Jackson Co. District considers realigning elementary schools

ST. MARTIN, MS (WLOX) - Next month, the Jackson County School Board is expected to vote on a proposal to realign grades at two St. Martin schools.  It's a decision that could affect hundreds of students and dozens of teachers at St. Martin North Elementary and St. Martin East Elementary.

The superintendent said changing the grade levels will save the district a lot of money and improve instruction. He admits though, the change would be a big adjustment, especially for the teachers.

Talks about realigning both schools actually started before Hurricane Katrina.

"With our budgetary constraints we're facing now, it was an idea we needed to revisit. And it's going to be a good thing in the long run we believe," said Jackson County Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Amacker.

Both schools are currently K-3 and they are just five miles apart. Under the realignment proposal, St. Martin North would turn into a Kindergarten and first grade school, and St. Martin East would become a school for second and third graders.

Dr. Amacker said the change would save the district more than $400,000 a year.

"We would be able to streamline staff, personnel, which would actually save us money on personnel, and also programs. We have duplication of services, like special education programs in both buildings," said Amacker.

He said changing the grade levels would also benefit children academically.

"We have expertise in both buildings in all grades, but to be able to combine that expertise and those things into one focus for a particular grade, put the resources and all to go with it. It really, I think, would benefit the instructional program as well as the financial part of it," said Amacker.

Amacker said by streamlining personnel and programs, at least six teaching positions would be lost.  But he said those cuts would be absorbed through attrition. And the reconfiguration of grades means some teachers at one school may have to move to another campus.

"Change is hard for everyone and people get comfortable in a particular setting, especially with our teachers and all," said Amacker. "But we have to look to the future and move on. And the bottom line is we want to serve children and we believe this is the best way to serve everyone."

Amacker added that with the realignment plan, the district won't have to worry about adjusting school zones every time there's a spike in enrollment at either school.

"The St. Martin area is really growing and we've had to continuously draw the lines to separate the students. We try to do it equally between North and East in order to have a balanced enrollment," said Amacker.

The Jackson County School Board is expected to vote on the proposal at its April 16 meeting.   If it passes, it will go into effect next school year. Before the vote, both schools will be holding meetings with parents to explain the plan to them and get their input.

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