School Board considers plan to place sixth graders at Jeff-Craig

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The Switzerland County School Board will vote on a plan to house all sixth grade students at Jefferson-Craig Elementary School beginning this fall at its March 15th meeting. The school board gave the go-ahead for Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Jones to hold public meetings about the idea with parents prior the final vote.

“We began meeting as an administrative team last year,” Dr. Jones said. “We said to ourselves that we needed to improve curriculum education at every building. We really committed to each other that we weren’t just going to be concerned about our own buildings. The high school principal was going to be concerned with the elementary schools, and so forth.”

One of the issues that arose from those meetings was the possibility of locating the sixth graders back into the elementary buildings and out of the middle school.

“We feel that the sixth graders need to be back in the elementary buildings,” Superintendent Jones said. “We did a Jeff-Craig study; and parents told us that they wanted their sixth graders in the elementary for multiple reasons. So, this is not just a hair-brained idea.”

Dr. Jones said that Jeff-Craig Principal Rhonda Pennington and Middle School Principal John Druba have been doing research on the impact that moving the sixth graders back to the elementaries would have.

“Once we figured out that, basically, this would work without any problems or extra expense; for the student, the impact initially that they could gain is over 14,000 minutes of extra instruction,” Rhonda Pennington said. “Simply because, by moving the sixth grade to the elementary, legally we do not have to offer the activity period, which is 20 minutes a day, so they’re getting 20 minutes there. They’re also not switching classes as often, so they’re getting four minutes between those classes.”

Rhonda Pennington said that sixth graders will also be eligible to receive Title I services in reading and math once they are relocated to the elementary school – a federal program that is only available to elementary schools. This will provide extra remediation in reading and math that they cannot get now at the middle school level.

All of those extra minutes will be focused on reading, writing, and math, according to Rhonda Pennington.

“Not only remediation, but also the ones who need it will receive enrichment, also,” Principal Pennington said. “And that’s not even possible with the middle school structure, simply because they’re in a self-contained classroom, so they can integrate subjects like math activities and language arts and social studies. Project-based learning can operate easier from an elementary schedule than a middle school schedule.”

“We believe that there will be more time for math and language arts,” Dr. Jones said.

“We asked ourselves, if we could take everything off of the table, what would be the best thing to do for education,” Dr. Jones said. “There are no sacred cows here. What’s the best thing we can do in this corporation for education.”

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The proposal is not to simply keep the current fifth graders in their current elementary school, however.

According to Dr. Jones, all of the sixth graders, beginning this fall with the start of the 2010-2011 school year, will be housed at Jefferson-Craig Elementary School. Dr. Jones said that keeping the current Switzerland County Elementary fifth grade students at the East Enterprise school is not possible due to space limitations – so everyone is coming to Jefferson-Craig.

In an effort to further explain the proposal and to gather feedback from parents and answer questions, Dr. Jones will be having two meetings.

The first will be held this Tuesday, March 9th, at 4:30 p.m. at Jefferson-Craig; and the second will be on Thursday, March 11th, at 4:30 p.m. at Switzerland County Elementary.

“We know parents are going to have a lot of questions,” Dr. Jones said. “I want to talk to parents. I want to answer any of the questions and give them an overview.”

Dr. Jones said that there won’t be transportation problems with the proposal, because currently sixth graders are being transported to the middle school, and with the new proposal, they will go to Jeff-Craig.

“There’s just no room at East Enterprise,” Dr. Jones said. “We looked at the numbers. They have four sections of kindergarten, four sections of first. The building is just too crowded. There’s just no room for our sixth grade there. Right now they are at 485 students, and that’s almost as big as the high school.”

Dr. Jones said that the rooms that will be vacated by the sixth graders leaving the middle school will be used for technology and science, with a lot more of the rooms being dedicated rooms. She said that there will be some movement over to the middle school for specific class subjects.

“The buildings will become more connected for things like science and math,” Dr. Jones said.

Dr. Jones also said that the realignment will mean that Tony Spoores, current Dean of Students at the middle school, will be shared by Jeff-Craig, although his office will remain at the middle school. He will have more committed time to Jefferson-Craig.

Dr. Jones said that there will be some staffing changes, because some teachers will have to be physically moved. Dr. Jones said that John Druba met with the sixth grade teachers about the change, and all seemed positive about the move.

“I’m 100-percent behind it, because it is the best thing for the student,” Rhonda Pennington said.

“Our concern is more time on task,” Dr. Jones said. “We felt that it was time to make some aggressive changes in order to improve curriculum.”