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Closing Kunkel and Fink could benefit district and students: Editorial

Posted 10/11/18

Is the Middletown Area School District on the cusp of a complete overhaul of its schools?

Think about what is being considered. Closing Kunkel and Fink elementary schools. Selling the school …

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Closing Kunkel and Fink could benefit district and students: Editorial

Posted

Is the Middletown Area School District on the cusp of a complete overhaul of its schools?

Think about what is being considered. Closing Kunkel and Fink elementary schools. Selling the school district office building on Water Street. Moving those offices to a renovated Fink. Selling the Kunkel land, in theory as part of the larger sale of the farmland around it. Building a new school on the main campus. Realigning grades between the new building and the current Reid Elementary School.

Out with the “neighborhood schools.” In with a central campus.

Out with the non-compliant Americans with Disabilities Act school at Kunkel. In with brand new, shiny classrooms.

Out with the same grades being taught at three different elementaries. In with the sharing of resources among teachers and staff at a school sharing all of the students in the same grade.

Will all of it happen? There is certainly a long way to go. Money, of course will always be a key factor, in hand with the educational impact such moves would have.

But there wouldn’t appear to be a better time to sell Kunkel, which is in need of major renovations anyway. It was built in 1962 and renovated in 1996, but it’s not up to date for what is needed today.

Add in that the Williams Farm across Fulling Mill Road from the school is for sale — and that the land for sale by Tom and Tiz Williams almost completely surrounds Kunkel — and you see why this is a time to make a big decision. Not only would the Kunkel land likely be very valuable now because a potential buyer could purchase it in concert with the tracts around it, but selling it would relieve any concerns about what potentially could be built around the school by a new landowner.

Selling the Kunkel property also would likely put it back on the tax rolls, which would be a benefit.

Closing Fink would raise eyebrows. It is a “neighborhood school,” unlike Kunkel, nestled in a highly residential area on North Race Street.

People have attachments to such schools because they are within walking distance for many youngsters and there is a romanticism tied to having schools intermixed with homes.

But Superintendent Lori Suski said at the Oct. 2 school board meeting that “there is no such thing this day and age” as the true neighborhood school concept, “because we already move students all over the place to balance enrollment. However, psychologically there are still some folks who view it as the neighborhood school.”

Is there really an educational benefit to a “neighborhood school” vs. what the school board appears to support in a central campus? Probably not.

Board member Darnell Montgomery, an educator himself, made good points at the Oct. 2 meeting, saying that a central campus could help build “culture and community” and that it “allows teachers to really, really collaborate across the curriculum.”

We are glad that the school board wants to hear from the community. The district intends to hold a special public meeting about the potential plans in late November.

We expect to hear some strong objections because change is hard. Residents have ties to their former schools. They might not want to have all the schools be in one spot. Some Middletown residents might not like that all the schools will be in Lower Swatara Township. Others might have major concerns — valid ones — about the associated costs.

We look forward to hearing the concerns so they can be addressed. No decision will please everyone.

As Suski told us, a few years ago the district surveyed its teaching staff, regarding how faculty felt about going to a central campus vs. preserving the neighborhood school model. The survey came back with the faculty split — 50 percent liked the center model, 50 percent preferred the neighborhood model.

The board has some tough decisions ahead, and more information must be gathered, including the thoughts of residents. But we certainly think a central campus has merits if the pricetag isn’t too steep.