The district is in the process of exploring options and obtaining feedback for expanding classroom space at the elementary schools by moving 6th grade to Palombi Middle School. Such a move would open up 4 classrooms at Martin, 4 at Hooper, and 3 at Thompson. Each elementary school would be serving 85 to 94 fewer students. The district would then be in a position to use the space to do one or more of the following:
- Lower class size at the primary level grade levels (K – 3). A number of parents have expressed concern regarding the high enrollment numbers at the elementary buildings, particularly Hooper. Currently, the district maintains an average class size of 23.1 at the K-3 level.
- Add a preschool program to each elementary so kindergarteners would be better prepared entering school.
- Take back two SEDOL special education classes resulting in tuition savings for the district of over $500,000.
All three of these initiatives have tremendous value for the district whether it be allowing staff to better meet the needs of our students and families or saving taxpayer dollars. However, the hard question that must be answered first is, “Should 6th graders attend middle school?” Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer.
Should 6th grade be moved to Palombi? I would like nothing better than to point to clear-cut definitive research on middle school configuration, but there is none. There are just as many studies pointing in either direction. This has been a decades-long debate. Basically, what it comes down to are personal choice and personal perception. One interesting statistic that I did discover is that 75% of school districts across the country place 6th grade in middle school.
Yes, it is true that some 6th graders are more emotionally immature or introverted than their peers and would be better suited to the elementary structure. However, others feel that 6th graders belong with other levels of children who are going through puberty just as they are. Sixth graders are much more like 7th and 8th graders than they are kindergarteners through fifth graders. Children go through more changes in their bodies and brains between 10 and 14 years old than at any other time in their lives with the exception of their first 18 months of life. Some people feel that middle school exposes 6th graders to the potentially negative behavior of older students. Others believe that middle schools should have more than two grade levels so that students create a longer-lasting sense of belongingness and break down the competition that exists when there are only two grade levels. Middle school staff would have three years to build relationships with students.
One concern about transitioning 6th grade to Palombi is space. Is there enough? Yes. There are a number of rooms not currently being utilized to their capacity. Palombi would have six 20-minute grade level lunch shifts instead of the current four. The cafeteria would be no more crowded during the six shifts than it is already for the four. Is it ideal? No. Is it any different than what is currently being done? No. (What really is a challenge at Palombi is the configuration, age, and size of the kitchen, but that is a whole other topic!) The 6th grade would primarily be housed in the blue wing. Due to teacher certification, 6th grade would operate much the same as it does now with one main teacher. During the school day, 6th grade students would have limited ability to interact with 7th and 8th graders. All middle school students would ride on the bus together. Sixth graders would have access to middle school activities, enrichment, and athletics.
What’s Next? District administrators will be hosting two Information Nights next week to explain the possible programs and to solicit stakeholder feedback. The meetings will be held in the Palombi Auditorium on September 4th and 5th from 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. The presentation will be videotaped for those who cannot attend. There will also be a survey going out on September 6th. Survey results and input will be presented to the Board of Education on September 23rd at 7:00 p.m. during the regular board meeting.
What is the hurry? Discussion about moving 6th grade to Palombi began early in the Fall last year. This Spring, we met with staff at each building and visited the topic intermittently throughout the year with the board of education. We collected input from our staff that has also been shared with the board.
If the district moves ahead with moving 6th grade to Palombi next fall (2020/21 school year), it is imperative that we set this year’s 5th grade students up for success by giving them as much time as possible to transition and giving our staff time to plan. By making this decision earlier rather than later in the year, we will have much more time to prepare.
Hope to see you at the Information Nights on September 4th and 5th!