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Principals of Darmstadt’s elementary and middle schools Thursday responded to parents’ questions at a forum to discuss the schools’ merger next year.

News of the consolidation, which was spurred by a projected 40 percent drop in student enrollment next school year, was first made public Tuesday.

Russ Claus, the elementary school principal, and Elizabeth Dunham, principal of the middle school, assured parents that most programs would be maintained, but admitted it’s too early to tell what might end up on the chopping block.

What won’t change, they said, is the curriculum, which is standard across all Department of Defense Dependents Schools. Support programs, such as English as a second language and counseling, also will continue, Claus said.

On the other hand, the mix of extracurricular activities, such as clubs and classes like art and home economics, is certain to change. But that happens nearly every year, said Dunham.

The district has been great at providing funding for clubs so “if there is a student interest and there’s a faculty person who has the expertise, we’re able to match it and offer the clubs,” said Dunham.

Dunham said the school intends to maintain its band, algebra and language courses.

What extracurricular activities are available depends on staffing, which should be known shortly after winter break, if not sooner, said Gene Knudsen, an assistant superintendent for the Heidelberg School District, under which Darmstadt falls.

Since kindergarten through eighth grades will all be housed in what is now the elementary school building, some students were concerned that they might have to deal with small furniture, little storage spaces and no lockers.

Claus said school administrators had already started to discuss how to move the lockers from the middle to the elementary school, and that other furniture wouldn’t be an issue.

There was also some concern that merging the schools could distract the middle school students from preparing for high school. Dunham assured the parents that research shows that as long as students have access to good programs with high standards and high expectations, “then their success rate in high school is just as high as the kids who’ve been in what we would now consider a normal middle school.”

They also encouraged parents of younger students not to worry about them mixing with the older students. The older students will attend class on the school’s upper floor, while the younger students will occupy the lower floor.

Both principals suggested that having all the children in one school is likely to bring some advantages the schools wouldn’t have on their own.

“Certainly it’s a better staffing ratio for the kids,” said Dunham.

Some rooms in the middle school will still be used, even though the building will be largely unoccupied. The gym, band room and a science room will still be used.

“Until we know that the elementary school will hold all of the kids when they come back to school in August, we’re not going to shut down this building,” said Elizabeth Walker, superintendent of Heidelberg School District.


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