On February 21, the district administration presented its recommendations for resolving overcrowding problems at Leopold Elementary School and accommodating children from new and future housing developments on the west side of Madison to the Long Range Planning Committee.
During the discussion, I questioned the educational merit of creating a paired K-5 elementary school on the Leopold grounds that will house 1100 students. If the voters approve the proposed May referendum to spend $14.5M to construct a new school at the Leopold site, the school will hold 1100 students in two buildings joined in an L-shape.
Superintendent Art Rainwater dismissed my concern. According to the superintendent, the enrollment number for the proposed pair is a non-issue. The superintendent assured us that �you can find research that supports any size of elementary school from 250 to 650 students�. In other words, there is no optimal size for an elementary school. He pointed to current Madison K-5 schools as a standard.
Joining in, Board President Bill Keys told me that the �beauty� of the Leopold recommendation is that the proposed K-2 and 3-5 schools are �completely separate schools�. Like the superintendent, he saw no difference between a K-5 school with 500-600 students and the proposed k-5 with 1100 students.
I see a big difference. The proposed paired Leopold School is not an elementary school of 650 students. The school will enroll 550 students in kindergarten through second grade and another 550 students in third through fifth grades. MMSD currently does not have any elementary schools with 550 students below third grade level. One of the important educational questions before the Board in evaluating the May referendum proposal is whether we should create an elementary school of this size.
Simply put, a K-5 school with 550 students is a smaller school at each grade level than a paired K-5 with 1100 students. In the K-5 school, a kindergarten child is one of fifteen children in his/her class and one of 90 kindergarteners in the school. There are six kindergarten classes. In contrast, at the proposed Leopold School, a kindergarten child is one of fifteen in a class, but one of 200 kindergarteners in the school. There are 12 kindergarten classes in the school. The same is true for first and second grade students if the district continues to offer small �SAGE� classes in schools with large numbers of low income students. There are at least 12 classes at each grade level.
Currently, the administration recommends that the Board add an assistant principal at elementary schools with more than 500 students. The reason is that the larger number of students and staff create management problems beyond what one principal can handle. Why would we not have the same kind of management problems at the proposed paired Leopold School? Would two more assistant principals solve all of the likely problems? Why is 1100 students suddenly a desirable size for an elementary school? Is this the size school that parents want for their primary grade students or for their third, fourth and fifth graders?
Parents have asked me these questions and I have asked the administration. So far, I don�t think that we have satisfactory answers.