The Blacksburg schools pickle
If you haven't been following the drama, tension and amazing craziness that has resulted from the collapse of the Blacksburg High School gym earlier this year, it's a good time to jump in. It's about to take some strange plot turns.
Since February, the students and staff of Blacksburg High School have faced and defeated what seemed insurmountable obstacles. They relocated, took things in stride as much as they could, andgraduated the class of 2010 amid much fanfare. However, all the details and headaches for students, faculty and families of coordinating education and family around a 2:30-7:30 p.m. school day have taken a huge toll.
Most of Blacksburg associated with the schools have been holding their breath in hope that the high school would be able to be move back to their building this fall. The debris from the gym collapse sat for months, with no overt progress.
Suddenly, a bombshell dropped last week, and due to last week's revelation that the high school will not be able to be used this fall, the latest proposals by the Mongomery County School Board are simply to allow a takeover of the Blacksburg Middle School by the high school and relocate the middle school students and faculty somewhere else. This makes no sense whatsoever to me.
However, there is no great solution, and perhaps the county school board and administration have finally realized the need for cooperative decision making and input from the community. They've called community meetings for this Monday and Tuesdays at 3:00 and 7:00 at BMS and CMS (Christiansburg Middle).
I've included the news release from the county schools administrative office as well as a response to the proposed solutions from the Blacksburg Middle School staff. It makes one wonder whether the school staffs are being consulted in these important and significant decisions.
There are also a couple of survey links below that you can respond to.
Letter from the Montgomery County Public Schools office:
NEWS RELEASE June 16, 2010 Montgomery County Public Schools Announce Community Meetings Regarding Facility Plans for Blacksburg StudentsOn Feb. 13, 2010, the gymnasium collapsed at Blacksburg High School. Although fortunately no one was injured, the daily schedules of students, parents, families, teachers and staff have faced upheaval as the school had to be closed for demolition and investigation into the cause of the collapse. The patience and support exhibited by everyone in our community have truly been amazing during this time of uncertainty and inconvenience.
School administrators, community leaders and many others are working closely with the School Board to plan for the 2010-2011 school year. As the safety analysis of the classroom building is not yet complete, a return to the BHS campus in the fall appears unlikely. There are currently several options under consideration for housing the approximately 1,200 BHS students and staff this coming school year. These options will be shared with the community at meetings on June 21 and 22, with the goal of making a final recommendation by July 6 for housing BHS students.
Blacksburg Middle School (BMS) houses grades 9-12 on a traditional schedule. OldChristiansburg Middle School houses middle school students (grades 6, 7 and 8).
Christiansburg Middle School (CMS) operates on a unified schedule with grades 6, 7 and 8 from the Christiansburg area and grades 6 and 7 from the Blacksburg attendance area; Blacksburg Middle School facility will house Blacksburg students in grades 8-12.
In addition, other options are currently under review and will be shared as feasibility evaluations are completed.
Monday, June 21, Blacksburg Middle School Auditorium, 3 and 7 p.m.
Tuesday, June 22, Christiansburg Middle School Auditorium, 3 and 7 p.m.
For those who are unable to attend these meetings, comments may be sent to the School Administration Office at the address above or e-mailed to http://forms.mcps.org/bhs_input.htm.
A response from the Blacksburg Middle School staff:
An Opportunity for Excellence
Our community has proven numerous times that we are resilient and committed to our children and each other. This is just another opportunity to not only persevere but to look to improve on our educational ideas and environments.
We feel the tragedy for our BHS community should not be turned into a double tragedy by displacing our BMS community. The focus is to support the needs of the faculty and students of BHS as they cope with this crisis. To do this, we need to create an educational environment for all students impacted that best meets their developmental and academic needs in the short term and can benefit our district's educational progress in the future.
As professionals we should see this as an opportunity for educational improvement. If we use a proactive thought process with a focus on long-term implications and enduring solutions, opportunities will become apparent. It is imperative to address this problem with paramount consideration for the educational needs of all students involved. Long-term educational objectives and implications should drive the decision, not capacity numbers or athletics, both of which can be solved through alternative physical arrangements.
A decade ago members of the BMS and CMS [Christiansburg Middle School] communities collaborated to select the building design utilized in the two new middle schools. At BMS we use this specialized physical environment to foster important tenets of the middle school concept addressing the unique developmental and instructional needs of young adolescents. These buildings feature separate hallways for each grade level subdivided into smaller areas for academic teams, a design that helps middle school educators meet the needs of middle school students and builds smaller learning communities within a large school. The environment is actually used as a teacher. Our space supports teaming, inclusion, flexible grouping, collaboration, and integrated curriculum which are all essential components of a strong middle school program. Additionally, family involvement in the education of their children is an essential characteristic of a successful middle school. This becomes problematic if our school is not located in our community.
Current enrollment at BHS is 1,117 and BMS is 883. The difference in enrollment is 234 students. OCMS, with a capacity of 775, is not adequate for either school population. Therefore, relocating either school would require extensive modifications and mobile units so all costs must be considered.
Although BMS has a capacity of 1200 students, it was not designed to house four grade levels. It is a middle school designed to house three grade levels. The BMS campus cannot support the entire BHS program.
Remaining efficient is crucial in the final decision of the placement. We want this plan to have positive long term effects on all impacted in our division. Customizing a building to meet the high school needs is necessary. It would be beneficial to utilize a building that can benefit from this expense after the high school has left the facility. OCMS fits this description because of the alternative high school programs that would re-inhabit the facility. Customizing BMS to support BHS involves spending scarce funds on modifications that will require subsequent funding to restore BMS to its original state once BHS has its own facility.
If BMS were moved to OCMS there would also be costs for customizing this facility to meet our needs as a middle school. OCMS would need to be greatly modified to meet our teaming, technology, and instructional program needs. The cost of relocating two schools and seven grade levels to provide for their academic needs compared to the cost of housing one school with four grade levels, which is already displaced, must be considered. Furthermore, any money invested in any facility should continue to benefit the students of MCPS long after the temporary housing needs of BHS are resolved.
During the shared occupancy, the facilities at BMS did not meet the needs of students enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. In addition, they were concerned that their students’ ability to compete well in VICA and other such competitions would be affected. These competitions lead to opportunities for post-high school education and employment. This group of students is often overlooked in the rush to provide academic and athletic needs.
The challenge this crisis presents provides an opportunity to look to research-based education reform for innovative ideas to enhance the educational offerings of MCPS. For example, research shows that 9th grade is a pivotal year for students as they transition from middle school to the changing demands of high school. The idea of a Ninth Grade Academy, which separates the 9th grade from the traditional high school, addresses this critical transition by creating a smaller learning community which provides more structure and direction for students. An option like this would open up new ways to think about a space for BHS students. We have facilities in our district such as the OBMS annex building that could house a 9th grade class. This would leave only grades 10-12 relocating to OCMS.