Owensboro Public Schools plans to open an Innovation Campus beginning next school year at the location of the current Innovation Middle School, formerly Owensboro Middle School South at 2631 S. Griffith Ave., that will house both its middle school and high school innovation programs.

The plans call for both Owensboro Innovation Middle School, or iMiddle, and the Owensboro Innovation Academy to both occupy the building. There are currently 285 iMiddle students and 287 OIA students.

Nick Brake, OPS superintendent, told board members Thursday during a school board luncheon that while students will be sharing some spaces, like the gymnasium and the cafeteria, students will be separated.

"It's important to understand that even though they are going to be sharing a campus, the schools will maintain separate identities," Brake said, referring to the sixth through eighth grade iMiddle and the ninth through 12th grade OIA. "They will be physically separated and locked down apart from one another. There will not be co-mingling of sixth-graders with seniors unless it's a specific project."

The building that houses iMiddle, which was the 5-6 Center before it became OMS-South, has been under renovation since the beginning of this year. Half the building is being renovated while students occupy the other half. In January, students will occupy the newly-renovated space and work will begin on the other half. That is where the high school students will be moved next August.

Board chairman Jeremy Edge said the renovation work should make it clear how easy it is to keep the students separated.

"Separation should be pretty clear as there is an active construction zone in the building that doesn't interfere with students at this time," he said.

Jared Revlett, OPS spokesman, said that the idea to put both innovation schools onto the same campus was not considered until after school started this year. Parents have since been sent letters explaining the situation, and that students will not be interacting unless they are collaborating on a project, which has already taken place at least once this year when OIA students visited iMiddle to present a project.

He said as far as he knows, at least two parents have asked about the move, but no one has expressed concern.

One major reason for bringing both schools to one campus is to save money. OPS currently leases the space for OIA each year from the Malcolm Bryant Corporation, and the district owns the building where iMiddle is located. By creating an Innovation Campus to hold both schools, OPS will save about half a million dollars a year.

Brake said that the district is grateful to the Malcolm Bryant Corporation, without which getting OIA off the ground would not have been possible.

Also discussed in the luncheon was the influx of students at Estes Elementary School. Estes is currently where all the elementary Spanish-speaking students are routed within the district, and there is also a popular early childhood program at the school that is a blend of both kindergarten and preschool.

Brake said that several English language-learning families have moved from the Estes school zone to the Cravens zone, and that the district is proposing that ELL students who live in the Cravens school zone to begin attending Cravens next school year. The district will be providing ELL educators at Cravens, and Brake also said he is suggesting to the elementary school that they also begin a blended early-childhood program at the school.

"So our thought process is we would probably split that population along Frederica Street, and let those that want services for English language learners to get those on the west side at Cravens, and on the east side at Estes," Brake said.

Matthew Constant, OPS chief academic officer, said by allowing the students who live on the west side of Frederica Street to attend Cravens makes more sense because they will be closer to home.

"We feel like this is a strong plan moving forward," Constant said, adding that the ideal situation would be for English language learners "to just go to their neighborhood schools and get service that way."

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315.

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