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Board discusses several options for enrollment shortfalls

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – The school board/superintendent retreat Thursday, Feb. 27, was filled with discussion about enrollment shortfalls, brainstorming and at times confusion.

The meeting was for the board to address inequities in enrollment and facilities across the district.

“It was made very clear that we have several schools that are operating well below capacity, which is a very inefficient use of our resources,” said Trustee Eric Vanden Heuvel. “Our only commitment is that we have to do something, because we can’t afford to operate the same way we did 20 years ago.”

The last retreat, held July 2019, led to the consolidation of Jefferson and Fort Howard Elementary schools.

Those who voted in favor of the consolidation said it was a necessary step for the district as the number of empty elementary level seats on the city’s west side hovers near 1,000, with some schools running at less than half their capacity.

With the help of two outside facilitators, board members discussed possible solutions, mainly with Keller Elementary, John Dewey Academy of Learning (JDAL) and NEW School of Innovation (NEW).

NEW is currently located in a leased building at 701 Cherry Street, along with JDAL.

That lease is up in 2021, leaving the location of the two charter schools for the 2021-22 school year unknown.

Possible solutions for NEW discussed include:

• Repurposing Keller for NEW.

• Relocating NEW to the district office building location on Broadway, and relocating district offices to available space in district schools.

• Repurposing Lincoln Elementary School for NEW.

JDAL is facing similar issues. Options explored for JDAL include:

• Repurposing Keller for JDAL.

• Purchasing the 701 Cherry St., building that is currently being leased for JDAL.

Several options were discussed for the enrollment shortfalls Keller is currently facing.

The school will see more shortfalls next year when Head Start students move to the new Head Start Learning Center at the Jefferson building.

The options discussed for Keller include:

• Moving JDAL onto the second floor of Keller.

• Developing Keller into a 4K-5 community school with potential wrap-around services.

• Repurposing all, or a portion, of Keller as offices for district staff, professional learning space or space for occupational and physical therapists from Lincoln.

• Developing a school within a school at Keller, possibly a Montessori school.

• Reworking boundaries of Keller to Kennedy Elementary School or to another nearby west side elementary school.

This would likely require building upgrades.

• Reworking boundaries of Keller and Kennedy with Kennedy becoming a K-8 school. This would also likely require building upgrades.

Board members also discussed exploring the possibility of making Franklin Middle School a K-8 school.

“While we start to dig deeper into the ideas generated during the session, we also acknowledged that there may be other solutions we haven’t thought of yet,” Vanden Heuvel said. “But again, we can’t afford to do nothing.”

The board directed administration to look deeper into potential solutions to the shortfalls and bring detailed research back to the board in April.

Trustees will then decide at a future retreat which of those ideas/options they would like to seek stakeholder feedback on.

“I truly can’t say what the path forward is at this time,” said Laura McCoy, board clerk. “But the hard conversations we are having about how we use resources with regard to public education is a conversation that is happening not just in Green Bay, but also across our state and across this country. That is our reality. My No. 1 priority is that no matter what is proposed, the public has plenty of opportunity to have input.”

The community can provide the board with feedback on the potential solutions discussed or on Redesign 2020 in general in two ways: The first is by directly emailing board members, the second is filling out a community input form online on the district’s website.

More information on the history of Redesign 2020, and what has been done so far, can also be found on the district’s website.

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