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Harrison School District Announces New Alignment For 2020-21
Building the Future: Every Learner, Every Day, Every Way
JUNE 21, 2020 — The Harrison School District today released return-to-school plans for the 2020-21 school year, with the goal of strengthening its focus on early childhood education and maximizing the number of days students can receive face-to-face instruction in classrooms.
The plans include transitioning the building now known as Eagle Heights Elementary School into a central Harrison Kindergarten, which will house all of the district’s students in that grade under one roof. Skyline Heights Elementary School and Forest Heights Elementary School, which were previously K-4 schools, will now exclusively serve grades 1-4.
The permanent K-4 changes were approved by the Board of Education at a meeting Tuesday night and will take effect for the 2020-21 school year. All incoming kindergarten students — as well as students in future kindergarten classes — will attend the new Harrison Kindergarten, while students in grades 1-4 will either attend Forest Heights or Skyline Heights, depending on their address.
There are no plans for changes at Harrison Preschool, which will remain open to provide on-site instructions for three- and four-year-olds.
“The Harrison School District strongly believes that our youngest learners must be on-site every day to establish strong reading and mathematical foundations,” said Dr. Stewart Pratt, superintendent of schools. “We believe our preschool students, kindergarteners and Goblins in first and second grade should be on campus as much as physically possible so that they can attain the highest levels of learning from our teachers, who are excited to get back to class.”
Through the realignment, former Skyline Heights Principal Jeff Winkle was promoted to the new position of Director of Early Childhood Education. He will oversee the Harrison Preschool and new Harrison Kindergarten, with a focus on maximizing learning at those levels and ensuring a smooth transition into elementary school. Mark Ditmanson will remain principal at Forest Heights, while former Eagle Heights Principal Josh Magness will now lead Skyline Heights.
“Research has shown that it is good for kindergarten students to be able to be in one central location,” Pratt said. “By bringing students together, we will be able to more closely align our curriculums and allow our kindergarten teachers and leaders who have been spread between multiple buildings to better collaborate with one another and set up our students for success.”
Under the direction of state officials, Harrison schools have been closed for in-person instruction since March due to COVID-19. The district looked at several potential options to ensure a safe return to the classroom for all students and staff members, but the changes announced today are less about the pandemic and more about a long-term vision for improving Harrison schools.
“Permanently changing Eagle Heights into the new Harrison Kindergarten, as well as adjusting the grades that will attend Forest Heights and Skyline Heights, are much-needed adjustments that will go into effect regardless of the coronavirus situation, as it will best prepare our students for long-term success," Pratt said. "After turning Woodland Heights Elementary School into a central Harrison Preschool, we saw immediate, positive and tangible impacts on our young students. This K-4 improvement is an important next step in our mission of Building The Future: Every Learner, Every Day, Every Way, as it strengthens our ability to give our youngest Goblins a strong foundation that will benefit them all throughout their time in school, and in their adult lives as well."
However, the realignment does give the district some additional flexibility if the rapidly evolving heath situation were to change. If officials did issue more stringent social distancing guidelines or enact other measures that would impact the ability to instruct classes in a large group setting, having a central kindergarten opens the doors for the district to enact additional, temporary safety measures that would not be possible under the old alignment.
"While it is our hope that no further adjustments will be necessary, we remain in constant communication with local, state and federal health officials and are committed to being nimble and flexible in our plan to educate students,” Pratt said. “We want our district to be proactive, not reactive, and want to make sure that all of our students are receiving a top-tier education.”
Under the proposed contingency plan, which would only take effect under very strict social distancing guidelines:
- Grade 4 would move to Harrison Middle School, which would serve grades 4-6
- Grades 7 & 8 would move to Harrison High School, which would serve grades 7-9
- Grades 10-12 would transition to online learning, with no on-site instruction. We understand this is not an ideal situation and though it would only come into play under extreme circumstances, we are researching alternatives to avoid this.
The contingency plan does not affect the Harrison Preschool, Harrison Kindergarten, Grades 1-3, Grades 5-6 or Grade 9. Students in those grades would still attend the school to which they are assigned under the new alignment.
“Based on my conversations with state education and health leaders, I do not believe we will need to activate this contingency plan,” Pratt said. “However, we have to be ready in case we are informed that we must make further adjustments. We have developed this plan out of an abundance of caution and are providing it in the interest of full transparency. We continue to work on the contingency plan in the hopes that no students have to transition to another location, and will continue communication throughout this process as plans get updated and/or change.”
The district firmly believes that students of all ages benefit the most from on-site instruction, but recognizes that parents may not be comfortable sending their students back to the classrooms this fall. Parents of students in Grades 3-12 may apply for a special off-site learning program, which will be taught by Harrison School District teachers and follow the on-site curriculum.
More information will be available soon, and applications for this off-site program will be due by July 17.