Written as an open letter to the School Board:

Dear Ripon Area School District Board Members:

Former Superintendent Dr. Richard Zimman often spoke of the outdated factory model of education, yet everything I read about efforts to replace Ripon Middle School seems to point to a conventional approach to school design.

... All of my experience tells me our school district is not thinking broadly enough about its strategic planning and use of space. A few thoughts:

* The city of Milwaukee has abandoned the concept of the separate middle school, in favor of K-8, 6-12, or K-12 campuses. This is based on careful research and strategic planning by the board of education there. This has allowed consolidation of shared resources (such as gymnasium, auditorium and cafeteria space, administration), allowing for tremendous cost savings, to maximize the educational experience for kids by preventing budget cuts in other areas. Why not investigate what they (and other school districts are doing) to see if it makes sense for Ripon?

* As schools renovate and rebuild, I have seen tremendous community assets result. Sheboygan South High School, for example, created a great exercise/gym facility, that community members can pay a membership to (a revenue source), as well as making it available for students/athletes. Countless schools have built a performing arts facility into their building ... and the list goes on. ...

* In any kind of organization, one of the biggest resources/costs is staffing, especially at the management level. Perhaps with the natural attrition of Dan Tjernagel, we can consider restructuring how the school(s) are administered, and trim costs by having an overall middle/high principal, while re-classifying assistant principal positions to help with some of the burden. That pushes more funding to the classroom level, and not toward the top.

* What’s more, I cannot believe the barrage of assertions that exposing middle school kids to high school kids will somehow corrupt them. First of all, they are already in close proximity. Let’s be realistic. This is a small city, and in cities of varying sizes across the United States, schools share a campus, or are adjacent to each other. ...

As an educator, and as a taxpayer, I want to see the school district investigate as many outside-the-box options as possible. It seems like the proposals and thinking as they exist now, are very narrow and black-and-white, such as the “line of demarcation” described in this week’s Commonwealth article. ...

Adam Jacobi is a Ripon resident and heavily involved in middle school- and high school-level programs. He is a Governance Committee Member for Lumen Charter High School, executive director-elect for the Wisconsin High School Forensic Association, is the National Middle School Tournament Director for the National Forensic League and is curriculum director for the Harvard Debate Council. Jacobi also is an adjunct instructor for communication at Ripon College.

To read the entire column, see the June 19, 2014 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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