Committees to Evaluate 5th Grade Move to FHTMS

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Thursday February 13, 2014

South Burlington parents attended the February 5 school board meeting to express their concern over a proposal that would transition fifth grade students to the middle school beginning in the 2015-16 school year.  Over the past year there had been speculation throughout the community that this concept was underfoot, but it wasn’t until a late January school board meeting that many parents became aware of the details surrounding the proposal. 

David Young reassured parents on February 5, by explaining that the concept is not set in stone and that committees are going to be established to deliberate concerns and opportunities surrounding the idea. Young explained that he appreciated the emotions and sensitivity that have surfaced regarding this proposal, and that what he cares about most, especially as a parent himself, is the best interest of children. 

A steering committee was set to meet to organize the plan for each committee, including dates, times, locations, and committee expectations.  Parents/guardians were sent an e-mail in late January explaining the charge of each committee, along with an application to submit if they were interested in participating as a committee member. The committees will focus on curriculum, infrastructure, and community outreach.While each committee will have a separate charge, all will evaluate the opportunities and concerns specific to grade 5 students transitioning from the elementary schools to a grade 5-8 FHTMS program. If the feedback collected and shared throughout this process does not support what is in the best interest of students, then Young says this idea would not move forward. 

Young is scheduled to meet with all three elementary school PTOs during the week of February 10 to answer questions and listen to feedback. One parent asked what the point of forming committees was if, during the meetings, Young heard overwhelmingly negative feedback. “Emotions are often high with parents and I don’t want the process to stop because people don’t want change,” Young said, “I want to allow the process time to work…to flesh it out…in depth conversations can result in positive outcomes.”

Young explained that this idea was developed following a review of research,  and after lengthy discussions with the administrative team. It is also based on the need to leverage resources currently available. He cited four main reasons supporting his decision. (1) Increasing the number of years students are at the middle school is believed to result in creating an increased sense of belonging and community, as well as improved academic outcomes.  (2) Grade 5 students would benefit from a looping strategy similar to what grade 7 and 8 students currently experience. (3) Grade 5 students would have increased access to learning opportunities such as World Language, music instruction, and technology. (4) This would allow for all three elementary schools to evaluate and repurpose use of classroom space vacated by grade 5 students.

Many of the questions brought forth by parents are going to be explored by the committees, such as how area districts have been fairing with a 5-8 configuration as well as developing a policy to evaluate the success of the transition, should it occur. The primary concern of the parents present at the Wednesday night meeting surrounded social development and the appropriateness of having 10 year olds share a school with 14 year olds and a bus with older teens. 

Young explained that when he proposed this transition, he intentionally set a date for possible implementation in 2015-16 to allow for committees to do their work of gathering and evaluating input. He acknowledged this next process will be a careful one and one he would like to see through. “I don’t want to shut the door before the door opens to conversation” Young said.   After hearing all of the feedback from the committees, Young will bring a recommendation to the board-- before the end of June 2014. 

SOURCE: Corey Burdick,Correspondent