(Note: This is the third of seven installments of what’s “New for NJSD in 2014-15.” Each Wednesday during July and August, a feature will be posted with something new to look for during the upcoming school year.)
It’s only been six years since Taft Elementary housed students from kindergarten through fifth grade, however, that seems like a distant memory with the preparations for welcoming back all six grades this fall.
For the past six years, Taft housed the District’s Early Learning Center and overflow kindergarten classes. In 2014-15, Washington Elementary will reopen as the site of the Early Learning Center and Taft will be restructured into a kindergarten through fifth grade building. The Neenah Board of Education approved the changes on Dec. 17 as part of a restructuring plan to keep as many students as possible close to their neighborhood schools while maintaining low class sizes.
Since then, Phil Johnson moved from Roosevelt Elementary and Alliance Charter Elementary to take over as Taft’s new principal. Taft will host nine classes this fall with two classes each in grades K-2 and one class each in grades 3-5. Six of the nine teachers have come from within the District and three new teachers were hired. Each new teacher has taught at her same grade level in a previous district.
“I’m thrilled with what we’ve got,” Johnson said of his teaching staff. “Every teacher wants to be here. No one was forced to relocate and no one is new to their grade level.”
Johnson said the biggest challenges have been logistical in nature such as bringing in new furniture and technology and moving some furniture out. Teachers have already been in their classrooms this summer ensuring everything is ready for opening day on Sept. 2.
“The building is coming along nicely,” Johnson said, noting the efforts and knowledge of longtime Taft custodian Randy Paulson has been a huge plus. “We’re filling those gaps to make sure we have the things we need. I keep saying ‘it’s a work in progress,’ but we will have everything we need to be running at the start of the year.”
Every room will have a date projector and document camera provided by the District. Some rooms will have SMART Boards that were purchased by the PTO in the past. Also, like all District schools, every student in grades 3-5 will have an iPad and students in grades K-2 will share iPads between the two classes at each level. Plus, every teacher will have a personal laptop computer.
Johnson noted that Taft will have a designated art room and music room. He also said many students within Taft’s boundaries have chosen to attend the nearby school this fall.
“Overwhelmingly, the feedback has been positive so far,” Johnson said. “Most families seem ecstatic to be able to stay at their home school.”
In fact, the plan of restructuring the District to keep students near home has worked out better than expected. Despite having strict caps of 22 students in classes for grades K-2 and 26 students in classes for grades 3-5, no student as of the end of the 2013-14 school year was forced to transfer from his or her home school. In addition, over 80 percent of families who requested to attend another school by June were granted that request.
“From the beginning, our primary goal in this process was to maintain low class sizes and keep students at their home school,” said Assistant District Administrator for Learning and Leadership Steve Dreger. “That has happened well beyond our expectations.”