Clarion Area superintendent Carrico pushes for middle school

There has been an issue simmering for quite some time on the Clarion Area School District’s proverbial back-burner. Superintendent Joseph Carrico decided to pull it to the front of the stove and turn up the heat.

During the school board’s work session earlier this month, Carrico said the district must move forward in creating a middle school for its sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes.

Carrico would like the middle school to be approved as soon as possible so he can start calling parents to alert them to the change.

“I’m hoping we can get the middle school running by the fall of 2022, if we sit down and start talking to parents,” Carrico said.

“We see benefits in the students academically, socially and emotionally. It would also help our elementary when it comes to spacing,” where room is at a premium due to the addition of services.

The idea of a middle school has been in discussion with a number of superintendents dating to the mid-1990s.

Carrico, when asked by board member Jill McCormick, said there will be no need to add staff; the district will just have to move around some staff.

The proposed middle school would be located on the northern side of the high school building. Carrico said there would be little crossover between middle and high school students.

Board member Sara Robertson asked Carrico if the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) would be available to sixth-graders if they are moved out of the elementary school. Carrico said the district is currently trying to implement MTSS in the seventh- and eighth-grade at the high school.

“We don’t want a (kindergarten) through fifth-grade (MTSS) model, we want a (kindergarten) through eighth-grade model,” he said.

McCormick voiced concern that all the special programs available to sixth-graders at the elementary school would not be available at a middle school without an increase in the number of staff members.

Carrico, though, said there are more opportunities at the high school in regard to special classes because of the activity period built into the high school schedule.

Even though Carrico said there would be little disruption in creating a middle school, McCormick still had reservations — mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It might just be me, but I feel like this is a big undertaking,” she said. “Seeing as how the Centers for Disease Control and the Pennsylvania Department of Health changes (protocols) almost on a whim, I just don’t want to overflow our capacity.

“Heaven forbid, something happens to one of our administrators, and we’re down to a smaller team, and who knows what COVID will do. I would just hate to move forward this year and maybe wait until the following year. It just seems like a big undertaking.”

Board member Todd MacBeth said he agreed with some of McCormick’s points, but doesn’t believe postponing due to COVID-19 concerns should be the driving factor.

“We have already immersed ourselves in (dealing with COVID-19) the past two years,” MacBeth said. “We have to do what we think is in the best interest of our kids.

“I agree that it could be a taxing situation, but I don’t know when you say ’now is the time’ if we don’t do it now.”