MMCRU: Two and a half years later Is whole-grade sharing working?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

MARCUS — As MMCRU closes in on the halfway point of the whole grade sharing program, the school district is beginning to find its equilibrium among the combined classes.

“There have been a lot of changes with programming/staffing over the past two and one-half years,” said MMCRU Superintendent Dan Barkel. “Right now, we need to take a breath and bring stability to the districts and to the sharing program. I suppose the watchword here would be, ‘steady as she goes.’”

The program began August 2016.

“Whole-grade sharing is when two districts enter into an agreement to share students between the two districts in an effort to better manage costs since the state only allocates funding on a per-pupil cost basis,” Barkel explained. “In the case of MMCRU, both districts serve kids from pre-kindergarten to fourth grade. For grades 5-8, all students from Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn (MMC) and Remsen-Union (RU) attend school at the Remsen center. For grades 9-12, all students from both RU and MMC attend at the Marcus center.”

Initially, the program met with some harsh criticism.

“I think there were some hard feelings and difficulties at first, but overall, when the sharing agreement was completed, most persons adjusted to the new situation,” Barkel shared. “I believe the biggest challenge has been the decision to have the high school in Marcus. I know that there were hard feelings in the RU community regarding this decision, which continues to this day with some.”

However, the grade sharing program has benefited the district in a multitude of ways.

“The biggest benefit is for the students,” said Barkel. “Whole grade sharing has given students more choices for both academic classes and extracurricular programs. Students have more choices, and we have more students to support the programs we have, which adds to the quality of the programs. The benefit for the state is a more efficient use of education dollars. Thus, whole-grade sharing is also more beneficial to the taxpayer.”

Along with the benefits, the district has also dealt with challenges.

“There have been some challenges with transportation and staffing, but MMCRU has overcome many of those initial changes,” Barkel shared. “There definitely was a lot of change in staffing once whole grade sharing began. We have less administrators. Many teachers changed assignments and even buildings to which they reported for work.”

Despite the challenges, MMCRU continues to gather support.

“At this point, in our third year, things seem to have settled, and we are now on one team moving forward,” Barkel stated. “The parents are nearly completely on-board with whole-grade sharing. It took a little longer to get there than the students did, but we have great school spirit among the MMCRU community, and that includes the parents.”

In addition to having more educational and extracurricular opportunities, the students have acclimated well to the program.

“The students have been great,” Barkel exclaimed. “It’s as if we were never two separate communities. Plus, they have gotten to know more kids and gained friendships from the other communities with whom we now share.”

Barkel, who joined the district over the summer, hopes to build on the success they’ve had so far.

“My hopes for the program are to refine and improve what we have already in place for our students and families, and improve facilities in both centers to make our schools more appealing to current and potential students,” he shared.

As of right now, the school board has not spoken about extending the whole-grade sharing program beyond the initial five years.

“But I wouldn’t be surprised if that would eventually happen based upon my conversations with community members and board members,” added Barkel, who has seen mostly support for the program from the community since becoming superintendent.

While they haven’t discussed extending the program, they haven’t contemplated consolidation either.

“To my knowledge, the possibility of consolidation has not been discussed at the board level,” Barkel shared. “Will consolidation eventually be on the table? I’m sure eventually it will, but I don’t see it happening for quite a while. Both MMC and RU districts are still getting used to whole-grade sharing, and, for the most part, we like it. But consolidation is another big step, and I don’t see that happening for quite awhile.”

Whatever the future brings for the district, Barkel knows the decision will be made in the best interest of the students, just like the decision to initiate the whole-grade sharing.

“I’d like to thank the past and current board members, and especially our recently retired superintendent, Jan Brandhorst, for their courage and work in getting the whole-grade sharing agreement put together,” Barkel said. “These types of changes are difficult to achieve, but I believe it has been what is best for our students, and they deserve credit for sometimes taking the heat for doing what was best for the kids. I also want to thank our staff and students for displaying such great school spirit and care for one another. It has been very evident this year, and has helped to cement both school districts together. Go Royals.”