Lake Road Expansion

Population shift leads to Lake Road expansion
Posted on 08/14/2018
Population shift leads to Lake Road expansion

Poplar Bluff R-I education officials have taken measures for Lake Road Elementary to expand its configuration to include fourth grade as an offering made available to parents this year, with the possibility of serving up to grade six by 2020/21. 

The Board of Education recently approved a creative solution in a majority decision to address the transient population in the Southeast part of the district, after redistricting the elementary school boundaries as a stopgap in years past. Board President John Scott, an attorney, cited continuity for students who do not always get the same head start in life. 

“It’s about sustaining and making use of the resources we were allocated. We are running a full building at less than full capacity, since the demographics are trending downward out there,” stated Superintendent Dr. Scott Dill during the March school board meeting. “As principal, [Erica Weadon] wants to pull her weight within the district, and do her part.” 

With an enrollment of 171 last year, Lake Road’s student headcount has declined to nearly half that of the other three elementary schools in the district. A total of 45 outgoing third graders have since been enrolled as part of Lake Road’s extension effort, 35 of whom attended the elementary school since grade one, based on survey data presented. Several will come from other parts of the district, and one from First Baptist School. If the pilot is successful, a lottery system could be implemented in the future. 

Depending on the growth of the community, building another elementary school under the 2014 levy measure was identified as a potential consideration later down the line. However, according to school leaders, converting Lake Road into a primary school sufficiently maximizes the use of space available now. It is not unusual for a district to have an outlying school serving the county, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Patty Robertson noted during the February school board meeting. 

As part of the district’s strategic plan several years ago, the Citizens’ Advisory and Long-Range Planning committees selected a blended option that included keeping neighborhood lower elementary schools while utilizing centers as well, leading to the opening of the Middle School, which serves approximately 1,200 upper elementary students. One of the early considerations that professional planners put on the table was closing Lake Road, but the committees quickly rejected the notion because of the rich history there spanning over half of a century. 

Weadon’s ultimate goal is for Lake Road to become a STEAM school – a project-based learning institute that merges science, technology, engineering, art and math. The elementary staff is presently working with the Southeast Regional Professional Development Center under the Missouri Model Districts initiative to rewrite its curriculum. Missouri Learning Standards are already incorporating more of a hands-on, problem-solving approach, according to Weadon. 

“I have every confidence that Erica and her staff can attain the vision she has,” said Linda Null, RPDC instructional consultant. Null’s colleague on the Southeast Missouri State University campus, content specialist Julie Antill, noted that the concept is not necessarily new to the public education sector. She taught for many years in Cape Girardeau, where she said she recalls having an outdoor classroom garden and a compost pile that students worked in groups to maintain, similar to the chicken coup at Lake Road. 

“Sometimes teaching subjects can be siloed – you know, ‘From 10 [o’clock] to 11 is language arts, and after lunch we’re teaching science,’” Antill pointed out. “Instead of a set time, let’s show how integrating subjects relates in the real world, and we’ll build the whole child.” 

A previously submitted grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a safe room at Lake Road has been re-prioritized for further expansion conceivable some day on the 10-acre site. At present, the campus has two vacant classrooms ready for incoming students, with the capacity to open another. Through attrition from faculty retirements, no new positions were added to the district’s certified staff at this time. The elementary school internally transferred veteran instructors Amanda Johnson and Andrea Jones to cover fourth grade. 

“I love public education – you can’t beat what we have going,” Weadon exclaimed. “I’d put these people up against anyone. 

“We’re not always looking for the next best thing, but to give the kids the best we have,” the principal continued. “And if it’s working, we’re gonna roll with it.” 

Despite serving a significant proportion of disadvantaged students, Lake Road scored in the top 15th percentile of schools in the state on the 2018 Missouri Assessment Program test recently qualifying the elementary to receive the Gold Star award and a nomination as a Blue Ribbon School, the highest honor an educational institution can achieve. In addition, Lake Road was named a Capturing Kids’ Hearts national showcase school through the cultural initiative in April, and won the Dr. Mary Richter Award last summer for implementation of the school-wide positive behavior support program. 

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Cutline: Lake Road students dress up as rockstars for a MAP pep rally during morning celebration in May.

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