Poling: 70s clustering wasn't 'big problem'

Cary Ashby • Dec 30, 2010 at 11:09 AM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth part of a five-part series.

A version of clustering elementary students by building and grades already happened in Norwalk City Schools.

It was in the 1970s.

League and the former Benedict elementary schools housed kindergartners through third-graders. League students then went to Pleasant for fourth through sixth grade while Benedict fed into Bronson, which was on Townline Road 151 across from the current conservation club.

Maplehurst Elementary was for kindergarten through sixth grade.

Virginia Poling, who was the district curriculum coordinator starting in 1972, said the arrangement lasted several years. She taught for nine years before joining the central office.

"I really don't remember (what) the reasons were for doing that (earlier arrangement)," Poling said.

Efficiency -- specifically in administration, general education staffing, support personnel and "special needs delivery of services" -- has been given as one reason for the new clustering proposal.

All of Norwalk's pre-kindergartners and kindergartners would attend League. All first- and second-graders would attend Pleasant and all of the third- and fourth-graders would attend Maplehurst.

Superintendent Dennis Doughty presented the idea to the school board in November.

Since that time, he has presented paperwork that lists other reasons for clustering the elementary schools: "Concerns over consistent delivery of education at each grade level," maximizing the talents of the staff, "providing a more efficient and effective education for our students" and effectiveness of instruction.

Poling was asked what the public's reaction was to the arrangement in the 1970s.

While she said she couldn't remember any "strong" positive or negative reactions, she added: "I think everybody adjusted to it."

"I think every decision that was made was what was best for the children," said Poling, who became the Maplehurst principal in 1982.

When asked about some of the positives of the 1970s clustering, Poling said all the teachers covering a particular grade level were able to work and plan together.

"But they do that now," she added.

Poling said she assumes everyone at that time "worked together to make it work."

"You have to adjust to other things. I don't look at it as any big problem," she said.

Former Norwalk City Schools Superintendent Wayne Babcanec -- who followed Poling and preceded Doughty -- got his teaching start in Norwalk, working at Benedict Elementary from 1974 to 1980.

Babcanec said what Norwalk had was a form of clustering.

"Norwalk has really never had it," he said. "They had some partner schools. They paired Benedict and Bronson and League and Pleasant then Maplehurst had K-6.

"You never had a clustering situation ... at best you had three different buildings. In 1980 is when they closed Benedict and Bronson and put the sixth grade at the middle school."

Babcanec said he had seen and heard about many different forms of clustering in his final years before retiring.

"Clustering is very prevalent in the state of Ohio," he said. "The majority of districts have a clustering situation, especially the ones that have new buildings and can house their grade levels together. When you get to the bigger districts that is just not possible."

Should Norwalk have clustering?

"I think it's an idea that needs to be explored," he said. "I have a lot of respect for Denny Doughty and the Norwalk Board of Education and I think they will examine all factors as they make their decision and in the end come up with a decision that is in the best interest of the Norwalk City Schools."

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