5th Grade Move Tabled

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Thursday June 19, 2014

The pros and cons of having fifth graders transition to the middle school in the 2015-2016 school year has garnered much debate over recent months. Superintendent David Young proposed the plan in December, citing potential opportunities for fifth graders at the middle school such as access to technology and foreign language. In early spring, committees formed to fully investigate the issue from a variety of standpoints. A steering committee was put in place to oversee the process, explore the topic in depth, answer questions, and present a report to the board regarding their findings. 

Throughout the process, a number of parents, community members, and staff became involved in committee work and even more have attended regular school board meetings, mainly to express their concerns about the potential change. The June 11 meeting was no different. The Tuttle Middle School library was filled with parents eager to hear the results of the steering committee’s report. 

While everyone in the room had access to a thick packet of information summarizing the committee’s findings, the public seemed most interested in hearing what SuperintendentYoung had to say. Young read from a prepared letter, saying that a move will not be pursued for the 2015-2016 school year. He said he would be supporting the recommendations of the steering committee to re-establish mandate, purpose, and products and to establish a design team in order to re-launch the process. He noted that they would coordinate the goals and potential changes with the South Burlington City/School master-planning and visioning process. 

Young also emphasized that from the beginning of this process, his vision was to identify a model that would best serve the students. He still hopes that the grade 5-8 option will be thoroughly reviewed and discussed, with viable feedback to begin phase two of the process. 

Young said, “Now we need to re-establish focus and tie it into long term visioning and planning for the district. I hope that many of you that have become engaged will continue with the work... if we want to continue to be a good district, we need to keep moving forward with options for students.”

A number of parents in the audience had questions and comments. One parent said that while she appreciated the report and the questions that were raised, the process of moving forward still seemed vague and made her uneasy. She wondered aloud, “What’s the best place for our fifth graders?” and “If something’s working, why change it?”

Martin LaLonde asked if the committee had found that this idea was clearly good or bad. Mark Gabel, a member of the community outreach committee, said that during the course of their work, they found that it was neither good nor bad and that there wasn’t a surefire way to see if it would work other than to try it. “I hear a lot of people asking us to get more specific about this process,” Gabel said, “but we need to be less specific and ask what is the best model for all South Burlington schools.” 

In addition, Young said that there are still many unanswered questions regarding emotional and social development, infrastructure, and community outreach. “This is part of a bigger question,” Young said, “and we need and want all of you involved. That’s going to be crucial to shaping the vision of our district.”
Young re-iterated at the close of the meeting that a lot of good work that has gone into this process; hard questions have been asked, and the environment that allowed them to be explored and deeply considered has been created. That process has been invaluable. 

When asked if parents should be mentally preparing to have their current second graders moving to the middle school in a couple of years now that it isn’t happening for this year’s third graders, Young said, “Tell them it’s off the table currently.” 

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent