Public meetings focus on structure

FORTVILLE — Huddled around a table in the back of a local ice cream shop Tuesday night, Mt. Vernon parents talked about the future of their school district.

Should eighth-graders be housed at the high school? What are the benefits of technology in school? Should the school district move to a four-tier system similar to Greenfield-Central’s?

Those were among the questions dozens of residents pondered during community meetings this week hosted by representatives from Odle McGuire Shook, an Indianapolis-based architecture firm studying options for the district’s future — namely, how to accommodate a fast-growing student population.

In recent years, Mt. Vernon has seen its enrollment spike as McCordsville has grown. U.S. census data from 2010 lists McCordsville’s population at about 4,800 residents, and town officials estimate the area has gained more than 2,000 residents in recent years. The McCordsville comprehensive plan, adopted in 2011, projects the town’s population will reach 11,500 by 2020 as development continues to spread into the area from Indianapolis.

With one eye on those projections, school officials hired the private firm to help lead data collection about the community’s growth and how it will affect the school system.

A few months ago, the firm asked community members to take surveys about curriculum and facilities. This week, firm representatives presented survey results and opened the floor for residents to share their ideas.

The survey was conducted to identify school themes that are important to community members, said Del Jarman, who is heading up the firm’s work.

For example, about 75 percent of people surveyed said they believe eighth grade should be moved out of the high school. Right now, eighth-grade students attend class at the high school, which is currently over capacity, rather than the middle school.

Parent Florence May said she has mixed feelings about whether eighth-graders should be at the high school. When her daughters were in eighth grade, they excelled at the high school, where they were able to take advanced-placement classes and use some of the high school’s facilities not available at the middle school.

But other community members, like Mike Flynn, said mixing eighth-graders with students who are as much as four or five years older than them isn’t the best idea.

A majority of parents and community members who attended the meeting Tuesday night said they’d prefer to see the eighth-grade academy move out of the high school. They also prefer to see the district move to a four-tier system, with elementary schools comprising kindergarten through fourth grade, an intermediate school housing fifth- and sixth-graders, a junior high for seventh- and eighth-graders and high school for ninth- through 12th-graders.

Jarman said of the five options presented in the surveys, the four-tier system was most popular with parents.

This week’s meetings also focused on technology in the classroom, specifically e-learning days, when students attend class online from home during inclement weather. This year, the school district used only one e-learning day, and most parents support the idea, Jarman said.

Mary Jo Adams, the mother of fourth- and sixth-grade students in the district, said the e-learning days can be difficult for parents who can’t take the day off when their students are out of school. But she appreciates that her children aren’t missing class because of bad weather. And giving students the opportunity to learn technology now will prepare them for the future, she said.

“I work in IT as a professional, and I love seeing my daughter do things I’m interviewing people for — she can do things I weed applicants out for,” she said. “I think it’s fantastic.”

Jarman and his coworkers said the meetings with community members will guide them as they recommend steps the district can take to accommodate growth and plan for the future.

“We’re getting a deeper understanding of what the community wants,” Jarman said.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.