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Sixth-grade students will move into Spokane middle schools in four years

UPDATED: Wed., June 28, 2017, 10:40 p.m.

Sixth-grade students in Spokane will move into middle schools starting in 2021.

The Spokane Public Schools board of directors approved the planned move Wednesday night 4-0. Board member Paul Schneider was not present.

The grade-configuration changes are in response to increasing enrollment and statewide K-3 class-size reduction, as well as mandatory full-day kindergarten. Additionally it is just one in a number of steps in preparation for the 2021 bond.

School staff communicated and spoke to community members about the impacts of the planned changes starting in April. The results from an online survey of Spokane parents will be available Thursday.

District staff recommended that sixth-graders move into middle school partially because it gives students more time before transitioning to high school. Additionally, there are more academic opportunities such as electives and specialized courses for sixth-graders.

Also, integrating sixth grade into middle school allowed the district to get closer to the K-3 class size mandate without building as many schools.

Integrating sixth grade into middle school will require the district build three new middle schools. If the district had chosen not to integrate sixth-graders into middle school it would have required building four to five new elementary schools, said Mark Anderson, the district associate superintendent.

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.

“Our goal is that we have adequate space and school facilities,” Anderson said during the board meeting.

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 the K-3 class size reduction goes toward hiring teachers, not toward building new classrooms.

“This is the first of several studies that will be taking place preparing us for the 2021 bond,” Anderson said.

Next year an attendance boundary study committee will review the district’s needs following the inclusion of sixth-graders. Starting in 2018, a school construction option committee will convene as well.

Board member Susan Chapin complimented the grade configuration committee’s work, especially its commitment to gathering and responding to community concerns and feedback.

“This was another example … of how we really work hard to seek out input from the community,” she said.