Rhinelander school board addresses facility needs, strategic planning
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
Elementary students in Rhinelander may be attending a school in the fall that is closer to where they live. The School District of Rhinelander Board of Education is looking into a return to community schools in which Pelican, Central and Crescent would house students in 4K through grade five. Reconfiguring the schools is something that has been discussed for several years.
“Nothing is in stone,” superintendent Kelli Jacobi told the board when handing out draft copies of each of the three schools’ floor plans during a special meeting of the board Monday night. “These are just showing that we can fit in 4K through fifth grade students.”
The change would allow for two things. Students would have fewer school transitions, which Jacobi said is known to be better for children. It would also move students into a more traditional arrangement that would allow the district to receive points for student growth on the state report card.
“We don’t want to do anything solely for state report cards but if we know we’re not being able to show our real progress because we can’t get those growth points, that’s a problem, that’s a barrier,” Jacobi said. Growth from year to year is one of several factors that make up the state report card score. It’s something that cannot be measured with the grade-level configuration as it stands.
The three elementary schools are also currently full to the point of being overcrowded, something Jacobi would like to alleviate if there is money to spend in the district’s fund balance. Each building would need additional classrooms.
Board member Mike Roberts said he would like to see Jacobi ask architects to provide costs and plans to “make this the best learning space possible,” and then do what the district can afford.
“It’s just like what we did eight years ago,” Roberts said. “Yes, we knew we needed six new classrooms at each of the buildings but we couldn’t afford it so we built what we have and now guess what? We’re exactly where we thought we would be and we need more classrooms.”
Board members spoke of the need to be able to communicate the district’s facility needs effectively to the public. “Communication is such a key factor,” Mary Peterson said. “We are all going to have to have every detail…every bullet [point] in our brain, because, we can already hear, ‘well they did have elementary schools that were K-6.’ It’s going to be there.”
The board is also looking at how to proceed with their next five-year strategic plan. David Holperin told the board he favors focusing on improving district rankings against the others in the state. Playing “devil’s advocate,” Holperin suggested that without a new plan in place, they were “putting the cart before the horse.”
“Putting the cart behind the horse, you say, ‘we have a strategic plan that says we want to improve our rankings and attract more people to the area and a big part of that is we need to reconfigure our schools and in order to reconfigure them properly and get the full benefit out of doing that, we need to add more space.’ That’s something relatable to the community and can be conveyed.”
Roberts disagreed, saying adding more space is already in the district’s strategic plan, adding that the board “failed the district” by not acting fast enough to purchase the St. Joe’s building.
“We ended up losing that building and that building would have solved some of these space issues,” Roberts said. “We have the feasibility study from 2015 that showed we needed space…we‘ve been talking about space since then; personally I feel it’s time to do it. We’ve got this in our plan now.”
The board directed Jacobi to move forward with gathering information and costs on building additions to discuss at future meetings, looking toward a January deadline for a board decision. If construction were to begin it would take place in April; new attendance areas would be drawn by the end of the current school year.