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FD School Board Oks 5th Grade Transition Plan - from The Messenger

October 29, 2019

Six weeks after presenting the Fort Dodge Community School District Board of Education with the idea to move fifth grade out of the middle school building, Superintendent Dr. Jesse Ulrich gave the board a detailed plan for the project during the board’s meeting Monday evening.

The plan presented by Ulrich begins with recommissioning the Central Administration Building, formerly Arey Elementary School, into an early childhood center for grades pre-K, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten. This move would allow the district to maintain neighborhood elementary schools serving first through fifth grades.

The rationale for these moves is to provide “a more developmentally appropriate learning environment for fifth grade and allow for better alignment of the curriculum for grades 3-5 and for preschool through kindergarten, which increases the potential for positive student achievement levels,” Ulrich’s plan reads.

The Central Administration Building currently houses the district’s administration office, as well as the CARES and PRIDE programs. Under Ulrich’s plan, the administration would move to the former Hy-Vee building on Second Avenue North and 25th Street that the district purchased last year. CARES and PRIDE, which serve students with mental health needs and other educational challenges, will move to the Riverside building, which currently houses the preschool programs. This move will also give the CARES and PRIDE programs room to grow, Ulrich added.

Ulrich’s plan also includes restructuring Butler and Cooper elementary schools into three-section buildings to “better balance elementary boundaries with the district and allow room for growth.”

The district will also review the current placement of special education programming in the elementary buildings and assess whether those needs are being met.

In all, the project will take about 20 months and is expected to be complete for the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

“In looking at all of our options, we feel that this is the best-case scenario, most cost-effective, most educationally and developmentally appropriate for our students,” Ulrich said.

The biggest question that has come up since Ulrich first introduced the idea back in September is how the district is going to pay for this project, the superintendent said.

In September, Ulrich estimated the cost of the project to be $6 million to $8 million. This cost covers renovating the old Hy-Vee building into offices for the central administration, as well as renovating the Arey building back into an elementary school building with classrooms, a cafeteria/gymnasium and an outdoor playground.

Ulrich said the district will be using the state’s penny sales tax for school infrastructure (SAVE) revenue and its physical plant and equipment levy. He said the district will need to pass a public referendum to update the district’s revenue purpose statement in order for it to use the state penny with the updated law.

“The positive news is we can do all of this without affecting property taxes and we will have a better configuration for our students,” Ulrich said.

While discussing the plan proposed by Ulrich, school board President Stu Cochrane said he thinks it’s a great plan.

“I endorse the whole thing,” he said. “I’ve gone over it many times and I’ve tried to figure out the downside and I can’t find one. … We’re addressing a number of needs, not just at the middle school. We’re addressing what’s best for kids, utilizing existing staff the right way, utilizing existing space the right way. I think it’s a win-win-win for all concerned.”

Board member Bill Kent said he has received only positive feedback about the idea of taking fifth grade out of the middle school and putting it back into the elementary school system.

Kent did, however, have a question about how this plan would affect fifth-graders in band or choir.

“We have committed to our fine arts program that we still want to maintain that programming for our fifth-grade students,” Ulrich said, adding that with the number of full-time equivalent music staff, there is flexibility in the schedules to make something work, but those specifics haven’t been worked out yet.

“Those minute details of what exactly it’s going to look like is the reason that we have 20 months to plan and they’re going to be at the table with us.”

After discussion, the board of education approved Ulrich’s plan.

What’s next is putting the plan into action to have completed by the start of the school year in 2021.

“We know that we have to redesign the Arey building, but we also know that before we can redesign the Arey building, we have to move the programming that’s currently in the building to a different location,” Ulrich said. “So we’ll begin the process of updating the Hy-Vee building to move the central offices there, and we’ll be actively pursuing space for our CARES and PRIDE for their transitional space before full implementation.”

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