RUSSELL, Pa. – The Warren County School District Board of Directors narrowed its reconfiguration options list from 15 down to seven Monday night and removed what many thought was a foregone conclusion from its list.
The board began by removing what board member Joe Colosimo described as the “low-hanging fruit.” Knowing, for example, that the district could neither house all 9-12 students in one of its existing buildings nor afford to build a brand new school, the single high school option was removed.
“My thought is to eliminate low-hanging fruit to get them off the pages,” Colosimo said. “What I’m saying is trying to eliminate options that just make no sense.”
At the end of the discussion, the board had seven options it felt warranted further examination, including:
- moving Sheffield 9-12 students to Warren Area High School;
- splitting Youngsville’s 9-12 students between WAHS and Eisenhower;
- creating a K-12 school in Youngsville;
- having all 9-12 students attend either WAHS or Youngsville;
- creating autonomous school boards for each attendance area;
- redrawing the attendance lines;
- and making no changes to the current school configuration.
Stricken from the list was the option of having all 9-12 students in the district at WAHS and Eisenhower. The belief that this option was the board’s “preferred” path led, in large part, to the formation of the 2 Schools, 1 Fight group (which brought forward the option for autonomous boards for each attendance area).
The board removed this option because two of its criteria items, limiting bus times to an hour or less and maintaining current class size standards, would not work with this plan.
“If the students from that Youngsville attendance area go nine to 12 to another area, I would be very uneasy, painting with one brush that they all go to Eisenhower,” WCSD Superintendent Amy Stewart said. “That does not make sense within geography. Students in those southwestern townships, it’s going to make a lot more sense for those students to go to Warren. I would be hesitant to put anything on the list that shipped those kids all the way to Eisenhower when Warren is a much more direct route.”
Other options removed from the working list included:
- creating magnet schools;
- moving Youngsville 9-12 to Eisenhower;
- turning Warren Area Elementary Center into a K-3 school;
- unspecified middle school reconfiguration;
- and closing Central Office, selling Pleasant, Sugar Grove, and Anderson, moving Beaty students to WAHS, and closing the Virtual Academy.
“In regard to Joe’s low-hanging fruit, I have no interest in closing Central Office or the Virtual Academy,” board member Arthur Stewart said.
In addition to paring down its options, the board refined the criteria it plans to use to evaluate the remaining options.
“We want to make sure we have a solid list of criteria the board is happy with,” Amy Stewart said.
The board agreed on a list of nine criteria items that would be applied through the decision-making process. Those items are:
- the amount of time on a bus;
- class size/maintaining teaching staff;
- access to pupil services;
- students’ well-being;
- implementation cost;
- positively impact teachers/reduces teacher preps;
- the value of schools to the community;
- a learning environment that makes more courses and curriculum available and offers more course levels (college prep, honors, AP, etc.);
- and repurposing schools to bring in more community services.
The bulk of the criteria discussion focused primarily on making sure the board is presented with options that can reach the transportation/student time on buses and class size benchmarks it prefers.
“The target of one hour (one way on a bus) is something I would have advocated for,” Arthur Stewart said. “I would ask for that as a standalone item. Generally (for class size) on the high side we have a target of don’t exceed a certain amount. But we also have on the low side a policy of don’t offer courses if X number of students don’t sign up.”
Amy Stewart said the administration could work up models applying the same parameters the district currently uses for class sizes.
“In my perspective, I would not be working to reduce teaching staff as part of any sort of effort,” board member Donna Zariczny added. “We want to maintain the teaching staff so that we keep the (class) numbers in the system at a lower level.”
The board also took into account a pair of criteria items the public suggested, the well-being of students and the sense of community/belonging.
“I want a deliverable that helps me resolve my own natural tension that exists,” Arthur Stewart said. “Where we value a sense of belonging on one hand, but we also value exposure to things that create a rigorous opportunity in education.”
The board is scheduled to have a pair of Community Engagement Sessions on March 24. These sessions will engage elected officials and community leaders throughout the county to gain their input on the process. The board also has at least one question it will pose to elected officials from each municipality.
“The Warren County School District is not the economic development arm of the county,” Colosimo said. “The Commissioners are, the local elected officials are. And our responsibility is to educate K through 12 students that are in those communities. And so if we’re not having enough K through 12 students in those communities, I want to see what the short-term and long-term plans are for communities to get K through 12-age students there. So I want to hear and see the master plan that they have.”