The Northwest Public Schools Board of Education continued its discussion on how to implement a middle school structure in the district at its meeting Monday night.

The board is proposing to make Northwest High School a 7-12 facility, while reducing the high school enrollment to 160 students per grade. Board President Dan Leiser said 160 kids per grade at the high school would put it at 480 students, which is about the same size as other class B school districts.

Board member Robin Schutt said the district will have a two-year “hiccup” where it reduces its enrollment at the high school to let students into the middle school at the seventh-grade level, but that over time, the enrollment numbers will remain the same.

“The thing I hate seeing is that we want to cut option enrollment,” she said. “We have a two-year hiccup where the number dips, but what you are gaining is an opportunity in education for the seventh- and eighth-graders that are getting nothing right now.”

Board member Bret Mader said he is excited about the idea of a 7-12 structure at the high school. He said that when he attended a press conference on the middle school bond last fall, a sheet was distributed outlining what elective classes middle schools across the state offered their students. After the press conference, it was obvious to him that Northwest needs to do more for its middle school students.

“We don’t give them anything as far (class) options,” Bret Mader said. “I see this as a good opportunity to really increase our education. I actually believe it will increase our education at the high school. Instead of having 80 kids going to the high school — with 180 (total) students and 100 freshmen (coming) from Grand Island Public Schools — you have 120 students in the building that already know each other and have experiences with each other.”

He added he is ready to place the implementation of a 7-12 facility at Northwest High School on the agenda to vote on and “give the public an idea of where we are going.”

Board member Mike Shafer said he is “really against” reducing the size of the high school “by a single student. He said people do not option into the Northwest district to attend the feeder schools, but rather to attend the high schools. Shafer worried that reducing the enrollment numbers would “lessen the experience” at the high school.

When he taught at Northwest High School, Shafer said seniors sometimes ran out of classes to take to meet graduation requirements. He added he feels that reducing more classes would make this problem worse.

Board member Karl Quandt said he has the same concerns as Shafer and as concerned about the costs of reducing enrollment at the high school.

“I understand what Robin (Schutt) said where it is a two-year turnaround,” he said. “But you are taking a given thing that you know is working and you are betting that a different situation — a 7-12 — pans out and that students still have a desire to keep coming. I know there are other schools that are successful with a 7-12, but they are not in our area.”

Quandt said that with GIPS having 6-8 middle schools and a 9-12 high school, it is crucial that Northwest is “on the same page” to allow it to gain option students at the middle school level. He added he is not sold on families wanting to send their students to one school for one year and then option into Northwest High School the next school year.

Leiser suggested putting together a 7-12 committee to meet with Superintendent Jeff Edwards and other district staff to answer questions the board has about implementing a 7-12 structure at Northwest High School. Shafer agreed, saying it is necessary due to the board making “a huge decision” that “has to be done right.”

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