Board votes on middle school move

Robert Smith

The Pawhuska Board of Education voted Monday afternoon to create a middle school in the former junior high school building.

The junior high building has been used during the 2018-19 school year for in-school detention, for alternative education, for college-level concurrent enrollment courses and to house the school district’s information technology department. The board of education voted to implement a plan to repurpose the building as a school for students in grades 6-8.

Sixth-graders have been enrolled at the district’s upper elementary school, while youth in grades 7-8 have been served in the high school building. Assistant Superintendent Beverly Moore explained that seventh- and eighth-graders had their own area of the high school building and were not necessarily thrown in with high schoolers, but they were still housed in the same overall structure.

Superintendent David Cash recommended the use of the former junior high building to serve students in grades 6-8 and the board voted 3-0 in support of his recommendation. School trustees Tom Boone, Patricia Counts and Mike Tolson all voted in favor. Board members Scott Laird and Addie Roanhorse were not present.

“I know there’s angst anytime there’s change,” Cash said, but he explained that school district leaders think it is important to create a separation between kids in the middle school years and those in high school. He characterized the change as an important step.

Moore told the Journal-Capital the change is also a response to community sentiment.

“There’s a big community desire to open the junior high,” Moore said. She credited Lauri Lee, principal of Pawhuska High School, with developing and presenting a plan for the creation of a middle school that would include sixth-graders along with the students in grades 7-8.

Moore said district administrators have been talking about the proposal in meetings for the past three to four months in their team meetings, so the superintendent’s recommendation Monday afternoon was the product of an extended process of deliberation.

“We’ve been weighing the pros and cons and what we can do for our students,” Moore said, adding she anticipates the community will be excited by the news. Moore said that class schedules for the high school and the new middle school are still being finalized. The middle school will have its own administrator and school secretary, she said.

Faculty member Jodi Culver commented to the board Monday afternoon prior to the vote and said she supports the change but thinks it is critically important that students in the new middle school not be required to go to the high school for their core classes. Requiring the youth to visit the high school for their core classes would undercut the integrity of the middle school concept, she argued. She said it’s important that the old junior high building not be used simply as an out-building of sorts for the high school.