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FPS Board of Ed approves grade-level configuration

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published January 6, 2016

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FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — Farmington Public Schools Board of Education members unanimously approved a kindergarten through fifth grade, sixth through eighth grade and ninth through 12th grade configuration during a Dec. 15 school board meeting.

“Is it a perfect configuration? No, but are we building a school district from the ground up with the first shovel for the first building? We are not doing that … so we are going to try to do the best job that we can with what we have … and then look forward to some of the additional decisions that have to be made,” FPS board President Howard Wallach said during the meeting. “Things like buildings, things like district configuration — we need to look at … school start time. … So there are a lot of things that have to be considered, and we have to take that first step, and this seems to be that first step.”

The vote came after the configuration was recommended by FPS Superintendent George Heitsch in November, according to a press release.

The district’s Building and Site Utilization Committee, formed in 2014, was created to generate a long-term strategy for FPS facility and site usage.

The committee foresees the closure or repurposing of some schools, depending on grade configurations, due to decreasing student enrollment.

During a July 21 Board of Education meeting, discussion centered on the recommendation of grade configuration and potentially closing several elementary schools.

The current configurations are kindergarten through fourth grade, fifth through sixth grade, seventh through eighth grade and ninth through 12th grade.

The past configuration suggestions included either kindergarten through fifth grade, sixth through eighth grade and ninth through12th.

Another option was kindergarten through fourth grade, fifth through eighth grade and ninth through 12th.

Some pros for both options include better student and staff development, more time in the elementary school environment, and more operational savings by reducing larger-sized facilities. Some cons include a need to review boundaries for the student population, officials said.

Implementation will take place this fall. This vote does not include a decision on the recommendation regarding school closures/repurposing, which is not expected to go to the board until later this year, according to a press release.

Many school board trustees thanked the public for their input via emails sent to trustees, community forums, sessions and public comment at school board meetings.

Trustee Terry Johnson thanked the entire community for the feedback.

“Obviously, some people are not going to be as happy as others — in the end, I want to make sure I say thank you, and I hope the community understands,” Johnson said, adding that the children’s education, and what is in their best interest, is the top priority.

The first step includes having the current fourth-graders remain in their elementary schools as fifth-graders for the 2016-17 school year, according to a press release.

Board Vice President Sheilah Clay said that as someone who has been on the school board for a while, this is the first time she has been faced with grade configuration for the district.

“Absolutely everyone sitting here understands the impact of our decision tonight on the next decision, which is related to buildings,” she said.

“We had heard a lot of input from the community, which was absolutely invaluable to us.”
Trustee Jessica Cummings said the grade configuration is a “challenging decision” the school board has to make.

“I don’t take them lightly,” she said. “I’ve also considered the community input and looking at this decision as the first step.”
Trustee Terri Weems said she has been engaged in discussions about facilities since the fall of 2014 as a member of the Building and Site Utilization Committee.

“This is something that I have been thinking about for a very long time,” she said. “Members of that committee all acknowledged that we needed to reduce our footprint, but no one was excited about the possibility of building closures.”

She added that she believes the configuration recommendation is the “best option for our district.”

Johnson questioned Heitsch on why the school district couldn’t have a K-7 or K-8 configuration.

Heitsch said there are some physical and transitional limitations to the school district with that option.

“I would like to remind everybody (that) no matter what we do with the K-8 footprint, we’re still in a dilemma (with) 9-12 with a lack of students. If we are going to go K-8 … we still have a secondary student population issue to deal with: 9-12,” he said.