‘Give and take’ key in unifying schools

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Fifth Street Elementary kindergartner Zella Haywood goes down the slide during recess at the school in Jasper on Monday. Next school year, Fifth Street and Tenth Street elementaries will merge to create Jasper Elementary School.


JASPER — As construction crews build Jasper Elementary School, administrators and staff of Tenth Street and Fifth Street elementaries are working to create the lifeblood of the future school.

When Jasper Elementary opens at the start of the 2020-21 school year, Fifth Street and Tenth Street schools will merge. That’s meant a lot of behind-the-scenes work from each school’s staff to figure out how Jasper Elementary will operate on a day-to-day basis.

“It’s going to be a big change for students and staff alike,” said Fifth Street Principal Ryan Erny.

When Jasper Elementary opens, Erny will be its vice principal. Tenth Street Principal Kent Taylor will serve as principal of the new elementary school.

To jump-start the merge, Erny and Taylor utilized The Leader in Me program at both schools. Fifth Street has been a Leader in Me school since 2015. Back then, the school won grants to implement the program — which helps schools implement the practices from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” a book written by Stephen Covey — throughout the school to create a culture of leadership.

Fifth Street Elementary School first-grader Skylar Lee, center, leads first-graders Mia Taves and Owen Schmitt in yoga during recess at the school in Jasper on Monday.

Once administrators learned that the two schools would be merging to form Jasper Elementary, Taylor adopted the program at his school, too.

“We felt like The Leader in Me would be a great program to build [Jasper Elementary’s] culture around,” Erny said.

The Leader in Me embeds lessons on leadership skills throughout the school by creating a common vocabulary for positive behaviors. Some of the behaviors emphasized through The Leader in Me are being proactive, finding mutually beneficial solutions or agreements and maintaining a working balance, and learning every day. Those are all principles administrators and staff utilize when working out the daily details of Jasper Elementary.

The biggest example of the two schools working together is the daily schedule.

“I can’t emphasize enough how difficult it is to get people to agree on schedules,” Taylor said.

To get it done, the committee of administrators and teachers in charge of creating the schoolwide schedule engaged in a lot of give and take. The final product includes more time in special classes, such as art and music, for students in the primary grades than they currently have at Fifth Street and more recess time for students in the intermediate grades than they currently have at Tenth Street. The schedule also includes collaborative planning time for teachers at each grade level and common remediation time.

Fifth Street Elementary School first-grader Kiara Flores tries on first-grader Kinley Knies' unicorn earmuffs during recess at the school in Jasper on Monday.

Although it was at times challenging, Taylor said he believes the committee came up with a schedule that will benefit everyone. He and Erny presented the schedule to the Greater Jasper School Board at the October meeting.

The two schools also started early getting staff members acquainted. When the schools formed committees last year to start planning for Jasper Elementary, Taylor and Erny made sure each school had members on every committee. There have also been several joint activities and programs to encourage staff members to get to know each other.

Perhaps the biggest shake-up for the staff will be in determining who teaches what grade. When assigning teachers to grade levels, Erny and Taylor decided each grade level team needed to have teachers from both schools. That means some teachers who taught intermediate grades at Tenth Street will now teach primary grades at Jasper Elementary, and some Fifth Street teachers will teach intermediate grades instead of primary grades. Mixing up the staff was a strategic move on the part of administrators to make sure the merger would result in a cohesive Jasper Elementary rather than the primary grades functioning like Fifth Street did and the intermediate grades functioning like Tenth Street did.

“What we did not want to end up with was one roof, but two separate schools,” Taylor said.

Erny and Taylor agreed that the work to unify the schools and staff has been going well. The next steps, they said, are figuring out how to utilize the schools’ instructional assistants and the shared spaces in the Jasper Elementary building.

Although it’s hard work to merge two unique schools, Erny and Taylor agreed that they and their staffs are excited for next school year and the opening of Jasper Elementary.

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