Grade 6 students may move to high school

T his year’s fifth-grade class at Whitehall Elementary School may be making the move to high school a year earlier than expected.

School officials are considering moving the sixth-grade class to the high school building beginning next year.

Superintendent James Watson said the district is considering the idea and will recommend the proposal to parents during a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 28.

The district has sent letters to parents of affected students notifying them of the proposal and inviting them to the meeting.

In attendance will be next year’s sixth-grade teachers; Kelly McHugh, the high school principal; Greg Chappell, the dean of students; Topher Montville, middle school guidance counselor; and Watson, all to address concerns parents may have.

“We don’t want to make the recommendation until we’ve spoke to parents,” Watson said.

The proposal has been put forth because the number of students in the district continues to decline.

“With declining enrollment we have enough lockers and accommodations in the high school to make this move,” Watson said.

Other than the physical relocation to a new building, the sixth-grade program would remain similar to the program as it currently constituted.

Watson said students will remain in a self-contained classroom instead of the typical high school routine where students receive instruction in a different room every period.

Next year’s group of sixth-grade teachers will be retained and make the move to the high school with the students.

Classrooms will be located in the junior high wing of the high school and sixth-graders will share that space with the seventh-grade class. Eighth-grade students, who have been in the junior high wing, will be moved to the administrative wing on the north side of the gymnasium.

Watson said the move could prove to be beneficial to students and has the potential to improve the education they are receiving.

“We think that by making this move, there may be additional program offerings that we can offer to sixth-graders,” he said.

For instance, next year’s sixth-graders will take a health class and will have additional physical education classes. They will also use the additional technology at the high school and have increased interaction with their teachers.

“This move will increase teacher-student contact time and allow teachers to spend more time working on English language arts and math,” Watson.

Administrators are still in the planning stages and will continue to evaluate the plan before recommending it to parents next week.

One issue that will likely need to be addressed is an orientation period for students.

The move from the elementary school to the high school is often daunting for students and official have operated a shadowing program to ease with that transition.

That program is occurring now, but doesn’t include this year’s fifth-grade class. It’s possible officials may hold an assembly or program later this year to prepare students, but those details are still being worked out.

Declining enrollment has been a major issue in the district for the last several years. Over the last four years, the district has cut more than two dozen positions (instructional and other staff) and reduced nearly 20 full-time positions to part time. And while some of those cuts were made because the state has slashed financial support, others were made because the size of the student body is not what it was.

Watson estimates that enrollment at the high school has dropped by about 50 students over the last few years, approximately the size of one class.

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