LIMA — Lima Senior High School will look different next school year, but that doesn’t mean a complete scrapping of the current small-school concept.
“One thing we know for sure is we want to keep all the components that people value,” Superintendent Jill Ackerman said. “We know it is not going to look like a traditional high school. It will have components within it that continue to make it unique.”
A small committee of teachers and administrators has been meeting since early this school year about changes to the high school. Conversations have taken place with teachers and students and the public was invited to give input Wednesday. Just two people attended a morning session and about 20 the evening session. The majority of those were staff members.
Resident Mike Chartrand said he is glad for the change. He believes the three small schools is confusing to people and hard to explain.
A decision on whether Lima Senior will be one or two small schools should be made by next week, Ackerman said, but specifics of what the school will look like will take a little time. The change will be put in place for next school year.
“Quite frankly it does not matter if it is one or two, it is what is within it that matters,” she said.
Lima Senior began the small-school concept when it moved into the new Lima Senior at the beginning of the 2004-05 school year. The district received funding from Knowledge Works of Cincinnati to implement small schools. It is no longer getting Knowledge Works funding.
The concept was expected to allow for better teacher cooperation and help teachers build better relationships with students and their families. It came with its share of controversy, with not all staff members, students or families buying into it.
Relationships did improve under small schools and teachers and staff have both said that is an important piece to continue.
“Kids say they value most the relationships with teachers. It is the No. 1 thing that matters most to them,” Ackerman said. “We all agree we can have relationships with kids no matter how big the building is.”
Teacher and building coach Michelle Schick said she wants to know all of the students, not just those in her small school. She added that students want to know the entire staff too. While it didn’t start out that way, Schick said the three schools are competitive now.
“With the three schools, competition got in the way at times of what was really best for students,” she said.
Things like project-based learning, senior projects, and components of the NewTech program currently used in the Progressive Academy will remain because people value them and they are effective, Ackerman said.
“All the pieces of small schools that are working we are keeping,” she said.
In addition, there could be some additional components and students will have an easier time accessing courses they want. Under the three small schools, students are somewhat locked into courses. This has negatively impacted things such as band and choir. Ackerman said the change will also help continue to bring back Spartan pride.
Several people suggested that the district continue its two kindergarten through eighth-grade magnet programs through the high school.
“We offer a great magnet program and then we lose the kids,” Chartrand said. “We expose them to these things, then we drop them.”
“The magnet seems to work,” resident Rex Roberts said. “It is the most successful. Why would we not want to branch the whole system into something like that.”
Parent and district employee Karen Lawrence wants to see block schedules continue. She said her son did best under that approach. Parent Amy Bash added that advanced-placement classes and dual-enrollment are crucial to keep.
Whatever change occurs, it will likely mean staff reductions. A decline in enrollment and the need to right size staff are partly why officials began looking at a change. There are about 900 students at the high school this year. Two years ago there were 1,100.
“When you have three separate schools, you have to have a full staff,” Ackerman said. “We do not have enough kids to sustain three schools.”
Regardless of one or two, the district will save money. Ackerman did say that two schools could be a little more expensive.
Academic performance is also a factor for the change. State report cards released in September showed two of the small schools, Performance Based and Progressive Academy dropping from Continuous Improvement to Academic Watch. Both met two out of 12 possible indicators. The School of Multiple Intelligences stayed at Continuous Improvement and met three indicators.
The school board will likely vote on whether Lima Senior becomes one or two schools at its January meeting. A planning team of staff, students and parents will begin meeting in January. Ackerman said the change will not be drastic like the school experienced when moving to small schools.