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FORT SMITH -- The School District is preparing for a major shift in how it's organized.

The School Board received an update regarding the first phase of the district's grade reconfiguration during a work session Monday.

Superintendent Terry Morawski said the district is beginning work related to hiring, as well as some of the "greater logistical planning" for the reconfiguration this month. This is one of the larger projects the district will be undertaking this year along with finishing some construction projects.

"So our team's done some great work to prepare this and get this work started this month and get us prepared for next year so we can move our sixth-graders and our ninth-graders to those facilities," Morawski said.

Deputy Superintendent Martin Mahan said starting in August, the Chaffin, Darby, Kimmons and Ramsey junior high schools will be converted to middle schools, transitioning from campuses for grades 7-9 to campuses for grades 6-8. Sixth-graders will be moved out of the elementary schools.

Northside and Southside high schools will be converted from grades 10-12 to grades 9-12.

Mahan explained the board approved Vision 2023, the district's five-year strategic plan, in December 2017. A citizens committee was formed the following year to prioritize goals and objectives of Vision 2023, researching and recommending a proposal to ensure that work could begin. This proposal was approved with some modifications by the board in March 2018.

Both the Vision 2023 and citizens committees recommended and prioritized grade level reconfiguration, according to Mahan.

"Our high schools will have a thousand more students, give or take, next year," Mahan said. "Our middle schools will essentially remain the same enrollment, and our elementary schools will free up some space to help address the issue of the forced movement of students a little, and hopefully a lot. And also, it will give us some more space in our elementary schools, which you all know are fairly tight right now."

Fort Smith and Barling residents approved the Vision 2023 capital improvement program in May 2018, Mahan said. This increased the district property tax rate from 36.5 mills to 42 mills, which will generate about $120 million for capital improvements.

Included in this capital improvement program are construction and renovation projects at the high schools. These projects, which include freshman wings for both schools, are due to be finished in August, according to an update given during Monday's meeting.

As part of phase one of the reconfiguration project, Mahan said the district will first begin posting certain ninth-grade positions on Monday, followed by certain sixth-grade positions on Feb. 15. The district would like to complete these segments of the hiring process before spring break, March 22-26, Mahan said.

The district is essentially shifting 25 positions to its high schools through this application process, Mahan said. These include core instructional positions, such as those in English, math, science and social studies, as well as coaching positions. The district will have one ninth-grade athletic program for football, boys' basketball, girls' basketball and volleyball at both high schools.

Sixteen core instructional positions will be shifted to the four new middle schools through the process, Mahan said.

All of these shifts will come at no anticipated additional cost to the district.

Thomas Saccente can be reached by email at [email protected]

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