SCHWEINFURT, Germany (Aug. 29, 2013) -- Students from both schools here started the 2013-2014 school year Aug. 26, marking the beginning of the Army's last school year in Schweinfurt and raising some concerns among students, teachers and parents.
The school year kicks off with some notable changes, including a new configuration and a decrease in student body and faculty.
"It's going to be a challenge to keep everyone's motivation up throughout the year because the school is so small," said Kathy O'Neill, an English teacher at Schweinfurt Middle High School. "But with the seventh and eighth grade in the school now, it will foster the community closeness and environment that makes for a good school year."
Last spring officials with the Department of Defense Education Activity -- the organization overseeing U.S. schools at overseas military installations -- announced a new school configuration that condenses the middle school with the high school at Yorktown Village, leaving the elementary school as the lone school at Askren Manor.
"At the elementary school, this expands advanced technology opportunities, class space and room for physical activity -- all to ensure that we provide high-quality education programs until the school closes," said Schweinfurt Elementary School Principal, Dr. Lee Hill.
The Schweinfurt military community has been steadily decreasing as garrison officials continue to draw down and ready for closure. Nearly 12,000 people, including Soldiers, made up the community last year at this time. That number has shrunk to about 4,000. Consequently, DoDEA has had to rebalance elementary school teaching staff within Europe. The middle/high school has not been affected.
"As a result of the downsizing, we restructured several of our classrooms and reduced the total number of classes," Hill said. "Some of our students were reassigned to a split classes in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. We are still strongly staffed and will continue to provide an excellent education to our children."
The decrease has left many rooms empty, drawing concerns from parents. Sgt. First Class Adam Fontañez, a parent of a second-grade student asked, "Is there any way to protect the teachers and students from going into the empty classrooms without supervision or oversight? Safety of our children is important."
Hill ensures that all classrooms that aren't being used by teachers will be locked and students will not have access to them.
Meanwhile, as more and more families brace for their upcoming permanent changes in duty station, students and parents are left wondering how it will affect academics and sports.
"We are going to continue having high academic expectations for all our students with strong focus on reading and math," Hill said of the elementary school.
"The school is really small now," said Tiffany Donner, a senior at the high school. "I'm going to miss more school events and some of the classes that I would have taken that aren't available because there aren't enough teachers."
All classes that were offered in the previous years will continue to be available to high school students. If there is a class that a student wishes to take that isn't offered at SMHS, the student is able to enroll in online classes through DoDEA's distance learning program, said Mark Villarreal, the vice principle of the middle/high school.
The middle and high schools extracurricular activities will be based on student participation. If there are enough students to participate, then the program will be offered, Villarreal said.
"It is going to be a fun year intermingled with some sadness because it's going to be hard to say goodbye," said Schweinfurt Elementary first grade teacher Jim Vail.
Kristin Brace, President of SES's Parent Teacher Student Association, announced during the elementary school's first day of school that there will be monthly activities planned through the PTSA for students and their families.
On the issue of school mascot, Vice Principal Villarreal clarified the identity of the combined middle/high school's identity: "We are the Razorbacks!" he shouted at the pep rally. The Golden Knight had been the middle school students' mascot. Wilbur the pig will again serve as the elementary school's mascot, Hill said.
For more information, call Schweinfurt Elementary School at 09721-96-6734/6518 or DSN 354-6734/6518, and call Schweinfurt Middle High School at 09721-804-301 or DSN 354-6812/6813.