Blaine County School District

Ernest Hemingway Elementary School teacher Susan Thoreson works with a student in 2015.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BLAINE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

KETCHUM — A lack of interest may put a cramp in a plan to offer Ketchum students a middle school option in their hometown.

In late February, Blaine County school trustees voted 3-2 on a three-year expansion of Ernest Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum to include middle school. It would start with adding sixth-grade next school year.

Trustees also decided to make the whole school’s focus revolve around STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Blaine County only has two middle schools: in Carey and Wood River Middle School in Hailey. It means middle schoolers who live in Ketchum must travel at least 12 miles each way to get to school.

Earlier this school year, 45 fifth-graders expressed interest in attending middle school in Ketchum next year. But since then, numbers have dropped to 35 — not enough to meet school trustees’ criteria.

“That’s not enough to sustain two classrooms,” school district spokeswoman Heather Crocker said.

And that means the plan could be in danger.

Parents: If you’re interested in having your child attend Hemingway for sixth grade next year, contact the school district office. The number of interested students must be finalized within the next week, Crocker said.

The school board will likely hear an update from the superintendent during its April 11 meeting.

Hemingway Elementary principal Don Haisley wasn’t available comment Tuesday.

Parent Caroline Hobbs, a nurse practitioner who has three children, said she’d like to see Hemingway Elementary include middle school.

“I am a huge supporter of this and am trying to make it happen in any way I can,” she said.

Hobbs and her family moved to the Wood River Valley three years ago, and toured all of the schools in the valley. Hemingway is an excellent public school, she said, with outstanding teachers and staff.

Her son is in fifth grade and she has twins in second grade.

She said she’s attracted to the STEAM focus and its project-based learning model. Her son loves math and science.

Hobbs said research also shows kindergarten through eighth-grade schools foster a safe environment for middle schoolers, and allows them to be leaders in the school.

Plus, having a middle school option in Ketchum is a big selling factor for Hobbs and her husband. They both work full-time in Ketchum.

During a Feb. 21 meeting, school trustees heard a presentation about two options for Hemingway as a STEAM school: keeping the current grade levels or expanding to include middle school.

Trustees opted to add middle school, but the vote came with conditions such as keeping middle school enrollment up so the offering would be cost-neutral for the school district.

Trustees Shawn Bennion and Cami Bustos opposed the motion.

A video of the meeting is posted to the school district’s YouTube channel.

Bennion said during the meeting the STEAM focus for kindergarten through fifth grade would be a unique draw for Hemingway. “Personally, I’m more comfortable moving forward with that idea.”

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But he said he’s hesitant about adding sixth through eighth grades — especially, since it’s based on interest from only this year’s fifth graders.

“I have my concerns about the longevity of the program, where it stands right now,” he said. And with Haisley retiring and a new principal coming in next school year, it’s a lot to take on, he added.

Trustee Kevin Garrison said during the meeting he’s concerned about the number of moving parts — the STEAM initiative, adding middle school and a new principal at Hemingway Elementary next year.

“Instead of just one baby, that feels like three babies,” he said.

Garrison said he’s also concerned about test scores among Hispanic students and addressing that should be a focus.

Ketchum parent Andrew Johnston, who has a son in fifth-grade at Hemingway Elementary, told the Times-News on Tuesday he’ll be disappointed if the plan to offer middle school in Ketchum doesn’t go through.

The school board voting on a three-year expansion to include middle school is a “big approval,” he said, and an “unbelievable opportunity.”

Johnston said he thinks some people are focused just on adding sixth-grade next year and not looking at it from a long-term perspective.

The topic of middle school in Ketchum arose after Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes began in her job position and conducted listening tours across the Wood River Valley.

Ketchum parents, business and government officials all expressed interest in exploring a local secondary school option, Crocker said.

Then the school district did extensive surveying and responses indicated interest in offering middle school in Ketchum.

School officials formed task forces, and held community meetings in English and Spanish to present the options for Hemingway Elementary.

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