School board discusses where to teach sixth graders in coming years

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Although no official vote was taken, the seven members of the Switzerland County School Board all had their say at Monday night’s meeting involving the long term future of where sixth graders in the county would be taught – and the consensus seems to be that the board prefers leaving students in their communities.

When Switzerland County Middle School was opened in 1995, sixth graders were transferred from Switzerland County Elementary School and Jefferson-Craig Elementary School into the new building; and seventh and eighth graders were brought from the high school.

Those three grade levels existed until this school year, when, in response to the school board’s request to try and raise sixth grade test scores, the decision was made to move all of the sixth graders into Jefferson-Craig Elementary School and “self contain” them – which meant that students would have the same teacher all day, rather than transferring from room to room for different subjects.

But the decision last year raised some concern among parents and school board members, noting that fifth graders from Switzerland County Elementary would come to Jefferson-Craig for one year; then go to the middle school for two years; and then on to the high school.

At the time the decision was made, which came at the March 29th, 2010 board meeting, it was reported in the April 1st edition of Vevay Newspapers that:

“…Saying that it believes that the educational benefits for the students was its most important consideration, members of the school board told the audience that it was directing Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Jones to begin the process of conducting a feasibility study on the possibility of building additional classrooms onto Switzerland County Elementary School. Once those classrooms are built, then future sixth graders would remain in the elementary school that they had attended before moving on to the middle school for their seventh grade year.”

At that meeting last year, school board member Bill Roberts said that it was his understanding that there was space at Switzerland County Elementary School, “with some movement”, to keep sixth graders at the East Enterprise school; and board member Tonya Moore was quoted in the April 1st newspaper as saying that she would support the location of the sixth graders to Jefferson-Craig with the understanding that the board would move forward with looking into building additional classrooms at Switzerland County Elementary School.

A feasibility study was conducted as requested by the board, and those results, presented in January of this year, pointed to leaving all of the sixth graders at Jefferson-Craig, but some members of the community and school board members weren’t sold.

That led to Monday night, when the school board held an open working session to discuss the issue. School Board President Andy Truitt told the audience that the board was interested in hearing all of the information that the community wished to share; and then each school board member would have time to express their personal opinions on how to proceed.

Switzerland County Elementary School teacher Travis Griffith then gave a power point presentation to the board, which conveyed the results of a survey that he conducted involving fifth graders at Switzerland County Elementary; parents of fifth graders; and also SCES staff.

His data showed that parents and staff were fairly evenly split on sending students to Jeff-Craig as opposed to keeping them at Switzerland County Elementary; but that of the 65 students who responded to the survey, 44 favored moving to Jeff-Craig for sixth grade.

Travis Griffith, himself a parent of a current sixth grade student, told the board that his survey found that respondents felt that, if the sixth graders in the future were to remain at SCES, there would need to be more office staff, additional restrooms built; another computer lab added; a larger gym with more seating (fire code limits the number of students who can be in the gym at one time, so things such as assemblies would have to be considered); more playground equipment; discipline issues would have to be addressed; and scheduling would also have to be looked at.

He said that a fear of respondents was that keeping sixth graders at SCES would result in larger class sizes, which could negatively impact all grade levels.

In his survey, Travis Griffith also asked for suggestions, and those ranged from moving the library into the current kindergarten room and making four classrooms out of the current library space; to building a sixth grade wing onto SCES; to using the Old Gym in Vevay as a Pre Middle School.

Sixth grade teacher Kim Temple spoke in favor of keeping all sixth grade students together rather than being in two different building, noting that the sixth grade teachers were a “team” that worked very well together, and having all sixth graders at the same site provided for more uniform and consistent instruction for all students. She said that she felt that it takes more than one year to see if something does or doesn’t work.

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When it came time for the board members to share their feelings, each member had differing views as to what to do next.

- Andy Truitt: “I have many different opinions, but most importantly is, what’s best for the child? Not only what’s best for them educationally, but for them all around as we build their character and make young adults out of them….I think what’s happening is a good thing. I think we can’t measure success in one year. My opinion this needs to be revisited next year, when we can get some good, hard evidence.”

– Bill Roberts: “I think I’ve made my position pretty clear from day one. I see no value in busing kids another 25 miles a day and paying those costs, plus everytime a bus turns a wheel, you moving that many kids that many more miles a day times 180 days….Is there room at East Enterprise? I don’t know. Can we bring them back there?…Let’s leave those fifth graders there, in my opinion. Why bus them? Let’s leave those kids in their community.”

- Nancy Peters: “I think I’ve pretty much established how I feel about it. I think sixth graders, I don’t have a problem with self contained. …I believe that sixth graders should stay at their community school, if we’re going to keep them at the elementary. If we’re not, then I say put them back in the middle school and be sixth, seventh, and eighth. That’s where I stand on it.”

- Jim Phipps: “I can recall a year ago, this whole thing started as an experiment in education, and we called the principals and the superintendent on the carpet about our sixth grade achievement, which was pretty lacking at the time….They came back a meeting or two later, and this was the plan. To my knowledge, we haven’t gotten those results in….We’re trying to change the gameplan and add a sixth grade out there, and we haven’t seen the results yet. I get a little bit concerned about that.”

– Vern Waltz: “A year ago I voted to move sixth graders to Vevay with the understanding that we would revisit it down the road. The idea of keeping kids closer to home I believe in. I hear from a lot of people that they want their kids to stay out there. Not necessarily just the kids who are in fifth grade now, but there’s a whole lot coming up yet….My heart wants to say move the kids back out there. Definitely we need to renovate that building.”

– Wayne Daugherty: “As Mr. Phipps said, we did this sixth grade thing as an experiment, because I remember Mrs. Jones saying at the time, that things couldn’t be worse. We don’t know if they’re better for sure, and we don’t know if it’s worse, but at the same time I thought this board agreed that we’d track this. I was under the impression that we were going to try and put the sixth graders back out at the elementary. That’s what I thought….I think the sixth grade needs to be in their community.”

- Tonya Moore: “I want the sixth grade back out at Switzerland County Elementary….I told those parents over in the middle school cafeteria the way I felt. They didn’t want us, at that point, to take their children and put them down here at Jeff-Craig. I told them that right at that point, we had to do that, but we would look at this in one year….I don’t want the kids on the buses so long. I hate that. I’ve always hated it….I want the sixth graders back out there. Bottom line.”

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At the conclusion of the open working session, President Truitt told the audience that the board is holding another meeting this Monday, and as always there will be a time for public comments, and he encouraged people to make their feelings known.