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Carlisle Schools

Carlisle school district plans to seek public input in comprehensive plan, elementary program update

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Bellaire Elementary School

Carlisle Area School District will seek public input on its elementary program update and comprehensive plan.

Within the next three months, Carlisle Area School District will seek public input on two strategic initiatives.

One initiative will focus on a comprehensive plan and its view of district priorities over the next three years. The other initiative will delve into how to structure the elementary education program across seven school buildings.

While the elementary program update has no deadline, the comprehensive plan has a strict timetable leading up to March 31 when the district has to submit the final draft to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Both initiatives were discussed last week during a Carlisle school board committee meeting.

Public input

Michael Gogoj, director of curriculum and instruction, outlined a timetable that has the comprehensive plan open for public input this month and into November and possibly December.

“It’s our objective to engage all of our most critical stakeholders in a systematic and meaningful way,” he said. “Students, families, faculty and staff will experience some combination of surveys, Thought Exchange and small- to medium-size focus groups. We just concluded a district-level parent meeting at the end of September. Another one is scheduled for the end of October.”

Thought Exchange is an online platform that poses a question and then rates the responses to gauge public sentiment.

School board members are planning a workshop to present their input on the comprehensive plan, Gogoj said. “We are convening a focus group of community leaders to ascertain that perspective.”

Superintendent Christina Spielbauer said public input on the elementary program could begin in two to three months using the same methods as the comprehensive plan. She envisions different questions for each stakeholder group built around such common threads as what do families hope and dream for their children, what are they excited about and what opportunities should the district provide to students.

Comprehensive plan

The Education Department requires school districts to periodically submit a comprehensive plan, board president Paula Bussard said last week. “For our purposes, the plan really does serve as a roadmap of the bigger districtwide priorities over a three-year period.”

The superintendent, district administrators, building principals and faculty and staff use it to set goals, she said.

Work on the new plan started in the summer with a review of the latest Education Deparment requirements, Gogoj said. Once public input is concluded, the drafting process will begin in November and December followed by a board presentation and public viewing period in January/February. The final draft could be ready in February/March.

Though still early in the process, several themes have emerged based on preliminary discussions with teachers, administrators and school board members, Spielbauer said. These include major shifts such as a block schedule at Carlisle High School, the program update at the elementary school level and the development of more district-based curriculum for the Carlisle Virtual Academy.

Other themes include curricular and instructional excellence, healthy and positive school culture, equitable activities and opportunities, meeting students’ needs and K-12 career exploration, planning and preparation.

Eventually, the district will have to narrow down the themes to a few manageable goals, Spielbauer said. Even then, outside circumstances could disrupt priorities.

“If the last year and a half has taught us anything it’s that the best laid plans can be changed and uprooted,” Gogoj said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Regardless, this process helps us to set a direction so everybody knows where we are headed as a school district.

Program update

One goal of the current comprehensive plan is a detailed review of the elementary education program. Work on that goal started in September 2019 with the first meeting of a programming committee consisting of board members, teachers, district-level administrators, building principals, counselors, nurses and specialists in art, music, reading, physical education, gifted education and learning support.

That committee met again in January 2020 to begin a review of such issues as school attendance boundaries, grade level spans, building upgrades, bus routes and start/end times.

“We had not finalized anything,” Spielbauer said last week. “We’re still in the research and development phase. The pandemic pushed the pause button on this, but we are excited to be back in the forefront of our conversations.”

Work is underway to reconstitute the committee even as research comes to a close on a demographic study. The next stage of gathering public input will include PTO meetings and the districtwide parent advisory group.

A program update is needed because class sizes and other disparities exist among the elementary schools, Spielbauer said. Building age combined with physical limitations make it difficult for the district to offer students a range of programs and support systems at all the schools, she said.

On top of that, specialists in reading support, English language services and gifted and special education lose productive work time traveling between schools, Spielbauer last week.

Part of the challenge is to monitor enrollment projections based on housing trends. During her presentation, Spielbauer said there are three residential developments under construction that have a total of 348 family units that could impact enrollment at Bellaire Elementary School and Wilson Middle School.

In January 2020, Bussard compared the elementary education program update to the community input and deliberation that led to the restructuring of the middle school program and the renovation of the Wilson and Lamberton buildings.

It is conceivable that the programming committee could recommend the school board close down and consolidate school buildings, redraw attendance areas or reconfigure the grade structure of different elementary schools, Bussard said.

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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