By RUSSELL JONES
BRANDON — The Otter Valley Unified Union (OVUU) Board has decided against moving school boundaries and will begin to gauge interest in construction of a consolidated middle school and make a concerted effort to improve communication with the community.
The board hosted an open board retreat on Wednesday, Aug. 21, that focused, among other topics, on what the OVUU Board’s next steps would be after reviewing the recommendations of the Planning Task Force Action Plan.
The Task Force was made up of school board and community members who worked for 18 months to come up with a 5- to 10-year plan for the district. That plan was presented to the board in June.
From that plan several immediate recommendations were posed to the school board to explore.
The first recommendation the board looked at was whether a flexible “gray area” boundary between Lothrop and Neshobe Elementary schools would balance the enrollment in both schools.
Having thoroughly researched the topic, the board determined that a “gray area” for school boundaries impacting Neshobe/Lothrop enrollment was not a viable option and will not be explored any further.
“There are other options that we can explore in the event we need to quickly address the enrollment changes in Neshobe and Lothrop,” said Jeanné Collins, RNESU Superintendent. “For now, our school populations are stable and we will revisit those options in the event this needs our immediate attention.”
MIDDLE SCHOOL OPTIONS
Another recommendation was to explore whether it is possible to bring fifth and sixth grades on to the Otter Valley campus. Seventh and eighth grades in the district are already housed at the OVUHS building, but the model the district has decided on for middle school is the fifth grade through eighth grade model.
An exploratory architectural review was completed to determine if expanding the OVUHS building or campus is a possibility to provide an enhanced, consolidated middle school for those grades.
After reviewing all of the buildings in the RNESU, the task force determined that construction is unavoidable if the union wants to provide a consolidated middle school to mirror and support the existing middle school curriculum.
Based on the exploratory architectural review, it was determined that there are two options for an enhanced middle school at OVUHS.
• Option 1 would be to build onto the existing OVUHS building.
• Option 2 would be to build a new building on the OVUHS campus, creating more of a “super campus.”
“The next step is for the board and the community to determine together if it makes sense to pay for a thorough blueprint of the OVUHS options for a consolidated middle school,” said Laurie Bertrand, OVUU and RNESU Board Chair.
The cost of the survey would be presented in next year’s budget, if there is interest to proceed,” Bertrand added. “The Task Force recommendation came after exhausting every potential option for a consolidated middle school and we feel this is an effort that can help really enhance our district as a whole.”
Should the board and the community choose to proceed with the thorough blueprints as a next step, they board will then discuss with the community a plan that provides cost of the project.
The first step, however, is to determine if this idea has interest in the community.
The third recommendation from the task force was to develop an initial draft of school viability guidelines that will guide the board and keep the community informed of decision points as demographics shift and outside influences change.
The viability guidelines would discuss limits of how many or few students would be needed per class to make it viable, calculated on a rolling three year average. The board believes this will help drive the appropriate conversations among themselves and the community if established benchmarks are met.
“Jeanné and her team did a thorough job drafting an initial set of school viability guidelines for the OVUU Board to review and consider,” said Bertrand. “These guidelines will help provide some foresight and hopefully much needed stability for the families in our district and the community as a whole.”
Once the school viability guidelines are finalized, they will be communicated to all key stakeholders in the supervisory union.
The OVUU Board will also work to ensure communication is clear on a number of fronts, including:
• Unification: A plan will be developed focusing on what OVUU schools have to offer families, market the different programming available at the schools, and ultimately bring unity to the district in a concerted effort between the board, staff and the community.
• Future of district schools: The communication plan needs to keep OVUU stakeholders informed, be transparent about all triggers that may impact the schools, and gather input for the schools future.
• Community Engagement: The board intends to identify strategic engagement opportunities with the community and staff to ensure two-way communication, transparency and engagement.
• OVUU Ambassadors: Identify school ambassadors who would be a core group of engaged stakeholders working closely with the board to help keep community members informed.
If anyone in the community is interested in becoming more engaged with the OVUU Board on any of these efforts, submit a message of interest via the “Let’s Talk” Portal at www.rnesu.org or contact the superintendent or an OVUU board member. There will be an upcoming information session for those individuals expressing interest.
“The entire focus of the Board’s next steps is intentional engagement and decision-making with the community,” added Collins. “I’m proud of the dedicated OVUU Board members and the work they are doing on behalf of our schools and looking forward to continuing the concerted effort between board, union and community.”