Plans to create a school within a school at a Lakeville elementary is causing concern among parents and teachers who believe the program is being rushed into existence by the school district.

The so-called Impact Academy plan will be voted on this week by the Lakeville school board.

What has parents and teachers upset is that the board originally was scheduled to vote on the program weeks ago, before all of the meetings to gather input from parents had been completed.

“What’s the rush?” one parent asked district officials during one of the first informational meetings at Orchard Lake Elementary. “Why not delay it a year?”

Adding to the confusion was a communications mix-up that delayed notifications about the academy and informational meetings earlier this month with parents and interested parties at Orchard Lake, where the program would be located if approved.

“You are not giving us information,” said Tiffany Gameson, the mother of a second-grader at the school. “I think that is where the irritation is coming from.”

Julene Oxten, who is leading the school district team that is developing the program, said the district has been releasing information when practical. Other district officials said the matter has been discussed at some school board workshops.

“I know a lot of you feel misinformed,” Oxten said. “We’re not going to force it.”

That did little to assuage the fears among some staff and parents that creating a school within a school also will create divisions among students, parents and educators if one system is seen as better than the other.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Beth McCabe, who has a daughter in fourth-grade at Orchard Lake. “The way it has been presented, people feel like someone has tried to pull a fast one.”

A new approach

The academy is described as an innovative approach to teaching in which kids are grouped not by grades but by ability and students advance as quickly as they are able.

Also, in keeping with the one-group approach, students would be taught in one large space without traditional desks and chairs. Instead, bean bags, bookshelves and other furniture would be used as room dividers to distinguish between different academic groups.

District officials believe the test program, targeting about 100 students in kindergarten through third-grade, could serve as a model for other schools in the district.

The big question is financing. The district has a $3.5 million budget shortfall, and part of the premise in starting the Impact Academy is that it be cost neutral. Also, because it will be voluntary, there is a chance not enough parents will enroll their kids.

“This could easily get scrapped if there are not enough kids,” Oxten said.