VALPARAISO | Offering foreign languages at all grade levels received public support at the school board's special meeting Monday, but the closing of Central Elementary did not.
Several people said the board needs to try to engage a larger segment of the community in its effort to get input on the community's thoughts on how the requirements of a 21st century learning environment should be met.
About a dozen people attended the meeting at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, and almost all of them were the same people who regularly attend school board meetings and comment on board policies and actions. One of those, Christopher Pupillo, said, on an issue as important as a 21st century education, new voices need to be heard.
Pupillo said the board should use whatever methods it has to reach out and invite people to the series of meetings planned on the topic. He said he would also like to see the board provide a defined process and timeline for reaching a decision on what is expected to be a referendum and possibly two, one for buildings and one for additional operating money to run the schools.
He praised the suggestion by Superintendent Michael Berta that foreign languages be taught throughout the school system as bringing the district up with others in the world, and he said a consultant told him it also could be an economic development tool to help attract businesses.
Jeff Hellmers, a teacher, also supported the foreign language idea but did not think converting a portion of the high school for use as an intermediate school for fifth and sixth-graders was a good idea. Berta recommended a new high school and using the existing building for the career center, the intermediate school and a senior center.
Hellmers said putting grades five and six in one building and limiting the middle schools to grades seven and eight creates a horizontal alignment in which larger classes mean students become more anonymous and teachers don't get to know the families as they do with the current vertical alignment in the elementaries.
Instead of an intermediate school, Kevin Cornett said the board should consider creating a pre-kindergarten/kindergarten campus in which everything was smaller and kid-friendly.
Elizabeth Lynn warned against casting aside Central Elementary, which Berta recommended be used as the new administration center. Lynn said Central was the first to try the open school concept and has a history of firsts for the district despite criticism it is not flexible. She said new educational concepts, like the 21st century learning idea, come along about every five years, and the board needs to be cautious about what it does with its buildings.
The next meeting on the 21st century learning concept will be held at 10 a.m. May 31 at a location to be named later.