Letter to the Editor: Rethinking the “one 5-6 and one 7-8” middle school model
With 39 comments since publication Monday
November 11, 2011
by Maggie Christ
The Knowledge Café put on by the Superintendent Lyn McKay and the CCSD on Monday night (10/24) was presented as “a community engagement meeting regarding middle school scheduling.”
In short, four model possibilities were presented:
1. To maintain the current nine period schedule, and two maintain two middle schools each with grades 5-6-7-8.
2. To maintain the current nine period schedule, but to split the middle schools into one for 5-6 and one for 7-8
3. To switch the schedule to a seven period day, and two maintain two middle schools each with grades 5-6-7-8.
4. To switch the schedule to a seven period day, and to split the middle schools into one for 5-6 and one for 7-8
Looking at this from a purely budgetary point of view, all three of the scenarios that are not the existing model (#1 above) would provide budget savings through the loss of staff positions. Further, even though there is an increase in bus costs if the middle schools are split into a 5-6 and 7-8 configuration, there is still an overall cost savings as a result of a reduction in staff.
As presented via PowerPoint slides, the so-called “limitations” of the division into a 5-6 school and a 7-8 school included:
• Sense of school community is more challenging to develop
• Longer bus rides
The only argument presented – orally – for maintaining two schools of 5-6-7-8 was that it would minimize transitions for the children, so there’s no transition between 6th & 7th grades. However, CCSD scheduling consultant Michael Rettig said that the real palpable transitions are the ones out of elementary school into middle school (4th grade to 5th grade), and out of middle school and into high school (8th grade to 9th grade).
To my thinking – as a rational person, not a trained educator - transitions can be managed, especially if the middle school program is similar across all four years. As to the busing, children might well have a longer bus ride for two out of four years, but they’d have a shorter one in the other two years. As far as a sense of community, it seems to me that clumping all of the fifth graders in town in the same middle school is an excellent and quick way to develop community.
Furthermore, what was completely ignored in the official presentation were the benefits to the children to a division into a 5-6 and 7-8 configuration, such as:
• Roaring Brook students would no longer be split between middle schools.
• All fourth graders in the district would move en masse to one school, thereby forming a cohesive cohort in fifth grade (instead of ninth grade as presently occurs).
• Fifth graders would not be sharing bus and school facilities with eighth graders.
• All district children would have the experience of the modern air-conditioned Seven Bridges facility.
• All district children would have the experience of the charming Bell school and its easy access to town and pizza.
Lyn McKay said on Monday that she was leaning towards keeping the existing configuration of two schools each of 5-6-7-8. Further, she was quoted in the Patch a couple of weeks ago as saying that school officials don’t see “any real fiscal reason to go in that direction” – in other words, that they were not inclined to change the grade configurations of the two middle schools.
Given that changing the configuration to 5-6 and 7-8 would save a minimum of about $100K, and provide excellent ancillary benefits, with only minimal downsides, to the children in the district, I hope that Dr. McKay rethinks her position.
Related: Community asked to weigh longer periods against frequency of classes for two middle schools, NCNOW.org, November 11, 2011