USD 250 to make changes in preparation for 2021-22 school year

Jordan Meier
Morning Sun

PITTSBURG, Kan. — After a tumultuous school year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pittsburg Community Schools is gearing up for next fall with a few key changes to enrollment and discussions about how to start next school year with every student fully seated.  

These topics were discussed at the Board of Education meeting on March 8 and address issues like overcrowding in classrooms at the elementary schools and what the future post-pandemic looks like for students.   

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brad Hanson presented his suggestions on how to fix classroom sizes to the board.  Hanson said the issue isn't that the district needs more teachers or classrooms, it's that kids are unevenly spread throughout the district.  

“I think you not only have to look at the building, but you also have to look at the district as a whole,” Hanson said. “It’s about fiscally making sure we are making the right decisions and keeping our class sizes appropriate.” 

There are ways to fix the overcrowding at some of the schools that involve adding teachers to grade levels and even possibly building classrooms, but Hanson said that’s not responsible, and it makes more sense just to move kids more from school to school.  

“It’s not necessarily fiscally responsible when you have one building that is sitting at 20 [kids per class] and another that is over the limit [for class size] to just add [classes] because this one is [over the limit] and this one isn’t even close,” he said.  

Suggestions have been floated at earlier board meetings about redrawing the boundaries for the elementary schools, but some board members were concerned that the change would be too drastic.  

“One of my takeaways from last meeting was ‘let's not rip the Band-Aid away wholeheartedly all at once, let's try to make it as minimal as possible, but still achieve the purpose,’” Hanson said. “Bottom line is we are trying to get classes small enough to where there’s two sections in most of the grade levels.”  

Hanson said in light of those concerns, his plans center solely on fixing the problems at Westside Elementary, which according to him is the school with the largest capacity problem, with most grades at the school having three classes instead of two, like the rest of the district.  

“Westside is currently using 15 of their 16 available classrooms,” he said. “If we don’t change a thing, we will be at 16 next year and in two years, if things stay the same and we have three classes per grade, we’ll be at 18. We do not have room for that.”  

Hanson suggested that the district move roughly 10 to 12 current kindergarteners at Westside who live close to the boundary of another school to get next year’s first grade down to two sections. Hanson also suggested doing the same with the incoming kindergarten class at Westside.  

 “So, we’d have two sections of kinder[garten] and two sections of first grade next year,” Hanson said, “and we’d start to cycle through and get us back to something more sustainable.”  

Hanson also pointed out that as of right now if the district strictly enforced boundaries and made kids go to the school they were supposed to, schools like Westside would still be full.  

“If everybody that is assigned to Westside goes to Westside, we’re full just like we are right now,” he said.  

The board was largely in favor of Hanson’s suggestions and agreed to move forward with his plan.  

“That is a great synopsis and I’m glad he went through all of it,” Superintendent Richard Proffitt said, “because the fact of the matter is that sometimes when you look at it, it seems like a very simple fix, but it gets very complicated in a hurry.”   

In addition to addressing classroom sizes throughout the district, the board also discussed what needs to happen for the district to begin next school year with every student in the classroom and how to soothe concerned parents’ fears about having their kids back in a classroom.  

“Next fall we are planning on coming back fully seated, that’s our hope,” Board Member Ed McKechnie said. “It seems like there are parents that feel very strong that we ought to engage in conversation with about what that returning to a regular setting looks like to try to raise their comfort level about what next August looks like.”  

Proffitt agreed with McKechnie and suggested the board include Crawford County Public Health Officer Dr. Tim Stebbins in those conversations before his contract runs out in June.  

“That saddens me because I really have enjoyed working with him on things,” Proffitt said.  

Proffitt also suggested that the district should create a way to track potential cases with their students and staff over the summer, so they are aware of any potential issues or spreading before school begins.  

“I do anticipate that unless we see some major spikes that we’ll be back to more kind of normal, whatever that might look like,” he said, “and yet I don’t think it's wise to just do a free-for-all without knowing what’s going on with everybody, so that’s going to be a completely new twist to the start of school.”  

The board also approved the calendar for the 2021-22 school year. The calendar sees little change from the intended calendar of the last few years, and only shifted fall parent teacher conferences back a few weeks.  

Jordan Meier is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. She can be reached at jmeier@morningsun.net