Investing in education

Investing in education

Normandy schools to build a new early childhood and kindergarten center and change its elementary school model

By Sara Hardin

A new early childhood and kindergarten center is coming to Normandy schools, along with a brand new configuration for its elementary school model. The changes come after the unanimous approval of the Normandy Joint Executive Governing Board (JEGB) during its public meeting on Oct. 9. Funds will be provided through Proposition N, the $23 million bond issue approved earlier this year that will help to provide new facilities and upgrades to buildings and programs throughout the Normandy Schools Collaborative.

The new elementary school model will place seventh and eighth grades in the same building as grades one through six, removing the middle school. Additions to Jefferson and Washington Elementary schools will help to accommodate the increase in students, and are scheduled to open by December 2018. The decision is one settled on by the JEGB after extensive deliberation and feedback from the community, school staff and parents.

“This was a big decision for the organization,” said Dr. Charles Pearson, Superintendent of Normandy Schools. “The board in the end saw this move really as a true investment in the future of our students. Five years from now, ten years from now, this should have a significant impact on our community and our children. This was strategic. It was not a decision made lightly. It was a decision made after plenty of feedback from lots of direction. We’re confident now about moving forward, and now the real work begins.”

Pearson refers to research that shows improvement in students’ performance and grade level by the time high school begins with what he calls the ‘Elemiddle’ model.

“Research shows that seventh and eighth graders who come out of a grade one through eight environment tend to go into high school performing better academically than students coming from a sixth, seventh and eighth grade middle school,” said Pearson. “They tend to feel safer in the environment. There are stronger relationships between the students and the teachers in the building because they’ve been with those teachers in some capacity throughout their whole time in school. There are also better relationships between the parents and the families of those children and the school itself. Those teachers of the seventh and eighth grades still apply the best instructional strategies from teaching middle school.”

The Collaborative’s state-recognized early childhood program will be expanded with a new early childhood center (ECC), which will contain both the early childhood and kindergarten programs. The new building is expected to open for the 2019-2020 school year.

“The science is in on the importance of early childhood education,” said Chris Krehmeyer, CEO of Beyond Housing, a longtime partner of the Normandy community and Normandy Schools Collaborative. “We all know that for children to be successful, they need direct social, emotional and cognitive learning early in life. Our challenge is, as a community, do we have the courage to make it happen for every child? We know that lower-income communities don’t have as much access to as high quality early childhood education as other parts of the region. By expanding their existing, successful, high quality early childhood center, they’re also expanding opportunities for children in the community to receive high quality Pre-K to position them for life and the first day of kindergarten. Kudos to the leadership at Normandy for making a commitment to the children of this community, expanding and enhancing the delivery of early childhood education. It’s a great thing and will do wonders for this community today and in the future.”

The new ECC will place pre-K and kindergarten students in the same space, allowing a more seamless transition from one to the other. The change is expected to enhance the performance of the already successful program and its students, better preparing them for higher grade levels.

“If you can create a structure where there can be a more seamless transition, you can create a greater foundation for students as they move up,” explained Pearson. “Ultimately what we want to be sure of is that by the time our students reach third grade, we want every child to be on grade level. This we believe is going to leverage us towards doing that. When we do that, then we’ll need less remediation of students who have been with us as they move up our ladder. We’re working on changing the lives of children today. We know that if we do this we’ll be educating them to be very successful in the future. Our students will get to high school more prepared for college and career readiness.”

For more information on the Normandy Schools Collaborative, visit normandysc.org.

CUTLINE: Image courtesy TRi Architects This is a rendering of the new Normandy Schools Collaborative Early Childhood Center.