Commentary: Why I support moving 6th graders to middle school

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Deborah Kilgore

Edmonds School District is considering moving 6th grade to middle school. I am in favor of this change.

This would not happen for several years. Currently, we don’t have the facilities for it and it’s a huge change for all of us that requires proper planning.

However, we must decide on it well in advance, because it affects other major decisions we make: what to include in new construction, how we budget for it, and how we lay the groundwork for district staff.

Here is why I am in favor of a 6th-8th grade middle school configuration.

1. Almost all surrounding districts are organized this way or are planning for it.

2. I believe that like other 6th graders in the region, ours should have access to the advanced facilities offered in middle schools, like science lab classrooms, STEM maker spaces, library research resources, larger music education facilities, art classrooms, and so forth.

3. Most modern curricula are designed using these grade bands: K-5, 6-8, 9-12. Edmonds currently is in the process of modernizing curriculum in most subjects.

4. Sixth graders in middle school will have greater access to athletics, music, and other extracurricular activities. I’m convinced that such enrichment helps keep students engaged in school and figures strongly in academic success.

5. Having three years in middle school gives students, staff and families the opportunity to build a stronger school community. As a long-time parent volunteer, I know how much children benefit from caring school “villages” that keep an eye out for them and have their back.

6. With the right programmatic supports, I think the transition to secondary school can be smoother for 6th graders who are located in the middle school. Middle school teachers can design an experience for 6th graders that doesn’t have to mean throwing them off the deep end, but instead, gently ramps them up in a supportive and authentic context.

7. Finally, there are economic reasons to configure our schools this way. To meet projected growth through 2028, we are going to have to build additional schools. Moving 6th grade to middle school will mean fewer additional construction projects than if we maintain the status quo. Seventy-five percent of voters in the district do not have children in Edmonds schools, and they depend on us to respect their tax dollars while still providing an excellent education to students.

The district has held some information forums over the last few months and collected over 700 responses to a recent survey on this topic. I also asked people what they thought and collected over 100 responses myself last year. Based on the responses I received and the District responses, I know that while most support or are neutral about this change, not everyone is in favor.

Community members should know that the district currently is moving toward this change, and some of the big decisions we face in the near future are going to be based on whether or not we decide to go forward with this. We’ve solicited public feedback as I described, but I’m sure that doesn’t capture nearly the number of people in our district who might have an opinion on the matter. So, I want to invite everyone to continue talking about this through the summer, with a clear understanding that the decision will be “final” by mid-August. By then, the board will be making some big decisions about the next construction bond, the technology replacement levy, and next year’s budget, based on an assumed school configuration.

District staff are preparing answers to questions that arose in the recent survey, and I encourage others who have questions or comments to direct them to Dr. Kimberlee Armstrong, Executive Director of Equity & Public Relations ([email protected]). The board will have a first reading of next year’s budget at the July 9 school board meeting, and a second and final reading at the Aug. 13 meeting. We will be reviewing the proposed bond resolution in September, with a final vote on Sept. 24.

Thanks to all who have provided feedback so far, and I look forward to continuing this conversation in the weeks ahead.

— By Deborah Kilgore, Vice President, Edmonds School Board

 

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