VALPARAISO | A new high school, converting Central Elementary into the new school administration center and realigning some of the grades to create more space at the middle schools and elementary schools were among the ideas proposed Thursday by Valparaiso Community Schools Superintendent Michael Berta.
Berta was asked three weeks ago by the School Board to apply his 40 years of educational expertise to all the information the board has gathered from architects, demographers and the public and combining that with what he sees as the needs for a 21st century learning environment. The board got its answer at Thursday's meeting.
Berta suggested the existing high school be remodeled to serve as the new Porter County Career and Technical Center, house an intermediate school of grades five and six and also serve as a senior center. He said the high school would enable the career center to consolidate the satellite branches in Hebron and Portage at one location.
By creating the intermediate school, it would free up space at the two middle schools and all the elementary schools, helping provide space for pre-kindergarten classes in the latter. Putting the senior center in the high school and providing those seniors interested with training to work with the students could prove beneficial for both the seniors and the students, he said.
"We did it in Merrillville, and it worked well," Berta said of bringing the senior citizens closer to the students. "They took care of one another."
Bringing Central Elementary up to the standards for a 21st century education will be such a challenge that it would be better to turn it into offices for the administration and sell the existing administration center on Campbell Street. Central would have to be made handicapped accessible along with needing other modifications.
The remaining seven elementary schools would be retained and upgraded, including the addition of a cafeteria with kitchens for food preparation in those that don't have it. Security would have to be upgraded and space provided for pre-kindergarten classes. Berta also recommended having space for child care for school employees.
He said the schools need to address other needs, including adding classroom assistants, guidance staff, mental health and physical health staffs and foreign language teachers. He said many positions were eliminated during the budget crisis, but the schools are woefully short of guidance counselors and the people needed to deal with the medical and mental issues of students.
"Kids are coming to school with issues I never heard of when I was in school," Berta said. "We have a number of kids on medications or who need medical or physical intervention. These things are needed to expedite students' learning. There will be many more and better ideas than what I put up. This will provide a base for a civil discussion on what a 21st century education might look like in Valparaiso."
Board members agreed it was a good starting point for the discussion and at least three public meetings are being planned to get public input on the ideas. The first will be 4:30 p.m. May 5 at a location to be named later.