Ontario schools plan major fall shift, moving elementary students and teachers

Dalia Ontiveros reads to her first-grade class at May Roberts Elementary School in Ontario. The school would become home to fifth and sixth grade students from across the Ontario School District under a plan advanced by school officials. (FILE/The Enterprise/Joe Siess)

ONTARIO – The Ontario School District plans to shift to a grade level model of schools next school year, a move expected to benefit educators but could result in logistical challenges for parents and their nearly 2,000 students.

While the change was announced to its employees last week, district officials have yet to inform parents or the community of a development that will force staff and students to change schools and schedules. Superintendent Nikki Albisu and School Board Chair Mike Blackaby didn’t respond to written requests for interviews last week.

The Ontario School Board was scheduled to hold a special meeting at 7 a.m. Tuesday, March 3.

The “elementary reconfiguration” was announced to the school board during a work session on Monday, Feb. 24, but was not brought up at the regular board meeting. 

The shift would put all students in a single grade into the same elementary school, causing some parents who have children in more than one grade level to juggle different elementary drop off times at multiple locations. 

There are currently 2,432 students enrolled in Ontario schools, and 1,397 of those students are in the district’s elementary schools, according to Taryn Smith, school district public information coordinator.

School district officials briefed elementary principals on the reconfiguration early last week, and advised them to refer any questions from the Enterprise about their school to district headquarters. 

Teachers were told they would stay at their current grade level and would move to the school where their grade will be housed.

Under the plan, kindergarten and first grade would be at Alameda Elementary School, second and third graders would attend Aiken and fourth, fifth and sixth grades would go to May Roberts.

Cairo Elementary School would continue as a traditional kindergarten through sixth grade school and STREAM for kindergarten through sixth would be at Pioneer. 

The school board in August 2018 gave district officials authority to plan for the change but no approval to implement the move. The minutes from that meeting show a mixture of responses to the prospect of the reconfiguration. 

“I strongly disagree with grade level elementary schools,” one person stated on the record. “I think our current system helps build a “community” feeling among students and parents. I would have children in several elementary schools at one time and would not feel any loyalty to volunteer and support any one particularly.” 

Another individual said that while the reconfiguration may benefit educators, having to coordinate a number of elementary drop off times would create a difficult situation for parents who have children attending different grade levels. 

Others supported the shift, one saying, “I would very much like to see the grade level schools. Putting all the kids together creates a sense of whole for the kids from K-12.” 

“Grade level schools may not be the easy thing to do but it is a right thing in this community,” another person said. 

On Wednesday, Feb. 26, Smith told the Enterprise via text message, “We are still in the initial planning process of our elementary reconfiguration” and added that, “I can get you more info tomorrow.”

On Monday, she provided an additional statement but wouldn’t release district documents about the major change.

“We are working hard at targeting our staff and parents at this time and have plans to garner community feedback in the next few weeks,” Smith wrote.

Smith said district officials would discuss at the special board meeting their plan to move forward with engaging families and the public.

School district officials briefed elementary principals on the reconfiguration early last week, and advised them to refer any questions from the Enterprise about their school to district headquarters. 

Smith said, “Elementary principals have shared the information with their staff and have taken the time to talk with them about the transition.”

“We understand that change can be difficult,” Smith said, “and we truly believe that this transition will benefit all Ontario School District children, as well as our staff and families.”

CORRECTION: Mike Blackaby, the Ontario School Board chairman, and Superintendent Nikki Albisu were asked in writing about an interview and neither responded. They were not provided written questions as an earlier version of the story reported. The Enterprise apologizes for the error.

News tip? Contact reporter Joe Siess: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.