By SEAN ROWLEY
When the 2014-15 academic school year begins this fall, the fifth-graders of Tahlequah Public Schools will be placed in new surroundings - though the students themselves will find them very familiar.
A reconfiguration calls for moving fifth grade back to three elementary schools: Cherokee, Greenwood and Heritage.
“Coming up with a suitable reconfiguration was a good process,” said Lisa Presley, TPS superintendent. “We tried to get as many different perspectives as possible and we made some discoveries. We conducted research and studied data and made some discoveries. We are ready to move forward now.”
Under the reconfiguration, approved Monday by the TPS Board of Education, fourth-grade students will remain at their respective elementary schools this fall to attend fifth grade, and the Fifth-Grade Center at Tahlequah Middle School will close.
Included in the reconfiguration plan is an expansion project at Cherokee Elementary, which will build a new cafeteria and convert the old cafeteria to classroom space.
“If we bring fifth grade back to Cherokee, we need to increase cafeteria and classroom capacity,” Presley said. “We think we can create two new classrooms with the old cafeteria.”
Bidding for contracts has not begun, but Presley said the project’s cost should be similar to the cafeteria construction at Greenwood Elementary.
“That cost about $2.3 million,” she said. “That was turnkey - it included everything. We have enough left in our bond fund for the work at Cherokee. If enough is left over, we would also like to replace the windows on the west side of the building.”
Presley said the Fifth-Grade Center will likely be sold.
“How soon that will happen, we’re not yet sure,” she said. “There are two staff at the center, and they will be retained. They may stay at the middle school or be assigned elsewhere within the district.”
Sequoyah Elementary School remains a prekindergarten center under the plan. During the reconfiguration study, there was discussion of repurposing Sequoyah, but support was high among teachers and parents to maintain the school as a pre-K facility, despite the monetary outlay.
Presley recently estimated Sequoyah’s non-salary expenses at $300,000 per year, and said the effectiveness of an exclusively pre-K school will be assessed during the next few years.
“I think I’m speaking for everyone in the building that we are delighted,” said Tanya Jones, Sequoyah principal. “We were prepared for the decision to go either way, and we realize this may not be forever. But if they give us three years, it will give the administration a very good look. We love having all the pre-K students here, and I truly believe this is the best configuration for early childhood education. I think this gives them a solid educational foundation.”
During Monday’s board meeting, Presley said the TPS district may hold 100 eligible pre-K students who aren’t enrolled.
“After going through the study, I’m not even sure how feasible it would be to move the prekindergartners back to the elementary schools,” she said. “The best course might be to see if we can increase the enrollment at Sequoyah.”