LETTERS

In support of junior high in Aledo

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

Dear Mercer County School Board Members,

 We are writing to you in support of Superintendent Bill Rees' building proposal to establish the Aledo Junior High School as a seventh and eighth grade facility and the Joy building as a fifth and sixth grade building. We strongly feel that Mr. Rees' presentation to the school board on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 was well researched, compelling, and objective. It also led us to the inescapable conclusion that the educational needs of ALL students in District #404 would best be met by this proposal. Mr. Shoemaker specifically stated, in early January at the District #404 Board meeting held at the Aledo Junior High, that building use would be discussed in April. Consequently, now is the time to address how each building best meets the needs of the students.

We have not observed anything that the board has done or has not done that would prevent Mr. Rees' proposal from being implemented.

Two independent, outside professionals have come to the same conclusion in regards to building usage for our district. It is now time to listen to these experts!

If you vote against two independent professional recommendations on such a key educational issue, then you must have rationale supported by factual information to present to the public to justify your position.  Telling the public, staff, and administration "I think he's wrong" will not suffice.  As Mr. Rees stated, "If you don't give the seventh and eighth grader the opportunity, you may rob the kids who do test well of their chance to achieve and the ones who are behind the chance of catching up."

Right now, the Aledo Junior High School is the ONLY facility in the new district that is exceeding standards due to the sophistication of the building, the state of the art technology, and the abundance of resources available to the students to meet today's academic standards. The Aledo Junior High was built "with modern junior high school building's needs in mind" as stated in the feasibility study done by Dr. Ford.  How could you consciously even consider changing its use, and the intent that it was built for the junior high learner, when two independent experts suggested to you what should be done?

The Joy facility has tremendous advantages for the fifth and sixth grade students. The grades could be housed on separate floors so that fifth graders could still be self-contained and the sixth graders would still be able to change classes for each subject. The classrooms are large and would welcome endless possibilities for the teachers to engage the children in cooperative group projects versus the smaller rooms that will only house student desks. The Joy facility has numerous exciting possibilities that would serve the unique needs of the fifth and sixth grade students without requiring any modification to the internal structure of the building.

The only rationale given by the Committee of Ten as to why the fifth and sixth grade children should be housed at the Aledo Junior High is: "there are assemblies and other activities that the students could share."

This is an insufficient justification as to how to best utilize both buildings! Housing fifth and sixth grade students in Joy would allow them to participate in age-appropriate assemblies instead of attending programs geared towards the elementary aged child.

The athletic facilities at Joy could actually be used more if the fifth and sixth grades were housed there. The problem with the late practices is an issue at the high school level, not the junior high. The large gym at Joy could be used so that two high school teams could have practice after school, one in Joy and one in Aledo. The JV football team could continue to play in Joy and the field would host 6-7 games a year instead of only three games if it were a jr. high facility.

We can see no obvious advantage from an athletic perspective that would favor one building proposal over another. The academic advantage of housing the seventh and eighth grade at the Aledo Junior High cannot be disputed.

We have attended every COT meeting and every District #404 school board meeting. The only argument we have heard in objection to Mr. Rees' proposal is that it goes against the Committee of Ten's proposal, and that somehow the board would be branded liars if they followed Mr. Rees' recommendation. This argument could not be further from the truth!

The COT clearly states throughout their report that everything that they recommend are just that, "recommendations." The report mentions several times that things could be a certain way "depending on where the grades are housed." The COT recommendations were parameters for which the new board was to begin making decisions. Each of the recommendations were to be examined by the new school board and not to be taken as the only way to execute it. The COT never suggested that their report was the final word. They made it clear that the new board would have the final say on all issues.

In fact, in regards to busing, you have already decided to disregard the COT's recommendation and instead voted to hire an outside contractor to bus the Aledo students. This was after you listened to the advice of an outside expert and independently determined it was in the best interest of the district NOT to follow the COT recommendation in regards to busing.

We, as parents and an educator, are in complete agreement with Mr. Rees in regards to building usage. You hired an unbiased individual to work in the best interest of our new school district. Mr. Rees has 25 years experience as a superintendent in a neighboring district and has led that district through consolidation. He has a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience in the field of education and that is why you hired him. We question why you as board members, with no experience in the field of education, continuously negate what the professionals are saying in regards to decisions that must be acted on for the betterment of our public school district.

The administration and staff will soon begin working on creating our district's new mission statement and vision for the future of  education in our district. We hope your decisions in regards to Mr. Rees' building proposal upholds this mission statement and vision for the educational system in Mercer County School District #404.

In closing, we trust that you will take time to visit Aledo Junior High and the Westmer Secondary School during a school day, review Mr. Rees' proposal, and carefully take into consideration the phone calls, e-mails, and letters you have received in regards to this issue. We look forward to the next school year as a consolidated district anticipating many positive changes for all the children.

Sincerely,

Jim and Lisa Rillie