While many rural school districts struggle with declining enrollment and increasing costs, one school in Northeast Iowa is taking action. Big changes are coming to the Clayton Ridge School District, which educates just over 600 students. By the fall of this year, elementary and middle school students will completely swap campuses.
“We have been planning this change for over two years. The first phase was implemented in the fall of 2016 when we moved the fourth grade to Garnavillo and the eight grade to Guttenberg,” said Superintendent Shane Wahls. “Having the new grade level configuration will bring consistency to programming in a number of ways, will require less transitions for students, provides more academic opportunities for students, and allows us to utilize our faculty in a much more efficient manner.”
Currently, students in grades 8-12 attend classes at the high school building in Guttenberg; pre-k to third graders use the elementary building in Guttenberg, and students in grades four through seven attend school in Garnavillo. At the start of the 2018-19 school year, the Garnavillo campus will be home to pre-k through fifth graders. Students in grades 6-12 will take classes in Guttenberg. The head start program will remain in its current location on the Guttenberg campus.
“Having the eighth grade in Guttenberg for the last two years has brought additional opportunities for them and has also helped us to meet state requirements including courses in family consumer science, industrial technology, and Spanish. The eighth grade has also been able to participate in the high school band,” said Wahls. High school faculty is currently teaching eighth graders core subjects like language arts, math, social studies, and science. “Part of this transition included bringing the fourth grade to Garnavillo, which meant that we did not replace two teachers that had previously taught fourth grade. This was a tremendous saving to the district’s budget in a time of declining enrollment and minimal state aid.”
More benefits come in the form of faculty transportation. “There are six faculty members that will not need to travel next year after the grade level re-alignment. That is a saving not only in fuel reimbursement but also not having to provide a travel period, which means lost instructional time,” Wahls explained.
In the 2018-19 school year, more opportunities will open up to students in grades seven and eight due to their new location. Both grades will be able to take courses in Spanish, Industrial Technology, Agriculture, Art, Family Consumer Science, and Careers. Eighth graders will continue to participate in the high school band and will be eligible for a high school credit algebra class. New opportunities for high schoolers include school-to-work experiences, math intervention, and additional offerings in Social Studies, Physical Education, and Family Consumer Science.
Classrooms at the Garnavillo campus, which was originally designed as a high school, will undergo some cosmetic changes. Carpet will be installed in some rooms, hallways, and classrooms will be painted, and urinals will be lowered in the boys’ restrooms. “The cosmetic changes will be paid by funds that have been saved during the past year since paying off the middle school HVAC a year ago. These would be considered typical capital projects,” Wahls explained. One large classroom will be transformed into two smaller classrooms, and this project will be funded by the 2018 Facility Project Fund (PPEL). Clayton Ridge maintenance staff have already started on some of these projects and will continue their work into the spring. The classroom remodels will take place during the summer.
Bus routes will remain unchanged. “Associates will continue to be assigned to ride each shuttle to assist with supervision and student safety,” Wahls noted.
And what about that all-important activity – recess? “The board approved the purchase of additional playground equipment with matching funds several months ago,” said Wahls. The new equipment will be installed west of the Garnavillo school building, allowing youth to access it throughout the school day as well as during baseball and softball games. The Garnavillo campus is flush with green space and has a blacktop area.
Playground equipment in Guttenberg will remain in place for continued use outside of school hours. “It is a good possibility that a portion of the blacktop in Guttenberg may be used for additional parking, similar to how it is used for events now,” Wahls explained.
“I have not personally had any negative feedback from any parents, nor has that message been communicated to me by others. I have had many positive conversations with parents that believe this will be a very positive change,” the superintendent said.
Photo by the author.