Over the past few weeks, Kansas City Public Schools held community forums to discuss the reorganization of the district’s middle grades, and possibly returning to the concept of stand-alone middle schools. The district’s tweens have been bounced around quite a bit over the past few years.
In 2007, under Superintendent Anthony Amato, the middle grades were absorbed into elementary buildings to make K-8 schools. In 2010, Superintendent John Covington moved seventh and eighth graders into the high schools, as part of his plan to shut down half the districts’ buildings. Sixth graders remained in elementary school (except at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, which is 6-12).
Since that most recent move, disciplinary infractions and dropouts have spiked and test scores have dropped in those grades.
Lost In the Crowd
At a recent forum at Satchel Paige Elementary, parent Teresa Winters said she doesn’t think the 7-12 schools were well-thought out. She has two sixth-grade sons, and doesn’t want them in a high school building next year.
“I don’t think … children fresh out of elementary should be with high school kids,” Winters said. “I think there should be a transition, smaller, you learn skills, study skills, social skills . . . sometimes when you’re thrust with big people you get lost in the crowd of people.”
District officials seem to agree, though change might not come soon enough for Winters’ boys.
The Latest Middle Grades Proposal
The administration is considering re-designing and re-opening three middle school buildings to feed Northeast, East and Central High Schools. (Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, Lincoln Academy, Southwest High and the African-Centered College Preparatory Academy would all remain 7-12 or 6-12 because they’re considered “signature schools,” which students apply to attend.) The middle schools would serve seventh and eighth graders; Superintendent Stephen Green says sixth graders are making good progress in the elementary schools.
The middle school proposal doesn’t just involve opening buildings and moving students. District officials are looking at shortening class periods and grouping students and teachers in interdisciplinary teams to design theme-based lessons. For example, a team of an English, a math, a social studies, and a science teacher would work with the same group of 100 students. Buildings could be retro-fitted so that each team meets in its own wing.
Superintendent Green said students would also be part of small advisory groups where their emotional and social issues are addressed.
“There’s a vast swing of emotions, anger management and controlling that, and also issues that may come up at home – sometimes they’re sad, sometimes they’re very hyper and happy. As they’re moving through that, how to process that, and how to do so in a way that still recognizes and validates what they’re going through but doesn’t allow them to spiral out of control.”
Green said the district will be trying to recruit teachers who are particularly interested in and committed to middle school education.
Moving middle grades out of high schools will mean many of the high school buildings will be half empty again. Superintendent Green says he has a solution up his sleeve for that problem, which he’ll be presenting in upcoming weeks.
Green will take the administration’s plan to the school board this spring. If approved, the middle schools would be phased in starting in the fall of 2014.
Other area districts have recently re-configured their middle grades – including Liberty and Olathe. On Wednesday’s Central Standard, KC Currents’ Sylvia Maria Gross will be hosting a conversation about re-designing middle schools.