The hearing came after eight meetings with parents and guardians of students in the seven Cherokee County School District schools that may face grade configuration changes, including one that is planned to be closed in its present capacity.
Petruzielo’s recommendations, which will be voted on by the board at its Dec. 6 meeting, included setting the grade configuration for the replacement E.T. Booth Middle School to be sixth- through eighth-grade.
“At some point we will hopefully have the same opportunity when the new Teasley (Middle School) opens next fall and when the new Dean Rusk (Middle School) opens probably a year or two after that,” Petruzielo said.
The new Booth configuration will necessitate changes at Bascomb, Boston and Oak Grove elementary schools, which serve kindergarten through fourth-grade, to include fifth-grade classes. The new Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy is K-5 and will not be changed.
On Chapman Intermediate School, Petruzielo recommended it be closed as a fifth- and sixth-grade school but did not make a recommendation as to how Etowah High School should use the facility and left it up to Etowah administrators.
“We would expect that they will determine certainly the best possible use of the additional space, which has been needed there on campus for quite some time,” Petruzielo said.
Finally, Petruzielo said recommendations from parents of Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy students, which serves K-6, were mixed and the district’s preference was not to change the grade configuration, but would support the board’s vote of either a K-5 or K-6 model.
“The fairest conclusion I can give you is, there does not appear to be community-wide consensus in the Ball Ground area,” Petruzielo said.
Scott McDonald, the only parent to speak during the public input portion of the hearing, requested the board consider keeping the K-6 model at Ball Ground and also look towards considering a K-8 grade configuration.
Petruzielo said the district may run into state funding and logistical problems if middle school students were split between both Ball Ground and Creekland Middle School and would not recommend the change.
Board member Michael Geist asked the superintendent whether there was potential to pilot a middle school STEM Academy at Ball Ground with a smaller middle school population that would provide overcrowding relief to Creekland.
Petruzielo said the district does not have the funding to immediately expand its Cherokee Academies initiative to the middle grades.
“What we have done I think is do a very good job of using the very limited amount of funds in order to ramp up programs both in STEM and fine arts,” Petruzielo said.
Petruzielo said federal and state monies are not guaranteed to be coming down the pipeline any time soon, and without additional help from the local delegation the board cannot make its decision on grade configurations based on expanded offerings that “may not be able to be delivered.”
“I don’t want to give you the impression that somehow money is going to drop from the air and we’ll be able to have full-blown middle school STEM programs next year,” Petruzielo said. “That’s going to depend on the degree to which Race to the Top money is available and in the following years, it’s going to depend upon whether the state thinks this is a priority.”