MADISON, Ala. - Robby Parker led his first Board of Education meeting as Superintendent of Madison City Schools Thursday.
The board unanimously approved his contract. He will earn a salary of $160,000/year, plus a possible $5,000 available in incentives if he attains set goals. The contract lasts from February 1, 2017 to June 30, 2019.
Thursday's meeting marked his 9th day on the job, but Parker is already addressing one of Madison's biggest challenges: growth.
"We're growing by about 250 kids a year," he stated. "We're going to do something. We have to find somewhere to put them."
The current schools are approaching capacity. Right now, most of the pressure is on the elementary schools, but Madison does not have the funding right now to build a new elementary school that would add more classroom space.
Instead, Parker proposed changing the grade configuration by moving 6th grade.
Right now, the seven elementary schools are kindergarden through sixth grade. Parker believes the best option for the future is to move sixth grade to middle schools from those elementary schools. Under his plan, Discovery and Liberty Middle Schools each would then host grades six through eight. Parker did not propose any changes to the high school grade configuration.
"By moving the 6th graders, we're doing the obvious. We're creating room in all seven elementary schools," explained Parker. "It does buy us, we think, ten years before we have to build another elementary school, and that's very positive."
Parker said this is the best option for students, and he knows there will be angst about it but believes it is a good decision. He explained this would allow 6th graders to feel additionally challenged academically. It would also allow them to build better relationships with teachers and staff within the middle schools, since they would be there for three years instead of two.
But moving 6th grade wouldn't come without a cost. Board members believe there will need to be some building additions and changes to accommodate additional students in the middle schools. The board will need to research if they can afford it.
Parker's other proposal involves special education.
Right now, the students who need developmental support are assigned to specific schools, and they change schools as they progress through the grades relatively frequently. Parker said his proposal would, at parents' request, reduce the amount of schools they switch to through the years.
Parker proposed that students in that population would instead attend an assigned school in grades K-6. There would be two designated schools, one for those who live in the eastern side of Madison and one for those who live on the western side.
Then, once the student becomes a 7th grader, they would all attend their regularly zoned schools. He said this is in direct response to parents who wanted to see their special needs students attending the same school as others in their neighborhood. This would keep them in their home schools, as requested.
Board members say they know facilities are a concern for parents with special needs children, though, and the board would like to explore the option of allowing parents to choose where to send their students.
The board will discuss Parker's plans at a work session Friday. It is unclear when the proposals would come before the board for a vote.