Talawanda school shuffle plan concerns parents


Provided photo

Alison and Joe Kleibscheidel with children Grace, Joey, Rocky, Shep and Mary. The family’s children might be in separate school building if a proposed plan goes forward.

By Corbett Haase

Talawanda parents say they are confused and conflicted about the superintendent’s proposal to redistribute the elementary grade levels among the three existing elementary schools in the district.

“This plan is very jarring,” said Lexi Marsh, a Miami University professor and parent of a Talawanda kindergarten student. “A lot of the identity in Oxford is based around the elementary school that you go to.”

If the Board of Education approves this plan, Bogan Elementary will host grades kindergarten through first grade, Marshall Elementary will have second and third graders and Kramer Elementary will be dedicated to preschool and grades fourth and fifth. 

The proposal will ensure all students are receiving the same curriculum and materials. In addition to this, it will allow for a reduction in the number of classrooms at each grade level, according to a note posted by superintendent Dr. Theroux to the district website on Feb. 9.

“As of right now, just an overview has been given to the staff and community,” said Holli Hansel, the district’s director of communication. She said that “the entire plan will be provided and questions answered” at the next school board meeting Feb. 23.

Other aspects of the proposal, which is intended to cut $400,000 from the school district’s budget following the defeat of a tax levy in November, include an end to bus service for high school students (except for a shuttle to Butler Tech) and transportation for only the younger students who live more than two miles from their school. 

Redistribution of the elementary school grades might save art, music and physical education programs in all three elementary schools and allow for extracurriculars such as prom, homecoming and mock trial to happen, according to the district. 

The proposal would let the schools keep their lunch and recess monitors and allow Marching Band and Athletic Fees to be set at $450 per activity at the high school, or $175 at the middle school.  

 “I knew the levy was important but I didn’t know how immediate it was going to be,” Marsh said. “The ramifications are going to be awful.” 

Alison Kleibscheidel is a Talawanda parent with three children in Kramer Elementary school. If the plan goes forward, next year her children will be in pre-school, first grade, third grade and fifth grade, meaning, each child would each be in a different school building.

Her daughter, who is currently in fourth grade, “is sad she won’t be able to go to school with her brothers anymore,” Kleibscheidel said. “We have always told our kids family is everything… such a big part of growing up with siblings is being able to go to the same school as them.”

She said the proposal would also complicate bus transportation for two of her children. Instead of a ride lasting a few minutes to the closest elementary school, her sons would spend three hours on the bus every day, including a transfer at the middle school, she said.

David Goodman, a Talawanda parent with a daughter in middle school, said the bus cuts will impact the community.

“More people are losing access,” he said. “The people who are most at risk are going to get hurt immediately.”

Kristin Pennington and husband Eric with their children, Isabel, Grady, Eila and Weston. The proposed plan would take her two youngest children away from the school near their house. Provided photo

If the proposal is enacted, Kristin Pennington’s younger children would go to Bogan and Marshall, instead of Kramer, just minutes away from the family’s house. 

“We choose not to put our kids on the bus now,” Pennington said. “With the proposed plan they could be on the buses for three hours a day. The safety and exposure issues of small children riding with middle schoolers is unacceptable for my kids. Not to mention the chaos of hundreds of small children switching buses everyday at the middle school to get to the appropriate school.” 

Talawanda parent Shawna Koch has two children in pre-school, one in kindergarten, another in second and one in fourth grade. If the proposal is passed, she said her children would have an hour and a half commute to different schools, with a bus change at the middle school. 

The Koch children may spend a lot more time on the school bus if the proposed Talawanda plan is implemented. Provided photo

 “I feel like it’s going to hurt the kids,” Koch said. I don’t know about putting kindergarteners and eighth graders on a bus for an hour and a half together; especially after some of the fights I see coming out of middle schools.”

“I would just drive them, but I can’t be at three different schools at the same time,” she said.

English teacher Matt Lykins is the head baseball coach at Talawanda High School and a member of the Talawanda teacher’s union. Lykins said teachers have concerns about the socialization opportunities young students will lose if the superintendent’s proposition is implemented. If the plan is enacted, he said 85 to 90 teachers would work in a new classroom or building with a set of unfamiliar coworkers.

In the standard kindergarten through fifth grade elementary education, students can grow and improve over the course of six years with a single set of teachers, Lykins said. Grade-banding could not only get in the way of deeper student-teacher relationships but could damage connections younger students make with their older peers, he said.  

“I love that all the teachers know who my kids are,” said Koch. “I’m scared with my kids going to other schools that there will be 10 teachers for each grade, but they won’t get to know these kids. They’ll just be a number.”

Pennington said she is worried, “this proposal will cause children to constantly be displaced from the comfort of their familiar school. Children will not have the comfort of their siblings and neighbors in the same building.” She added, “this will prohibit kids from making lasting friendships because they won’t be nearly as likely to be in the same class as their friends, or see them at lunch or recess.” 

Lykins, the English teacher, agreed that the proposal would create a more stressful situation for everybody, by “taking young students and forcing them into four different situations in the first six years of their academic careers, then not even providing a space for them to grapple with that.”

He also noted that “the proposal at this point still has intentions of eliminating social work and guidance in the years to come.”

Lykins said that the school board’s reaction to losing the first levy it tried to pass in 20 years “feels panicked.”

“Maybe it is time to slow down, implement a couple of changes at once rather than try to enact every change at the same time,” he said.