staff list. Additionally, staff suggested: splitting Youngsville 9-12 students between Eisenhower and Warren; making Youngsville a K-12 school; having all 9-12 students attend either Warren or Youngsville; realignment to a larger school (not specified); turning Warren Area Elementary Center into a K-3 school; middle school reconfiguration; and condensing to a single high school.

Catrabone said the public engagement sessions should “allow the opportunity to discuss key things to consider and possible concerns.”

“We want to use the session on the 8th to hear from the community what is important criteria for the board to evaluate,” Catrabone said. “I think at that point, we can also explore potential other options, and just pass on to our growing list of options for consideration.”

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