The 3/2/05 Cap Times includes an excellent op ed piece by Ruth Robarts detailing her concerns about creating a large K-5 elementary school. ntid=30501 Ruth Robarts: Better to rethink new school now than regret decision later By Ruth Robarts March 2, 2005 On March 28, the Madison School Board will cast the final vote on the proposed referendum for $14.5 million to build a second school on the Leopold Elementary School site.The proposed "paired" school would open in September 2007 and house up to 550 kindergarten through second-grade students and another 550 third- through fifth-grade students.If the Leopold community's current population mix holds, a school of 1,100 or more would include 275 (25 percent) students for whom English is a second language and 121 (11 percent) with special educational needs.

Unlike other Madison paired schools that are on different sites, Leopold's buildings would be on the same grounds and physically linked in an L shape.

Students from both schools would share lunch rooms and playground facilities.

Students would have separate entrances, but share buses to and from school.

My duty as a board member is to weigh the pros and cons of this recommendation from the administration.

Although I see why current Leopold parents expect great positives from the new building, I believe that these are short-term gains for the school and community and that the negatives of creating an extremely large elementary school may outweigh the short-term advantages.

I am particularly concerned that the short-term relief for overcrowding would be undermined when the building reaches full capacity and houses two schools, each of which is far bigger than any K-2 or 3-5 school today.

It is my responsibility to ask whether we have the experience to make such a joint school work and what additional resources would be required to assure student success under such conditions.

In the short term, the proposal meets some, but not all, of the needs of Leopold's current students. Because it would open at 75 percent of capacity, the students at the school in 2007 would have small classes in an oversized facility.

On the other hand, in the interim there must be a plan to control enrollment size through such means as freezing enrollment, sending grades to other schools or changing school boundaries. In the long term, it is difficult to imagine ways in which a very large paired school offers new educational benefits to our children, but easy to list the problems that likely would arise from turning away from our goal of keeping schools small.