The Mead School District is trying something new and temporary this year to ease the overcrowding at several elementary schools – sending sixth-graders to a special Sixth Grade Center at the old Northwood Middle School.
The number of students in the district has been rising in recent years and the trend is continuing, said Ned Wendle, executive director of facilities and planning. “It’s been a challenge,” he said. “We don’t have the room. We don’t have capacity in the elementaries.”
The Sixth Grade Center is temporary because the new Highland Middle School at Five Mile will be completed next year, and the district will shift to a grades six-eight middle school model once it opens. “We’re in the transition to six-eight next year,” said Heather Havens, assistant superintendent of learning services.
Overcrowding has been an ongoing issue, particularly in the elementary schools, thanks to a surge in housing construction in the district. “We literally had no space,” she said. “We had students working in the hallways.”
The decision was made to move sixth-graders from five of the district’s eight elementary schools to the Sixth Grade Center, though sixth-graders from Prairie View Elementary have been at the former middle school for a couple of years now. “Their enrollment is through the roof,” Havens said.
The sixth-graders from Brentwood, Evergreen, Farwell and Midway elementary schools joined the Prairie View students last week. Adding more students than that would have been difficult with the small gym the old Northwood has and would have required adding a second lunch, Havens said. “The Northwood space itself is only conducive to 650 students,” she said. “We’re plum full over there.”
Sixth-graders remain at Shiloh Hills, Colbert and Meadow Ridge elementary schools because those buildings could still accommodate them, she said.
The old Northwood Middle School, now called the Pittsburg Learning Center, has been many things since the new Northwood Middle School opened in January 2018. During the 2018-2019 school year it was dubbed Camp Shiloh because it housed the entire student body of Shiloh Hills Elementary while that school was gutted and remodeled. It is also now the home of the Lisa Stiles-Gyllenhammer Boys and Girls Club, which moved from the old Mead High School that will be torn down.
“We know we’re going to have to continue to use that building in some capacity because of our growth,” she said.
Havens said she is looking forward to the opening of the district’s third middle school and that every effort is being made to make sure all three will have the same schedule and offer the same programs and classes. “We want the same opportunity for all our kids,” she said. “It’ll be really exciting to have three middle schools that are six-eight.”
District officials started laying the groundwork for the Sixth Grade Center this spring, going into the elementary schools to talk to the affected students. Overall the kids seemed excited for the move, Havens said. “They are ready for this,” she said. “They’re so ready for middle school.”
Parents were invited to several forums so the district could explain the Sixth Grade Center and the transition to a six-eight grade middle school. Havens said they received positive feedback.
The spring and summer were also spent organizing what is essentially a temporary school. The Sixth Grade Center principal, Barb Pybus, will head up the new Highland Middle School when it opens next year. “It’s a big undertaking for one year,” she said. “It was a crazy ride figuring out staffing.”
The teachers and staff have been making every effort to make the sixth-graders feel welcome, Havens said. She visited the Sixth Grade Center twice during the first week of school to make sure everything was going smoothly.
“The kids are happy,” she said. “The teachers are happy. It is a great learning environment for them.”
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