How One Fits In The Other

The arguments against closing South Street Early Learning Center and moving those students to Warren Area Elementary Center that were presented to the school board on Monday evening were varied.

Warren Area Elementary Center is too crowded.

There isn’t enough parking.

The move is all about saving money, not about education.

If South Street is closed, why not other elementary schools?

But, according to Warren County School District officials, the merger can be successful, alleviating those concerns while providing enriched educational opportunities for students.

“When the building was built, it was built with a lot of versatility,” WAEC Principal Ruth Nelson said of her school.

Acting Superintendent Amy Stewart said the district asked an architect to review the capacity of the building. While the Pennsylvania Department of Education places the capacity of WAEC at 924, the district asked for a review should enrollment be as high as 998. “They have said yes (it) meets or exceeds code,” said Stewart.

“With the plan, there’s enough space,” South Street Principal Ann Buerkle said. “Aides won’t be working in closets. There is plenty of group area for small group instruction.”

Stewart said the review of the potential merger is focused more on rooms rather than on staff or capacity. “It really is an issue of rooms,” she said.

Nelson and Buerkle walked the board through how the merger would affect key school programming.

Regarding “specials” like art and music, an additional itinerant teacher would likely be needed to cover a couple of classes. “We’re already doing that,” Nelson said. She explained that the gymnasium provides a versatile venue for music instruction. “The gym is one of the nicest parts of WAEC,” she explained. “It is made to be used in two classrooms. I don’t think we would need to do that (but) instrumental music on the stage has worked very well.”

Buerkle said that she is “excited about the opportunities for our kids” in the library at WAEC, as compared to South Street. “It’s going to be a real bonus, the library area for our kids.” Nelson said that, unlike South Street, computer access is available in the library.

From a technology standpoint, Stewart said the district is “planning that we would take the computers we have and redistribute them, utilizing the technology we already have” through the merger.

Buerkle explained that providing opportunities for kindergarten students to work with fifth grade students has value as well. “Those interactions will be great,” she said. “Having the primary grades together will be a benefit. I’m excited for kids to have the opportunity to work together.”

Addressing the parking issue, Stewart said, “There is adequate parking for staff.” For special events, the situation isn’t ideal. Stewart said that one way to circumvent that issue is to plan events by grade level to “manage parent parking. You are always going to have that overflow parking. That is just the way it is.”

“I recognize that our traffic situation at WAEC isn’t ideal,” Transportation Manager Mike Kiehl said. He told the board that he has recently reviewed the situation and “recognize some things we want to do differently.”

One of those changes, Kiehl explained, would be to utilize a crossing guard position that currently is at South Street to work with the flow of traffic at WAEC, should the schools be merged.

But administration is confident all the hurdles can be overcome.

“These are two principals, if they didn’t think this was a good idea…is it a doable plan? It’s very doable,” Stewart said. “The reality of an elementary classroom is that the majority of the student’s experiences revolved around the teacher in the classroom.”

“I see the education being the same,” Buerkle added.