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MURPHYSBORO — Throughout the year, schools Superintendent Christopher Grode said he has been reminding teachers that as they complete special projects and lessons, to pack up those materials for moving.

At the end of this month, April 29, the district's elementary schoolteachers will receive a paper layout of the classroom in which some of them will be moving for the start of the 2016-17 school year.

They can use that layout to indicate to the district's staff where they want their desk or chair positioned and other items placed.

This is all part of the big move planned for this summer, as the district prepares to finally implement its attendance centers concept. The district explored the issue and completed reports during the 2004 and 2005-06 school year and picked the issue up again during the 2014-15 school year.

In October 2014, the school board voted, 6-1, to convert to the attendance center concept, to streamline teaching among the grades, Grode explained. For years and years, the Murphysboro Community Unit School District has operated on neighborhood schools concept.

"So attendance centers are basically just school districts that service the same grade level," he said. "This whole year has been the … teachers meeting to get ready for this."

Currently, though, the district has two elementary schools, but families were free to send their children to the school of their choosing.

Per the plan, the General John A. Logan Elementary School on Watson Road will house kindergarten through second-graders, and Carruthers Elementary School on Candy Lane becomes the new home for third- through fifth-graders.

Pre-kindergartners will continue to head to the McElvain school, where the administration is based.

The new configuration serves several purposes, primarily aligning resources for the children and their interests; enabling the district to save by sharing resources among a larger group in a single location; grouping together children of similar ages and interest levels; and providing educators with colleagues with whom they can better plan projects and share teaching methodologies, he explained. Having teachers of the same grade in the same school also allows for a more complete evaluation of teachers and their teaching methods — knowing that at a base level, the educators in the same grades have been supplied with the same measure of resources, he said.

"If I’m going to judge two teachers, I need to make sure they have enough items to align and articulate and make sure they’re moving on the same page,” he said.

"What we’ve got in Murphysboro is two K-5 schools that are a mile and half apart that — and there is no rhyme or reason as to who goes where," Grode said. "And so because of class sizes, there has been every year an issue where I try and balance the class sizes within the (budget)."

He said the district also has a 20 percent mobility rate, meaning that throughout the year, one-fifth of the district's 2,000 students are moving into or out of the district — complicating a balance of students at a given school. He feels the attendance center model will compensate more for that.

Not everyone happy

More than a year after the plan was adopted, a handful of district parents and grandparents have concerns about how this will work out.

One woman, a grandmother to four children in the district, said the new school year will see her dropping off and picking up children at three different schools; the next year, that number increases to four schools.

The woman, waiting outside Carruthers Elementary School, declined to give her name. One thing she doesn't like, she said, is that the youngest of these grandchildren will be at a different school in the fall, without his older siblings.

"It's gonna be a fiasco," the woman said.

Jessa Crabtree said she hopes it works out well for parents and others picking up their children. She said she'd like to see it be implemented on a trial basis. She was headed to Carruthers Elementary School on Thursday afternoon to pick up her 9-year-old third-grader. Her other child is 2 years old.

Sheila Bennett said the new system would really challenge parents, grandparents and others picking up children from different schools. She gets a reprieve next year, as the about-to-be-11-year-old granddaughter she was picking up from Carruthers will be entering sixth grade at the middle school, where two of Bennett's other grandchildren attend.

Over at General John A. Logan Elementary School, a group of children ran to a waiting SUV, where Christine Tincher piled them into her vehicle.

"Confusion," is what the change means to her, she said. Tincher and a relative run the Georgia and Christine Daycare and after-school care service, which means she could possibly be visiting several schools next year to pick up her client's children after-school.

"Next year, I don't even know how I'm going to have (time to be) all over the place," she said.

Move planned for this summer

The district plans to move the teachers' classroom items during the summer, in three phases that will involve moving items from the school's classes into sectioned-off areas in the gymnasium and cafeteria, while those rooms are cleaned out and prepared for the new teachers.

Grode said the district is coordinating those phases with the summer schedules of the teachers, in the event they want to be around when their items are moved into the new class space.

Phase 1 is expected to take three weeks, while phases 2 and 3 are each expected to last two weeks, he said.

"Moving to attendance centers allows me to really focus the instruction," he said. "Otherwise, I would have asked for boundaries, and there is just no good way to do boundaries."

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Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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