Middle School building to reopen & house 3rd – 6th grades
On Friday afternoon, many families were surprised to get a letter from Manchester Community Schools shortly before school let out for the weekend. The letter informed them that a new building configuration had been decided upon at a special board meeting, held on Tuesday January 16th. The letter stated that the dormant former middle school will be reopened (and possibly renamed) and next year will house grades 3 through 6 along with the central office staff. Klager Elementary School will house the district’s pre-K programs, kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades. And the Middle/High School building will remain the same as this year, housing 7th through 12th grades. The letter also stated that this decision was made in cooperation with the administrators, that this configuration will give the district more options and opportunities for educational innovations, and that it is better aligned with the developmental needs of the students. All school board members were present and the vote passed unanimously.
While the current Middle/ High School will remain under principal Eric McCalla, newly hired this September, and Klager will remain under veteran principal Jennifer Mayes, the 3rd-6th grade school housed in the Middle School building will see a new principal, Mr. Gary Puhl III. Puhl also was hired in September, and currently serves as part-time Special Education Supervisor and part-time Dean of 7-8th grade students. With many parents nervous about the addition of 7th and 8th grade to the High School, he was hired to provide a consistent administrative presence dedicated to the 7th and 8th grade students and staff. Puhl had been working as a special education teacher in Dexter before coming to Manchester this year.
The current plan is for the 3rd-6th grade school housed in the Middle School to be more project-based than those grades currently are. What this means is not yet clearly defined nor is what will happen to Puhl’s position as Special Education director. Puhl explained, “The current plan as presented to the board is for me to become principal. How that will look for my current role as Director of Special Education and how the school will be structured are still in the early development stages. The idea of the school to be more project-based is what the administration has in mind. All of which is still developing.”
Puhl also stressed, “This decision was a starting point needed to have these further talks among staff, students, and community members. At this time, information on how the transition will look is in the developmental stages. There is a leadership team in place that will work diligently to make this next transition as smooth as possible. It continues to be our goal to do what is best for Manchester students, and to ensure that parents and community members stay informed on ways that we are improving the education that we provide.”
Other benefits to this move are to relieve the overcrowding at Klager and to once again provide a safe and suitable location for 5th and 6th grade band.
Klager Elementary School will also undergo a change and be re-branded as an “Early Literacy Center.” Mayes explained that this was being motivated by a new third grade reading law. “It is critical that our students have mastered the ability to read proficiently by the time they are assessed on the 3rd grade MSTEP,” she stated. She also said that Karin Villarreal, a long-time teacher who also served as Klager principal for two years, will be heading up the early literacy focus, but as with the project-based structure at the 3rd-6th grade school, what this will mean is not set in stone.
She added, “We want to ensure that sound instructional practices are being implemented at the foundational level (pre-K-2) so that students are set up for success in the rest of their educational experience. You have to be able to read and read well to understand the intricacies of mathematics, science, and social studies concepts. We anticipate that [Villarreal] will continue to help provide support for teachers and bring professional development to our staff, but roles have not been definitively established just yet. Our plans will continue to develop throughout the upcoming months as to what an Early Literacy Center will look and sound like at Klager.”