DISTRICT LOOKING TO SPLIT LARGEST CLASSROOMS AT FREEMAN ELEMENTARY
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
Because of high enrollment numbers in the lowest grades, school officials from Freeman Public Schools are considering re-configuring classrooms on the elementary side of the campus to allow them to, next year, split this year’s kindergarten class of 30 and first grade class of 28 into two sections.
Freeman Elementary currently serves students in grades K-5, and is also home to Growing Dreams Learning Center, a daycare and preschool that is not part of the school district but has been using its facilities since 2019.
There is currently one open classroom on the elementary side of the campus.
Voss said out-of-district placement is driving the need to re-evaluate how Freeman Public uses its space. He noted Freeman Public can and does accurately project the size of its incoming classes based on children who are born in the district.
“One of the things we’re not able to track is out of district and out of state,” said K-5 Principal Shane Voss, who notes that enrollment at Freeman Elementary is up more than 20 over last year. “And we had a huge influx of out-of-state kids this year, most of them coming from states that had their school shut down because of Covid.
“Those are the figures we can’t project,” he continued. “The main purpose (of this re-evaluation) is to free up some classrooms to accommodate the current growth we have and any future growth if we continue to grow like we have in the last year.”
Voss said the incoming kindergarten class for the 2022-23 school year is projected to be between 20 and 25.
The Freeman School Board heard three proposals from Principal Shane Voss at its regular monthly meeting last week Monday, Jan. 10:
1. Move the fifth-grade class to the middle school-high school side, which currently serves students in grades 6-12. This would provide three open classrooms and allow the school to split next year’s first grade and second grade classes into two sections.
2. Terminate the lease with Growing Dreams Learning Center, which would open up five classrooms. Under this scenario, not only would the fifth graders remain where they are, the sixth graders would return to the elementary side of the building. Next year’s first and second grade classes would be split into two sections;
3. Leave everything as is but split next year’s first-grade class into two sections.
“That leaves absolutely no room for growth if we have another boom of out-of-district placements like we saw this year,” Voss said.
Voss said the second option is favored by both he and his staff — and 6-12 Principal Katie Juhnke — and gives the district the most flexibility in doing what is best for the students. That includes, not only keeping the fifth graders on the elementary side, but also moving the sixth graders back over to a learning environment with which they are more comfortable.
“There’s some concern with sixth graders (being over here) maturity wise,” Voss said, noting that one bathroom is shared by all grade levels. “Some are ready to be over here; there’s probably a bigger majority that aren’t comfortable being in this type of setting with the older kids.
“Option two gives us the most flexibility for moving the sixth grade back and giving you some room for growth,” he says. “And I hope we need those classrooms — I hope we do see the growth like we have.”
Freeman Superintendent Jake Tietje told the board, if it went with option No. 2, it would mean the addition of two FTE (Full Time Employees), “and that’s something that we’re comfortable with.” He also said he has notified Growing Dreams Learning Center of the possibility that it would have to find another home.
“I want to be very transparent with them so I have notified them that this is something that we would be discussing tonight,” Tietje said. “I encouraged them to come to our February meeting and share — make sure the board is aware of all the things they’re doing in this facility and any other options they would have within the community.
“We certainly want to make sure we’re being neighborly for them and especially for our families that have kids attending there,” he continued. “We want to make sure they’re taken care of — that they have options.”
School officials noted that when Freeman Public invited Growing Dreams Learning Center to use its facilities, it had extra classrooms to give.
“The school district is growing at a pretty rapid pace as far as student numbers go,” said board member Slade Ammann. “Initially when we agreed to the Growing Dreams project, it’s because we had the extra classroom space. Things have changed and, unfortunately for them, our good fortune is probably going to mean we’re going to have to make some changes. Those classrooms are needed for students. That has to be our priority.”
Board president Emily Andersen agreed.
“Absolutely,” she said.
Freeman Public is expected to take up the issue again when it meets Monday, Feb. 14.