Mixed feelings for some as 8th grade academy proceeds


By Brittany Harlow, Contributing Writer

It’s been more than a year since the Broken Arrow Public Schools said it planned to build a new 8th
grade academy
on the Sequoyah Middle School campus, but the construction is moving forward.

The $30 million project has gone out for bid and is expected to include a two-story classroom building, additional cafeteria space, an upgraded parking area and potentially some sports facilities. Barring any delays, construction could be finished in 2025.

Voters had actually approved funds for a new multi-grade middle school in the 2015 BAPS bond issue. But construction costs increased by 20% between 2015 and 2020, the district said, and in just the past few years they’ve jumped 32%. That means the cost of building a multi-grade middle school would be $55 million now.

Broken Arrow Public Schools Supt. Chuck Perry has said many factors were weighed to determine the best way to accommodate the growing student body, whether it be through a proposed an 8th
grade academy, a new, traditional middle school or other configurations

Those factors considered include academic opportunities, fine arts access, athletics, transportation logistics, extracurricular activities, fiscal responsibilities, construction costs, and overall future population projections for the district.

Administrators say building at an existing site will create “substantial cost savings” for the district.

With the current five middle schools quickly reaching enrollment capacity limits, building on the existing campus at Sequoyah and converting it to an academy for only 8th graders “will help mitigate space concerns” at the remaining four middle schools, which will then house only 6th and 7th graders.

Not all Broken Arrow residents have been on board with this decision. Abbi Donaho worked as a BAPS educator from 2009 to 2017 and now works as works for a third-party contractor for the district. 

Donaho asked the Broken Arrow Board of Education last Monday about how the project could be stopped, but was relieved to find out that administrators are not turning the entire SMS campus into an 8th grade academy. She is still concerned about proposals to enlarge school buildings to deal with enrollment growth. 

Donaho said if other people hadn’t encouraged her to speak out about the downsides of increasing school sizes, she probably wouldn’t have

“I also hear a lot of problems from BAFA (Broken Arrow Freshman Academy), so I don’t want to replicate that,” Donaho said. “This is only anecdotal. I only have reports from students there, I know families there, I know teachers there. Teachers that I have taught with. And I don’t hear a lot of reports that it feels successful. And I know the staff over there is incredible. So I just think that the setup is the problem.”

Donaho said her main concern is the number of students that are in the buildings.

She said the fact that they are only building another same grade center because of financial constraints is an indicator this is a financial decision, and not one based on what is best for the students.

“That’s what gets me, too,” Donaho said. “If we didn’t have this money problem, we would have done a middle school. Why? Because that’s probably the better option.”

We ran an analysis of the latest school site capacities and students for the district’s elementary and secondary schools and found that every school site is currently over capacity. Broken Arrow High School was the highest over capacity, followed by BAFA. Centennial, with the third largest highest capacity, was the sixth highest over capacity out of the 24.

Thompson said district leaders are not aware of any current concerns held by the staff regarding BAFA’s size, there have been no complaints received from any of the BAFA staff since Perry became the superintendent, and that he regularly meets with the staff at all sites across the district.

Thompson said she believed a survey was conducted with parents and staff to get input on how to proceed after the cost of a traditional middle school became prohibitive for the allocated budget. The largest share of the parents voted for a new middle school and most staff voted for the 8th grade academy.

Abbi Donaho, a former BAPS educator and now a third-party contractor for the district, address the Board of Education.

Donaho said the 8th Grade Academy situation will also impact how she plans to vote in the upcoming bond election, mainly regarding Proposition 3 -- which would add classrooms to existing sites rather than build a new elementary. She said the district should find ways to build more multigrade level schools instead.

Thompson said the additions outlined in Proposition 3 are necessary to accommodate 1,000 more students at Rosewood, Aspen Creek, Highland Park, Timber Ridge and Creekwood.

“We wouldn’t add all at once but would be able to phase in with growth and avoid redistricting,” Thompson said.

What are your thoughts on the new 8th Grade Academy? On BAFA? Do you think BAPS should find new ways to build more schools, or continue to expand the current ones? Let us know in the comments below.

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