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School Closure Needs to Occur

With resident enrollment down, the school district needs to save money by closing Shorewood Intermediate School.

Editor's Note: Adam Schwartz, a Shorewood resident and student at the high school, will weigh in weekly, on school issues.

As trends like fashion and music have come and gone over the past decade in the Shorewood School District, one has remained the same — the districts declining resident enrollment.

In fact, the district has had to cut teachers, meaning the remaining teachers have had to teach in front of the largest classes in the history of Shorewood, cut classes like Chinese language and take up referendum after referendum.

Since the 2000-01 school year, Shorewood's resident enrollment has dropped by 13 percent, from 1,857 students to 1,617, even though the district saw a small increase in resident student's last year. The district's overall enrollment has increased over the last four years, but resident enrollment is where it's at when it comes to funding.

This year, according to Mark Boehlke, director of business services, was just over $12,100 per student for a resident student, whereas an open enrollment or Chapter 660 student would bring the district a little more than $6,000 per student or about half.

This decline in resident enrollment has put a strain on the district's revenue limit, resulting in a lost of teachers and, in the past few years, there have been many discussions regarding closing one school in the district.

In the Grade Reorganization Committee, most of the proposals have included a closing of Shorewood Intermediate School, a school that has operating costs of over $1 million per year. With the budget crunch the district is facing, why keep such an expensive school open?

Critics of grade reorganization say by keeping seventh grade students in an elementary school for an additional year, and putting eighth grade students with high school students, it will hinder them emotionally for the rest of their lives. Others say high school students would bully younger students and seventh grade students need the freedom from their younger counterparts.

A lot of the people who describe these scenarios aren't even parents of students who attend Shorewood schools, or students themselves. In fact, they hardly know what goes on in the Shorewood district.

As a senior at Shorewood High, I've seen almost everything that has gone on in the district. I went to both elementary schools and the middle school. I will admit that I had a rough couple of years at SIS and a pretty terrible four years at Atwater. That wasn't because of the elder students or the younger ones. It was some of my peers.

What I've noticed, in regards to bullying the eighth graders, is actually not true — for Shorewood, at least. There are times when those students require coming to the high school. Instead of terrorizing the adolescents, the older students welcome them,  joke with them and make conversation with them. (Yes, there are some "big shots" that try to be funny, but you'd encounter that anywhere you go.)

One of these eighth grade students, who chose to remain anonymous agreed.

“As long as the eighth grade teachers are at SHS, and only teach the eighth graders, no high school students, then yes, SIS could be closed," she said.

She added that classes need to be chosen for the students, as well as the half-hour, on-campus lunch they have now. Seventh graders won't be hindered emotionally if they were to remain at their own elementary school since "they would have been there for the past six years," given the aforementioned set-up.

Another reorganization set-up would make one elementary school K4 through third grades, the other fourth through seventh. That set-up would be better than the one above.

Let's face it, the school district has low enrollment, which means less money, meaning more cuts, bigger class sizes and more referendums. Speaking with numerous teachers, they all agree that something needs to be done. A bigger student-to-teacher ratio is not the way to go. An eighth grade student even says that she'd be OK with attending school with a bunch of "scary, older high school students" now, and she wouldn't be affected for the rest of her life.

Why? They're not even all that scary.

free shorewood March 21, 2011 at 02:34 PM
Adam: That may be one of the best articles I have read in Patch on the basis of providing facts to a story. Congratulations.
Jenny Heyden March 21, 2011 at 03:22 PM
Adam - you are getting good questions. Could you answer some of them with a more expert answer, like "We will ask XYZ this question and come back with an answer on cost, feasibility, etc." I know there is research on things like cost of supervised playground time - an answer like "I think so" really doesn't help the conversation as much (though I'm glad we're having it, it could be more informed).
Ryan Holifield March 21, 2011 at 03:51 PM
Adam - I appreciated your article too; nice job. I grew up in a different city at a different time. I went to a K-7 elementary school and an 8-12 high school, and I don't believe that the experience scarred me for life! Here's what I think: it's just generally tough to be a 7th or 8th grader, regardless of what kind of school you attend. While I hate to see us closing schools, I'd much rather we take that step than cut teachers and programs.
Adam W. McCoy (Editor) March 21, 2011 at 03:56 PM
The School Board is expected to open up discussion on the issue of a school closure again, very soon. For a quick recap on the issue, read a story Patch ran a few months ago. http://patch.com/A-cC48
Jenny Heyden March 21, 2011 at 03:57 PM
Perfect, thank you!
Adam Schwartz March 21, 2011 at 05:04 PM
With this plan, however, teachers and programs would be cut. It seems like anything the Board does, employee cuts will have to be made. I agree with you, though. I'd much rather see a school closed than boat loads of good, quality teachers gone.
N. Peske March 21, 2011 at 08:15 PM
This is definitely a subject for discussion--it's a big leap to make. Would doing K-7 mean that seventh grade would be like 5th and 6th in that the students have 3 teachers or one for each subject area? I can envision how you'd logistically split up the intermediate school teachers. By 7th grade, students really should have specialize in their topics, no?
Carol McWade March 21, 2011 at 10:17 PM
Prior to September 1970, 7th and 8th grade classes were held at SHS. I spent grades 7 through 12 at the high school campus, and we thought it was a fine arrangement. Jr. High Language Arts, Social Studies and homeroom were housed on the 2nd floor of the Administration Building (the Library was on the north side only, with a hallway running through it). Science, Math, Art, Applied Arts, Drama, Phy. Ed. were held in the same buildings as the rest of the students. Half the 7th and 8th graders had Lang. Arts/Social Studies in the morning, with the other subjects in the p.m. Then, we swapped classes for the afternoon. We never shared classes with the high schoolers, just passed them in the hall. We enjoyed being part of the high school activities.
EmpthyCursed March 21, 2011 at 10:29 PM
Thanks Erin! :o)
EmpthyCursed March 21, 2011 at 10:54 PM
I have concerns with the 7/8 graders going to dances or late night activities with high schoolers. It does seem that with sexual predators on the rise, many parents would not feel comfortable letting their 8th grader go to a dance with a senior. There have been cases of older students “dating” younger students in the middle school and it becomes illegal as things progress, obviously. If you combine schools, you really need to lay out the “laws of the land” to older and younger students . You can separate them all you want in the halls and classes, but when it comes down to it, they will all see each other at school pep assemblies, dances and other school functions. If we move them in , we need to educate them SOONER than later. Times they are a changin'.
Adam Schwartz March 21, 2011 at 11:35 PM
Thank you, Ms. McWade!
Adam Schwartz March 21, 2011 at 11:35 PM
Kati, not necessarily. Dances can be made high school only or middle school only, but if a high school student wanted to take a younger student to, say, prom, then they'd have to get a pass, approved by the administration. In my four years experience at the high school, it's extremely rare (and by that, I mean I can only think of like two cases) for anyone older than a sophomore to date anyone younger than a freshman. Even then, as things "progress," it's still illegal. But can we really stop students from "progressing"? I think that's a separate, parenting issue. Shorewood does a great job with sex ed. in sixth grade, even more so as a freshman. I agree it needs to be addressed, but like I said, that should weigh heavily on the parents.
Adam Schwartz March 21, 2011 at 11:46 PM
I just feel like I should clarify: I only meant for a school closing to be a last ditch effort that should only occur once--and hopefully this shall never happen--resident enrollment is so low that SIS needs to be closed. (And hopefully, that won't occur until at least 5 to 10 years into the future. I can't foresee the future, so I have no idea what's in store for the District.) I don't think that point was made within the article. Obviously, many things would have to be considered--like after-school supervision, like Kati pointed out. Once the School Board reopens discussions regarding grade reorganization, your concerns should be addressed to them.
Joe Peterlin March 22, 2011 at 01:35 AM
I see some folks have you backpedaling furiously, Adam. Sorry to see that you've lost your journalistic backbone and are now only a tool, a little finger puppet.
Adam Schwartz March 22, 2011 at 03:49 AM
Joe, excuse me, I meant to put that in the article. I forgot that addition.
Joe Peterlin March 22, 2011 at 11:43 AM
Adam: Your much too intelligent to have forgotten items that completely change the tone of the entire article. Somebody got to you.
Aaron Rich March 22, 2011 at 01:01 PM
Adam, thanks for taking the time to give us your perspective on this subject. It was a good read and well written. One comment you made struck me though, and I hope you could elaborate on that a bit. It was about bullying and how you experienced that from your peers. Was it the bullying that primarily caused your 4 years at Atwater to be a terrible? What was your experience with, whether that be a councelor, teacher or principal, in addressing those issues - if any? I'll understand if you don't want to relive those days, but this issue is important to us as we have one in the school system now and another entering soon and have already seen signs of what you wrote about. Thanks :)
Adam Schwartz March 22, 2011 at 02:09 PM
Hi, Aaron. I'd be more than happy to discuss that with you. If you wouldn't mind, go to the top of the page and next to my name it says "Email the Author." Click on that and write in the message that you're Aaron. Thanks!
EmpthyCursed March 23, 2011 at 01:09 AM
Thanks Adam. I am a parent of a in comming K4 and 4th grader at Lake Bluff. I'm also grad from lake bluff k4->12. I own a home in the village, and I am an educator :o). I never really put in my 2 cents and I have been feeling like I should. :o) The idea of reorganization just makes me nervous.
Joe Peterlin March 23, 2011 at 02:06 AM
Completely hilarious Katfish. Try some yoga or meditation and maybe you won't be so nervous.
EmpthyCursed March 23, 2011 at 02:16 AM
I'm good thanks. I just would like to still have a job and see my co workers have jobs. Its relaxing and rewarding enough just to love going to work everyday.......... which I REALLY do. I will chill out eventually.
Alicia March 23, 2011 at 03:42 AM
I have heard talk about closing the "Tuna Can" for several years. I would hate to see that happen, but the plan offered--that of splitting the elementary schools is awful. Sending the seventh and eighth graders to the high school makes more sense. They already use the field, and some go to advanced classes. A seventh grader is closer to high school than to elementary school in many ways. Many districts have the 7-12 configuration and function smoothly. To move the 7th and 8th graders, you are moving only about 300 students. By splitting the elementary schools, Lake Bluff moves 300 kids and Atwater moves 300. That's 600 kids--smaller and younger, too. Aren't some of the children in NW Shorewood closer to a Whitefish Bay elementary school--maybe they could be choice students there! By the way, this wouldn't mean teacher cuts--we still would have the same number of students--but with one less building cost--we could hire more!
Adam Schwartz March 23, 2011 at 01:43 PM
Sending both the 7th and eighth grade students to the high school isn't plausible at this time. Right now, there isn't enough space to house more students than just the eighth grade class (and I think THAT'S even pushing it). The eighth graders are pretty much the only non-high schoolers who take classes at the high school. (I could be wrong, so please correct me.) But yes, both classes use the field. That's why one of plans is to house the seventh graders at Atwater, where it's much closer to the high school.
Lyle Ruble March 24, 2011 at 11:42 AM
Adam; well done article. Under utilization of the school facilities is a costly problem. Couple that with high maintenance costs of older buildings and it is time to take a serious look at closing one of the facilities. In my opinion the SIS building is the only correct choice. Of the combinations that I have seen proposed, the high school should remain as it is. The mixing of students younger than freshmen is putting younger students at risk, unprepared for more mature students. I want to suggest that we combine 6th, 7th, and 8th grades into a single facility. Because of the busy street represented by Capital, Atwater would be my choice for the Intermediate school. K - 5 would attend Lake Bluff, a safer facility. I would propose selling the SIS property and put the funds into an investment account to be used later for upgrades to the remaining facilities.
Joe Peterlin March 24, 2011 at 01:55 PM
I like your thinking here Lyle. Unfortunately the last that I heard, selling the SIS property wasn't even on the table. There's an option being floated to mothball the building, with the hope of re-opening it in the future. I personally find this idea absurd, as it retains much of the fixed costs with zero productivity. There was also some talk of opening a charter school at SIS. The common thread here is a lot of egos, turf wars, special interests and a lack of acceptance of the aging demographic. The last I heard, we're still waiting for the local numbers from the 2010 census and that magic Shorewoodian average age of forty or more, that would supposedly trigger some decision-making. I like your idea of selling the property and keeping the proceeds in an investment account to be used in future years for upgrades to the remaining facilities. My suggestion would be to go one step further and dedicate this account to only maintenance of the remaining facilities and with it begin to usher in a new era of accounting transparency for village property owners/taxpayers. Honestly, a much broader population of our village, young, middle-aged and old, need to have a continuous connectivity to understanding where, how and why their tax dollars are being spent. We need a long-term school district plan that is realistically sustainable and driven by a much larger resident involvement, not the short-term management by crisis that the small, elite group has given us for decades.
Lyle Ruble March 24, 2011 at 02:23 PM
Joe, Agree, let's make sure the money doesn't go somewhere else.
N. Peske March 24, 2011 at 04:14 PM
There are many issues to discuss and I recall hearing at a School Board meeting that if you close SIS then reopen it as a school you have to undergo a more rigorous inspection than if it had been in continual use. Those repairs would have to be made before reopening and the amount could be considerable, hence the VERY slow decision. I think it's next to impossible to get all the facts into one small article when there is so much to be considered. I'm guessing you're planning to give us more details in future articles, yes?
Adam Schwartz March 24, 2011 at 05:15 PM
I'd be more than happy to sit down with somebody to answer those questions for you, if you'd like (which it's sounding like it is). In my opinion, however, SIS should be taken out of the SSD system, sold, and that would be one less financial responsibility for taxpayers and the District. But again, this closing should only occur when there is absolutely no other choice.
nancy peske April 05, 2011 at 01:18 PM
I'm sure the number was higher than that--more than 100. You'd have to check with the school board. They couldn't take on any new open enrollment students because of the surge of residential students.
nancy peske April 05, 2011 at 01:20 PM
Now that the census numbers have been out for more than a week--or perhaps they only released some of the numbers--is there any word on the average age of Shorewoodians? That was supposed to determine whether SIS would be closed.

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