New plan proposed at MAPS

MARQUETTE – After months of research and meetings, the Marquette Area Public Schools Strategic Planning Facilities Subcommittee presented its grade alignment proposal to the board of education Monday night.

The proposal, which would take effect in 2014, would utilize all the district’s current elementary schools – Cherry Creek, Sandy Knoll and Superior Hills – along with the Graveraet School as kindergarten through fifth-grade buildings. Bothwell Middle School would house sixth through eighth grade and Marquette Senior High School would house ninth through 12th grade.

The committee said this configuration would add 23 instructional classrooms – which could be used as traditional classrooms or as special education rooms – for a total of 72 elementary instructional classrooms.

This configuration also includes space for the district’s special classes, such as art and music.

The committee said the configuration uses lower class sizes and was made with the largest projected enrollment numbers in mind, allowing for space to expand and contract as needed.

However, the plan did have some drawbacks.

Committee co-chairwoman Lisa Jahnke, who is also a MAPS teacher, said it would require some redistricting of students, that Graveraet would have to keep kindergarten and first grade on the first floor, the building would need additional playground equipment installed and would likely require some renovations.

Trustee Brian Cherry expressed concern over utilizing the building’s third floor, saying he thought it would need renovations before instruction could take place.

However, MAPS Director of Auxiliary Services John Kurkowski disagreed.

“Just as a reminder to everybody in the room, it wasn’t that long ago that that building was being used as a four-five concept and we were using everything on the second and third floor,” said Kurkowski, who also sits on the facilities subcommittee. “Do we have some work, cosmetically that needs to be done? Probably. Does some of it need to be a little bit beyond cosmetic? I would suggest that may be so, but I don’t think we have to put in a tremendous amount of effort … immediately to make that space ready to go to K-5.”

Filling the school with elementary students would also displace the Alternative Education program, which is currently housed in Graveraet.

To fix that, Jahnke said the committee was proposing using the former Vandenboom Elementary School as a home for the Alternative Education program.

Jahnke – who also said the committee discussed renovating the district’s bus garage and using the high school to house the Alternative Education program – said Vandenboom offered the best choice since it would keep the program in its own space and would bring the students closer to the high school, where they could take elective classes.

However, Jahnke said the move would displace the district’s developmental kindergarten program as well as Marquette County YMCA’s early childhood education program.

YMCA CEO Lisa Coombs-Gerou addressed the board on this issue, saying it was short-sighted to remove the program, since the state was moving toward funding a preschool through graduate studies, or “P-20,” public school system.

“I challenge us to not think K-12. I challenge us to think P-20, where the state’s going, where education’s going,” Coombs-Gerou said. “Be creative, be incentive, and be much more diligent and intentional about the work we’re doing. You guys talk about being the destination district, I’ve heard that a couple times now that that’s going to be the tagline. If you want to be the destination district then you’ve got to provide the services that people are looking for, and I think P-20 does that for you.”

Coombs-Gerou said the program is one of only two accredited early childhood education programs in the Upper Peninsula and part of only 4 percent in the state, and that the accreditation stays with the building, so the program could not move without having to go through the licensing process over again.

Committee member Mike Angeli said there was no perfect solution that would please everyone, but the board needed to start thinking long-term to earn the public’s support.

“I think there’s a strong belief in this community that we need to get our act together, take care of Marquette Area Public Schools,” Angeli said. “I think it’s important the public starts to realize that the school board is starting to put things in place that are going to be long-term, that are going to be stable, instead of us talking about this next year and the year after and the year after, and people are upset because Gravereat isn’t being used, people are upset because Vandenboom isn’t being used.”

Angeli said this plan was designed so that “people who put their child in kindergarten in 2013 (will) know what building they’re going to be in in 2023.”

Though the board thanked the committee for its hard work in coming up with the proposal, it said many things would have to be examined before it could approve a new alignment.

“I don’t think any of us expected a recommendation that’s going to be cost neutral and will solve all the problems because those things just don’t exist,” said Board President Rich Rossway. “We still have difficult decisions to make, but I feel very comfortable that you’ve looked at all the angles. … you debated them and probably argued over them, and didn’t have a consensus initially. And I think that’s important too.”

The committee did not have an exact figure on the cost of its proposal, but said costs could be spread out over a number of years with small projects being paid for through a sinking fund or bond issuance.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.