Watson: Students will have own school

Published 12:04 am Saturday, February 11, 2012

Editor’s note: This is the final in a series of stories examining the issues board of education members face in regards to a proposed Andalusia Middle School project.


Andalusia City Schools has several options from which to choose, when it comes to solutions for either closing Andalusia Middle School or renovating the current structure. One of those inc-ludes a wing a the high school.

superintendent Ted Watson said estimates from Joe Donofro, an architect hired by the system, puts a $1.7 million price tag on a new seventh and eighth grade wing at Andalusia High School.

Watson said if the system decides to go the route of closing AMS, the new facility for seventh and eighth graders would be built near the old annex, but Watson said it would be configured somewhat differently to accommodate specific needs, which middle school teachers must address.

Plans to close Andalusia Middle School were announced in the board’s five-year capital plan in July 2011.

Plans are to build a separate wing for the upper-level middle schoolers at the high school and build a separate wing at the elementary school, as well as move the central office to the current middle school.

The plans came under fire from a group of more than 20 graduates of Woodson High School, which was Andalusia’s black school until integration and was located in the building that now houses AMS.


School within a school

Watson said that though seventh and eighth graders would be housed on the high school campus, the facility would still operate as its own school.

“They will have their own bell schedule,” he said. “And the high school would continue to operate on their own schedule.”

Currently the high school operates on a four-block schedule, and the middle school operates on an eight-period schedule.

Watson said there is talk of having a multipurpose room near the Bulldog Bistro, which would serve as seventh and eighth graders’ cafeteria.

“Additionally the room can serve as a mini-auditorium for things such as assemblies and awards presentations,” he said. “They will more than likely use the high school library, but we will have to work on a schedule that would be conducive to everyone on that campus.”

High schoolers would also benefit from the multipurpose room because it could be used as an overflow room for the cafeteria.

Watson also said not much would change from the current middle school setup.

“Middle school teachers take a lot of time to prepare their students for the next level,” he said. “They will continue to do this, so there will be an even easier transition from middle school to high school.”

Watson said middle school students will still be able to participate in the sports and band that they currently have available, as well.

“They will still be able to have that since of pride that they have their own school,” he said.


Addressing separation concerns

Probably the biggest issue opponents of closing the campus have is the idea of intermingling among the older and younger students.

Many have proposed questions on just how the school board and the administration would keep seventh and eighth graders from interacting with high schoolers or sixth graders from bullying kindergarteners.

“I would like to challenge anyone who questions how this will happen to go to our schools as they are now,” Watson said. “We keep our children separated through demographics and through administration.

“Each section or hall is divided by age,” he said. “And our administrators work very hard to enforce those parameters. It can be done and it has been done very well.”

Watson was quick to praise the administrators for work they do to ensure the separation.

“I have no doubt the current administration can continue to do what they are doing,” he said.

Still, Watson said he is aware there will be adjustments that have to be made.

“We will have to increase awareness,” he said. “It will be a team effort regarding supervision.”

Watson said he believes that once people see how the schools run, the separation issue would go away.


Coming together

Watson said that many of the logistics are still in the works, but said he expects the community to have questions and welcomes them.

“We want people to comment and ask questions,” he said. “This would be a communitywide transition, just as it was when we closed the two elementary schools and opened Andalusia Elementary School.

“Plenty of people were skeptical then, but I would say that the majority have changed their minds about that decision, as well.”

“The bottom line is, whatever decision is made, our students and our teachers deserve the best,” he said. “They are why we are all here.”