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Callaghan presents report in support of neighborhood schools

The results the Newton Community School District received from both its demographic study and facilities study are laying the groundwork for some possible major changes in the future for Newton’s schools.

Superintendent Bob Callaghan said at Monday’s school board meeting he and the rest of the district’s administrative team have been gathering what they’ve heard and read from the School Improvement Advisory Committee, the SIAC facilities subcommittee, a teacher survey, community members and others that favor the district going back to neighborhood schools at the elementary level.

“We need to think about a return to neighborhood schools,” Callaghan said, referencing his and the administrative teams findings from the listed groups.

The district made the decision to switch from five neighborhood elementary schools to two K-3 buildings and two 4-6 buildings in 2010. When the decision was made, Woodrow Wilson was selected to continue to serve as an elementary building over Emerson Hough in a 5-2 vote by that school board.

Callaghan’s finding also indicated some other possible changes the district should consider in the future.

“We need to think about having a minimum of three grade classrooms at each grade level. That we need to utilize our classroom space to accommodate smaller classroom sizes, particularly in the K-3 level,” Callaghan said.

The figures Callaghan reported from the SIAC staffing subcommittee suggest that K-1 classrooms should hold 18-21 students, 2-3 should hold around 20 students and 22-24 students for grades 4-12 that provide more flexibility as students progress.

“Based upon this data, the Newton Community School District would require approximately 80 to 83 classrooms in our K-6 buildings for the students,” Callaghan said. “To house this number of classrooms, we might have to reconfigure our building usage.”

For the projected 80-83 classroom model to work, Callaghan presented figures on the current and potential classroom configurations for all four elementary buildings and Emerson Hough, which houses the district’s preschool program and Basics and Beyond Alternative School.

Emerson Hough currently serves 128 students, has 15 classrooms and five special rooms (music, art, LMC (library), guidance and physical education) and has the potential for 17 classrooms. Berg Elementary currently has 496 students, 21 classrooms and four special rooms and the potential for 25 classrooms.

Thomas Jefferson currently has 448 students, 21 classrooms, four special rooms and has the potential for 23 classrooms. Woodrow Wilson currently has 318 students, 14 classrooms and five special rooms and potential for 17 classrooms.

Aurora Heights has 351 students and its facilities are considered “maxed out” at 15 classrooms and five special rooms.

The prospect of having neighborhood schools again was met with an overwhelmingly positive response when the question was posed on the Newton Daily News’ Facebook page.

“Yes!! Go back to neighborhood schools. Bring back smaller peer groups. I think the current system is too big and too impersonal,” Lori Faidley wrote.

Another item that was put out there would be realigning the district by turning Newton Senior High School into an 8-12 facility, making Berg Middle School a 6-7 facility and using five K-5 buildings again.

Callaghan said if that matter were considered, it would limit the availability of the gym, would require additional science facilities at NHS and the board would have to reconsider how BMS’s special teachers are utilized since they are shared between the seventh and eighth grades.

He also said having five lower education buildings would limit each grade level to two teachers and that it was “at best receiving a lukewarm reception.”

The board opted not to publicly comment on this matter at the time and Callaghan reiterated that these were not his suggestions and this was merely a report that could potentially be a discussion item in the future.

“I want to point out, board members, that these are not my thoughts. These are the thoughts that I have garnered from everyone speaking,” Callaghan said.

Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at

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