Rogers School Board recommits to middle school athletic move

Posted: April 19, 2017 at 1:08 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/File Photo - The Rogers School Board was expected to discuss its decision last year to move eighth grade athletics into the academic day schedule.

ROGERS -- The School Board agreed Tuesday to stick with a plan to incorporate more sports into the school day for eighth-graders.

That decision followed a lengthy discussion among board members and administrators over complications involved in the plan and some alternatives to it.

Bus purchases

The Rogers School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved buying two new buses from Midwest Bus Sales to help cover transportation needs. The cost of the two 83-passenger buses is $190,486.

Source: Staff Report

The board last year approved making eighth-grade football, volleyball and basketball part of the regular school day schedule starting this school year. The board also agreed at that time to add cross country, track, cheer and dance to the schedule for the 2017-18 school year.

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Administrators explained adding those sports to the academic day schedule means 16 teachers will need to have their last period cleared so they can coach their sport. The estimated cost of covering the classes those teachers otherwise would teach is $170,000 for next school year.

Five of those teachers work in schools other than the middle school where they coach, making it more challenging to fill in for them while they're coaching, administrators said.

"We'll work with the middle school principals to see what changes have to be made and who will have to pick up different classes," said Superintendent Marlin Berry. "I think we're going to have to have some discussion with a couple of those coaches who are in other buildings to confirm and see what that impact is."

This is the first year athletics have been part of the school day for eighth-graders since 2008, when the district eliminated junior high schools and put all sixth- through eighth-graders in middle schools.

Board members last year sought the addition of sports to the school day as a way of boosting competitiveness with peer districts in the area, especially Bentonville, Fayetteville and Springdale.

Mitch Lockhart, a board member, said there's a "widespread belief" among parents the district isn't keeping up with other schools in athletics.

Administrators also suggested moving eligible seventh-graders into the last-period coaching time, which could allow for full-squad participation and eliminate the need for additional personnel costs.

Under that plan, however, seventh-graders would have to give up another elective, such as band or orchestra, in order to play their sport of choice. That's one reason Curtis Clements, board vice president, argued in favor of limiting the athletics move to the eighth grade.

"The thing I like about our middle schools is it allows our students to try different things," Clements said.

Brian Anderson, head coach of the Kirksey Middle School football team, sat in the audience at Tuesday's meeting. He told the board having football as part of the school day is "absolutely" making a difference. It means more students are participating in offseason workouts than they would be if football were solely an after-school activity.

"We're lifting three times a week," Anderson said. "Our kids are stronger now than they've ever been."

Rogers' middle schools are built around teams of teachers that handle the same groups of students, which helps make big schools feel small, said Roger Hill, assistant superintendent for human resources.

Sticking with that structure, however, presents scheduling complications when it comes to making sports part of the school day -- a difficulty other districts don't have.

"I think the middle school concept, providing that team time, that support for those kids, is incredibly important," Hill said.

NW News on 04/19/2017