LEBANON — Lebanon-area residents are being asked to give their thoughts on how best to structure the Lebanon Community School District via a new online option, Thought Exchange.

Superintendent Rob Hess introduced the concept to about 65 people who attended a community forum Monday at Seven Oak Middle School to talk about crowding issues there.

The Thought Exchange site specifically crafted for Lebanon will be open through Feb. 28 at www.thoughtexchange.com. Under the "join" link, residents are asked to enter the following code: 903-229-448.

Once in, participants will be asked just one question: What school configuration option do you think is best for our students next year and why do you think so?

All responses are anonymous. The site limits word counts to only about a sentence. Writers also can share thoughts and ratings about other people's suggestions. The idea is that the highest-rated suggestions will float to the top, Hess told the audience.

Hess and Assistant Superintendent Bo Yates are holding a series of more informal thought exchanges on school configuration options by holding the various community forums this month. 

The first was held Jan. 31 at Cascades Elementary School and the second and third were at Seven Oak Middle and Green Acres Elementary schools.

Two more are scheduled: from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, at Pioneer School, 500 N. Fifth St.; and from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, in the library of Riverview School, 1011 Mountain River Drive.

At each of the forums, Hess goes over both short- and long-term options for solving crowded conditions at Seven Oak Middle School and organizing the district as a whole. Board members are expected to make a decision in April.

Most of the options involve using rooms at elementary schools as a temporary space solution.

Option A would be to move about 50 sixth-graders back to Cascades Elementary School, which is expected to have at least two open classrooms this fall and would relieve the immediate pressure at Seven Oak.

Option B would add Green Acres Elementary School to the sixth-grade list, if a modular building can be added to the campus.

Option C would add Riverview, but it also would need modular buildings and several teachers would need to be transferred.

For a long-term solution, Hess has said he favors Option D: keeping Hamilton Creek and Lacomb as K-8 schools but making the in-city elementary schools "sister school" models.

Under that plan, two schools would serve preschool through second grade and the other two would serve third through sixth grade. Seven Oak would become a standard seventh- and eighth-grade junior high.

In addition to the forum and the online Thought Exchange, all participants at the forums, as well as all teachers and staff, will be sent a survey to gather more feedback, Hess said. 

The audience Monday at Seven Oak did not come up with a single solution, but all agreed they wanted to take some action, at least to deal with the immediate problems at Seven Oak.

Many expressed dismay that the middle school students also are struggling academically, scoring much lower on state assessment tests than their middle-school counterparts at Hamilton Creek and Lacomb. Hess said ideally, he's hoping a districtwide configuration might address both problems.

The district did receive a facilities grant to do a long-range plan, Hess said. Lebanon also is looking at the possibility of adding a construction excise tax, which allows school districts to collect a tax on specific new developments or on additional square footage added to certain developments. That would allow new development to help pay its way a little more.

Board Chairman Tom Oliver told Monday's audience that feedback is important because the district doesn't want any short-term fix to make a long-term solution more difficult.

"None of these are perfect," he said. "This is, 'Which choice can we live with the best in the interim.'"


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