Strategic facilities planning underway as South Bend student population declines

NOW: Strategic facilities planning underway as South Bend student population declines

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- The South Bend Community School Corporation brought together a task force once again, discussing what to do with all the district's schools and declining student population.

In 2007, South Bend had 25,000 students. Now, that number is less than 15,000. Plus, every high school except Adams is below 60 percent capacity.

What this means is big changes are coming to South Bend schools. But what those changes are yet, no one knows, and that will take plenty of community input and strategic planning, planned for the next several weeks.

"The capacity and the enrollment don't align anymore," said Tracy Richter, Vice President of Planning for consulting firm, HPM.  "We've come in to help them align their facilities with future enrollment and programmatic needs."

The South Bend Community School Corporation partnered with HPM to create a master plan, reallocating resources across the district.

"The first phase was really about trying to figure out, 'okay, what do you expect to see from your facilities in the future?" Richter said. "Phase two, we've got more focus on the middle and high school facilities and the educational delivery models of middle schools and high schools."

Indiana’s School Choice policy allows families to send students to whatever school they would like, regardless of where they live.

"It's very hard to look programmatically at facilities, and geographically at facilities, when students split in so many different directions when they go into their middle schools or secondary schools," Richter said.

Scenarios on the table include consolidating, possibly closing Clay High School, and creating kindergarten through eighth-grade schools, rather than maintaining both elementary and middle schools.

"There's just no way around that there's a lot of high school capacity out there. And we know that. But how do we use those buildings better?" Richter said.

The main suggestion appears to be creating magnet or niche programs for each school, offering unique programs and electives for students when deciding which school to choose.

"Making sure that neighborhood schools are strong, along with choice schools. And so, you get a good balance in the district where every school's a choice," Richter said.

The ultimate goal? Protect as much of current enrollment as possible.

"How do you continue to protect our student enrollment while you're making facility changes, which means, how do you protect them from going to another educational resource instead of the South Bend public schools?" Richter said.

The community is asked to give their input in an online survey launching next month. There are also community meetings coming up for people to offer ideas and input for the master plan.

The facilities master plan is expected to be completed by the end of March, then the community will get the final board recommendation for the next steps.

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