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Spokane considers moving sixth-graders to middle school to comply with class-size mandate

Tue., April 18, 2017, 6 a.m.

Greg Forsyth, director of capital projects for Spokane Public Schools,  talks about renovation plans at Franklin Elementary in Spokane on Tuesday, March 7, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Greg Forsyth, director of capital projects for Spokane Public Schools, talks about renovation plans at Franklin Elementary in Spokane on Tuesday, March 7, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Sixth-graders in Spokane may be moved into middle school and attendance boundaries will change by 2021, according to Spokane Public Schools.

The changes are in response to increasing enrollment and statewide K-3 class-size reduction, said Mark Anderson, district associate superintendent.

The study and a request for community feedback is part of the school district’s preparation for the 2021 construction bond. In June, the Grade Configuration Study Committee will present a report of its findings to the school board.

No districtwide changes to grade configuration will happen until 2021, Anderson said, although some individual schools might change before then.

Regardless of whether grade configuration changes, there will be boundary changes, Anderson said.

“If we build five new elementary schools it would pretty much change every elementary-school boundary in the district,” he said.

A summary that presented the Grade Configuration Committee’s initial findings notes there is no clear benefit to either configuration.

“The research has not shown that in one configuration kids achieve academically better than another,” Anderson said.

Considering the options, and the lack of a clearly superior option, the district has proposed three options.

Among them: Sixth-graders could move into the middle schools.

One middle school, Salk, already has sixth-graders, Anderson said. The school has had sixth-graders for three years.

“Most parents and students and staff at Salk are very pleased,” he said.

A sixth- through eighth-grade configuration prolongs the time between transitions, which may be beneficial to students, according to Anderson. Additionally, there would be more academic opportunities such as electives and specialized courses for sixth-graders.

Also, by integrating sixth grade into middle school the district could get closer to meeting K-3 class-size reduction ratios without building as many new schools.

Without integrating sixth grade into middle schools, the district needs four to five new elementary schools, Anderson said. Integrating sixth grade into middle school would require the district build three new middle schools.

However, the sixth-through-eighth configuration might not be the best fit for some students, Anderson said.

“Developmentally, socially, even academically, it may not be the best fit for every sixth-grader,” he said. “It tends to be a pretty good fit for most. But we’re wanting to serve all kids.”

The district would try and provide services, or different school options, for students who don’t like it, Anderson said.

Another option would be to get rid of middle schools, instead lumping all K-8 students together.

That would mean only one transition for students. Additionally, that grade configuration would create “opportunity for more family and community involvement,” according to the summary findings.

However, there would be fewer academic, art and extracurricular activities available at such schools. And converting elementary schools to a K-8 configuration would be a major undertaking.

“That would be challenging,” Anderson said.

The third and final option is to keep the existing grade configuration of K-6, 7-8 and 9-12. To meet K-3 class-size reduction legislation requirements, the district would need to build more schools and make more drastic boundary changes, according to the summary.

About 63 percent of districts in the state have a K-5 configuration; 23 percent of districts have a K-6 setup; and 8 percent have a K-8 configuration, according to Anderson.

In January the district was 53 classrooms short of meeting the K-3 class-size mandates. The 2014 initiative, which voters approved, calls for a 17-1 districtwide student-teacher ratio in kindergarten through third grade and larger ratios in higher grades.

The money the state provides for K-3 class-size reduction goes toward hiring more teachers – not adding more classrooms.

Anderson encourages parents and community members to attend the forums. Following the grade configuration report, the district will also study boundary changes and the associated costs of each plan.

“This is a very methodical, long-range planning process,” he said.



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