Community members learn more about district proposal to move 6th graders to middle school

Assistant Superintendent Justin Irish (left) and College Place Middle School Principal Sam Yuhan (right) hosted a middle school configuration meeting at Edmonds-Woodway High School.

As the Edmonds School District considers moving sixth-grade students from a K-6 elementary to a 6-8 middle school configuration, staff have looked to the community for input. District officials earlier this week hosted four meetings at separate high schools to offer parents a chance to hear what the district has learned and to ask questions.

Presenting to a small group of parents at Edmonds-Woodway High School, Assistant Superintendent Justin Irish explained that in 2017, Washington state legislators reduced the number of students allowed per K-3 classroom. In addition, student enrollment in district elementary schools has increased. As a result, the district has less capacity in its elementary school buildings, averaging one classroom shortage per school.

After considering other possibilities, such as building more schools and redrawing boundary lines, the decision to reconfigure the K-6 grade model seemed the most feasible, Irish said.

“It became clear we have to start investigating what it would be like to have a six to eighth (grade) model,” he said.

Any potential changes to the current configuration would not be implemented until the 2023-24 school years at the earliest, Irish said. That means the first class of sixth-grade students to be integrated into middle schools are currently in first grade.

“Conversations have been going on for a while,” he said. “And they’re continuing to go on for a while.”

Lack of space is not the only issue when considering changes to the middle school model, Irish said. Another consideration is changing curriculums that are now tailored to accommodate K-5 and 6-12 configurations.

“It’s almost impossible for us to adopt curriculum that is going to support sixth-graders in elementary schools,” he said.

Joan Emery, a parent with children at College Place Middle School and Sherwood Elementary School, said she believes children in sixth grade are too young to be integrated into middle school.

“They’re still doing recess, they’re still kids,” she said.

Irish replied that district staff research indicates children are maturing faster. Sixth-grade students are often more developmentally aligned with seventh- and eighth-graders than K-5 students, he added.

Additionally, it is difficult to develop a bond among students, parents, faculty and staff when students spend only two years in middle school, said College Place Middle School Principal Sam Yuhan.

“We always talk about the value of building relationships with students, but we’re always stressed for time,” Yuhan said.

Cindy Goergen, a parent with a fifth grader at Edmonds Elementary, said she believes it is important for middle-school-aged children to be able to develop a strong sense of community with their peers.

“We need to have those kids feel like they belong,” she said.

Irish said the district is still gathering information to decide how best to approach the potential integration plan logistically. Any plan for middle school configuration would rely on voter approval of the 2020 Capital Construction Bond, he added. Approval under the bond would determine how the district would accommodate any potential plans, whether it would be adding on to existing schools or building new ones, he said.

“We’re on a loop of gathering information and reviewing it and gathering more,” Irish said.

For more information on the potential middle school configuration, click here.

–Story and photo by Cody Sexton

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