Howland may close North Road Intermediate

Board to vote on recommendation Monday

HOWLAND — The Howland Board of Education is expected to vote Monday on a recommendation to relocate the district’s fifth grade to Howland Middle School next school year and close North Road Intermediate as part of the district’s strategic planning process.

“Continued monitoring of student enrollment and the efficiency of building usage is necessary in a district of our size to ensure we are not remiss in operating responsibly to those who fund the majority of our school operations — our local taxpayers,” Howland Schools Superintendent Kevin Spicher stated in a press release. “The recommendation does not come without a lot of homework to strike the right balance between building usage capacities and optimal instructional learning environments. The North Road building will remain a part of the board’s property until we are able to determine what ideas or possibilities are out there that would serve the best interests of the school district and our community.”

Student enrollment was a large variable as it has been decreasing for years and hovers around 2,500 students, the release states. Enrollment numbers for next year’s kindergarten class are down, with projected future enrollment numbers also expected to decrease, it notes.

“Moving fifth-grade operations to a middle school building is a smart move as it is a common grade level band that resolves a number of needs for students and staff collaboratively, efficiently and resourcefully,” Spicher said in the press release. “In our case, the North Road building, which only houses fifth grade, was already the only feeder school to the middle school. It just makes sense to move operations to the middle school when enrollment (necessitates) such a move. The middle school’s current enrollment is 629. While the move of fifth grade to the middle school introduces almost 200 additional students, total building enrollment numbers will be consistent with past years and well within our abilities to educate our students effectively while remaining within state and local guidelines and local contracts.”

Several years ago, the district reconfigured its schools and separated them by grade level instead of geographic location to accomodate all-day kindergarten. Howland Springs Elementary houses kindergarten and first grade; Howland Glen houses kindergarten and second grade; H.C. Mines houses grades three and four; and North Road Intermediate houses fifth grade. The middle school holds grades six through eight.

Other variables include curriculum, personnel, special courses, building capacities, student / teacher ratios and accessibility via bus transportation. In order to make the transition as smooth as possible for students and parents, the release states, the plan is for the bus schedule and operating day to remain on same, and for students coming into fifth grade to be transported and picked up at the middle school building.

The building closure should not affect certified or classified staff. The board did approve retirement incentives in February in an attempt to offset any potential reductions in staff because of decreases in overall student enrollment. The district will be able to reinvest the estimated $500,000 saved from closing North Road into student academic and activity programs, Spicher said.

“We take these decisions seriously. It is never pleasant to announce a recommendation to close a school building, but it would be irresponsible to our taxpayers if we did not continue to make the moves we have made in the past to ensure a strong and viable school system is in our community today and tomorrow,” he said.