Winter 2020 - Volume II
IN THIS ISSUE: Progress is being made toward the opening of Lower Merion’s third middle school in Sept. 2022. In this newsletter, you’ll watch as our New Middle School Ambassadors visit the site to watch the demolition of the old mansion, learn about the Act 34 hearing that’s required to fund the project and read about the work of the 5-8 Committee.
Several other facets of the new middle school project are ongoing:
- The District continues to take steps to build necessary playing fields on its property at 1800 W. Montgomery and 1835 County Line Rd.
- The Administration is still weighing options for how grades will transition into the new school.
- Plans are being made on how the school’s name, mascot and colors will be selected.
If you have any questions about the new middle school, or have ideas for articles you’d like to see in an upcoming newsletter, please email Amy Buckman, Director of School and Community Relations at email@example.com.
Click play above to watch our student ambassadors on their recent field trip!
Act 34 Hearing
On February 18, 2020, the Lower Merion School District took part in a state-required Act 34 hearing related to the construction of the new middle school. At this hearing, the District gave testimony about the projected cost of the new middle school and about the planning process. The maximum project cost of the Project is $128,095,868 and the maximum building construction cost of the Project is $70,890,794. Members of the public were permitted to testify.
Scott Downie, Principal of Spiezle Architectural Group, Inc. shares more information about this process below.
Act 34 of 1973 requires that a public hearing be held on all new construction and substantial additions for schools. The Act allows the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to establish limits on how much a public-school district can spend on construction. The limits only apply the cost of new building construction and don’t include the costs associated with alterations, renovations, site acquisition or site improvements.
To set the spending limits, the PDE has established an approval process known as PlanCon, which is short for Planning and Construction Workbook. PlanCon is a set of forms completed and submitted to PDE during the project approval process. PlanCon is designed to:
- document a local school district's planning process
- provide justification for a project to the public
- ascertain compliance with state laws and regulations
- establish the level of state participation in the cost of the project in the case of a reimbursable project
Through this process, the maximum project cost is set. That maximum cost is approved by the School Board and presented at the public hearing. In addition to the testimony at the hearing, the public can also submit testimony in writing to the District for 30 days following the hearing.
If during construction the total project costs go over the maximum limits established through the Act 34 process, an additional hearing or public referendum vote may be required. That’s why, when the project is put out for bids, a series of alternate bids are accepted. Those alternatives will allow the District to reduce the scope or change aspects of the project along the way to reduce costs.
The Middle School 5-8 Committee
By Dr. Scott Eveslage, Assistant Superintendent
A committee of roughly 50 members has been meeting monthly since December of 2019 to rethink the program we offer for students in grades 5-8. The committee includes a mix of elementary, middle, high school teachers, administrators, curriculum supervisors, student services, special education, gifted, world language, and special area teachers. The committee is looking at various aspects of our program and in the early stages prior to recommendations being formally. The essential questions are:
- How can we reimagine our 5-8 program?
- What could the 5-8 experience be for our students?
The thought process of the committee is driven by the strategic plan, “All Forward,” and is grounded in research on best practices in middle schools. Visits to other programs and schools who have 5-8 programs, such as Tredyffrin/Eastown and Upper Merion school districts are also being explored.
This is not just about the new middle school but about the 5-8 program across all three schools. While the committee has the flexibility to morph over time, there are several subcommittees currently working through different aspects and responding to guiding questions:
- Vision: What are the tenets and philosophies of a success middle school? What do we believe the middle school experience should be?
- Library: What is the role of a 21st Century school library? Does it include serving as a media center?
- Makerspaces: What do we mean by a makerspace? Does it include serving as/in a media center?
- Lockers: To what extent should lockers be a part of our new buildings? What options exist for student storage? What procedures/expectations should be considered across all three middle schools for locker use?
- Organizational Framework: How are administrators structured? How are counselors structured? How does the school counseling department best support middle school students? Are grades in a house model? Do teaming structures vary by grades? What are the teaming structures by grade?
- Recess: To what extent is recess or a physical activity period recommended to be included in a student’s program by grade? How long should recess be at each grade where it exists? Should recess be connected to lunch (before/after) or connected to Learn?
- Bell Schedules: What are scheduling priorities? Are there preferred aspects of a scheduling model? Rotating schedule, modified block, semesters, trimesters, quarters, etc. Are there differences by grade level? Similarities/overlap? Will the schedule allow for flexibility for students/staff with the elementary and/or high school schedule? What core programming decisions will drive your work? Can thematic programs be scheduled more efficiently or differently?
- Technology: With the middle schools being 1:1 schools, what device is recommended for 1:1 for middle school students? Where does this fit within the current K-12 technology structure? What projector/presentation hardware is in the classroom? Where are these located in the new building and in BC/WV? Where should students charge devices? Are devices taken home? To what extent will students carrying digital devices reduce paper/pencil materials? How will students print? Recommendations for devices and locations? What hardware should be built into classrooms common areas? Are there short-term storage solutions for PE/lunch/recess?
- Thematic Programs: What thematic experiences will be in the 5-8 program? How are thematic programs aligned with the grade-level standards and local common assessments? Should the programs be aligned across buildings? To what extent, if any, should the thematic programs be scaled larger?
- Specials & Choice: What is the ideal amount and kind of choice should students have in middle school electives? Should this vary by grade? What options/choices should be available at each grade? Which should we consider creating? Which need to be revised? What experiences will be required/guaranteed for all students in each grade level? What opportunities emerge if we consider K-12/cross-building elective staffing as a model? What is the model for specials? Elective, exploratory, mandatory, combination? How often should they meet? Is this recommendation the same for each elective or does it vary by elective? Semesters, quarters, once per cycle?
- World Language: What are and should be students' language experiences in 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade? When do you introduce choice of language? What level of world language instruction should students be able to access when entering HS (as the default for the majority of students? Should this vary by student? To what extent should world language study be mandated?
- Core Programming: What are instructional programming priorities? What are the recommendations for time allocation for each discipline by grade? What are the non-negotiable programmatic experiences for students? To what extent are the non-negotiables part of a student's scheduled program?
- WV & BC Opportunities: With reorganization, what are the school-wide opportunities that arise with roughly 300-400 fewer students in the building? What opportunities do we have to think differently about teaming, collaboration, instruction, etc.?
- WV & BC Facilities: What newly available spaces can be repurposed to introduce the opportunities for learning communities to foster collaboration? What are ideal uses of space? What are spaces that you recommend being considered being repurposed? Are there places to create flexible or additional large-group spaces?