Jasper City School system prepares for reconfiguration

By NICOLE SMITH, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 4/16/17

Schools are preparing for reconfiguration in the Jasper City Schools system, and a team effort is being made to ensure a smooth transition for all.

The Jasper City Board of Education announced last year that schools wil be reconfiguring according …

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Jasper City School system prepares for reconfiguration


Schools are preparing for reconfiguration in the Jasper City Schools system, and a team effort is being made to ensure a smooth transition for all.

The Jasper City Board of Education announced last year that schools wil be reconfiguring according to grade level for the 2017-18 school year. T.R. Simmons Elementary will be a Pre-K through first-grade school, Memorial Park Elementary will be a second through third-grade school and Maddox will house fourth, fifth and sixth graders. Seventh through 12th-grade students will be at the new Jasper High School.

In order to prepare for the change, West Jasper Elementary, the system’s smallest school, will close at the end of the current school year. North Highlands School, which currently serves four special needs students, will also close, and those students will move to a designated area to meet their needs at the new Jasper High School.

Superintendent Dr. Ann Jackson said discussions on reconfiguring the school system began more than 15 years ago with a committee of 60 people from the community, those retired from the school system, business leaders and educators. She said building the new high school to accommodate a larger group of students made the idea of reorganization possible.

“With the new school, that gave us the opportunity to close one school, and when we did that we knew that we could reconfigure,” Jackson said.

Jackson said closing West Jasper was not an easy decision, but economics were a factor in the decision to close the school, combined with an enrollment of less than 250 students. She said a portion of the school is 94 years old, and upgrading the facility to make it a larger campus would have been difficult. Director of Accountability Programs and Support Services Rita Pilling said the school also lacks accommodations for certain students.

“It’s also the oldest school, and many areas of the building are not handicap accessible,” Pilling said.

Transition teams have been created at all schools that will be part of the reconfiguration next year. Memorial Park Principal Eric Rigsby said the teams have been crucial in preparing for the changes ahead.

“In the fall of 2016, I began meeting with a group of teachers from each of the three elementary schools in order to begin building unity for our new faculty. Once we had met and established our team, we then found a second and third-grade only school in Boaz that we were able to go and visit,” Rigsby said. “At this visit, the school opened their doors and let us spend the entire day with them. We were able to speak with their administrators, superintendent, teachers, custodians, etc. ... Since this visit, we have been able to meet with everyone on our upcoming staff in order to establish some of our values and principles that we will base our new school on. We have also been able to give our new staff room assignments, establish a school theme and establish school supply lists for the upcoming year.

Rigsby continued, “We are also in the process of creating our committees for the new school year. We hope that our planning and the forethought from our central office will have us prepared as we get ready to make the transition.”

West Jasper Principal Marc Sargent will be the principal of Maddox next year. He was assistant principal at Maddox for roughly six years before his move to West Jasper, and he said working with a younger age group has prepared him to return to a reconfigured Maddox school.

“I think it’s been a good transition for the last three years for me here at West Jasper, because it’s let me see the elementary side of things,” Sargent said. “Maddox is going to be changing to a fourth, fifth and sixth-grade intermediate school, which is basically still an elementary school setting.”

Sargent said he plans to host welcoming nights at Maddox so students who attend West Jasper, or may be coming from other schools, can visit their teachers for the next school year and become familiar with the new atmosphere.

Jackson said two of the greatest advantages of the reconfiguration are having students start and end school together, making the transition from elementary to middle school less difficult. She said faculty will also have a greater opportunity for collaboration.

T.R. Simmons Principal Jonathan Allen said educational planning will be more efficient in the coming school year.

“I think most are excited because our schools will be able to focus on the needs that are developmentally appropriate. We’ll have an environment where collaboration is the expectation, and it’s much more convenient. It’s much more realistic,” Allen said. “We’re the group [at T.R.] that is charged with the task of fostering a love for learning. ... We are also the one’s that really get to strengthen relationships with families because that’s integral for us being successful.”

Allen added that registration for new kindergarten students will be on May 1 at the school for students with last name A through L and May 2 for last name M through Z. A make up day for registration will be May 4.

North Highlands teacher Debra Rhodes said moving to the high school will be an advantage for her students because many of them will now be attending a school for students their age. They will also have access to upgraded facilities to meet their needs.

“North Highlands has been a wonderful facility, enabling us to service our special needs students in exemplary fashion, but even a great program like we have had at North Highlands can be enhanced with design features and equipment that will enormously facilitate how we address the unique needs of our students. Jasper High School will do just that,” Rhodes said. “Our students will have access to state of the art, technically designed, modern classrooms, with kitchen and bathroom access and adjoining activities rooms. While the building is large, students with walkers, wheelchairs, braces, etc. will be given extended time and assistance when transitioning from point A to point B. ... We are excited about the changes and about the opportunities that these changes will bring for our students.”

Pilling said access to enhanced resources for students is one of the most exciting aspects of the transition.

“When you’re looking at reconfiguration, there are resources such as gifted services and all of our special education services, along with activities and extracurricular activities, that can be geared for a particular grade level. That’s very exciting when you’re looking at ... how to meet the needs of each particular grade level of students,” Pilling said.

Jackson acknowledged how parents have been concerned about start and end times for each school and the travel associated with picking up students from various schools, but she said options are being explored to ease the process. She said one factor in determining the high school’s schedule, in particular, is correlating their schedule with the Walker County Center of Technology.

“We’re very fortunate to have Walker County Center of Technology work with a lot of our high school kids, and we have to adhere to their schedule. A lot of people don’t understand that, so it limits us in some ways in what we can do with the high school schedule,” Jackson said.

Last week, a group of teachers and parents met at the board’s central office to discuss the transition plan. Transition teams at each school have also been meeting to discuss how to keep traditions of each school alive, including West Jasper. A parent survey has also been released to get their feedback on school start and end times.

Jackson said a lot of changes are having to take place to make the transition happen, but she said the end result will allow for all students in the school system to have the same opportunities.

“Every child will have the same opportunities, the same resources, the same curriculum. ... We’re making sure that everything is equal for every student,” Jackson said.” It’s difficult, because we’re emotionally tied to our schools. ... We don’t have zones, there are no districts, we’re going to be one big family. ... We’re all Vikings.”