Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 21, 2019
School board considers relocating eighth graders full-time
by Tevlin Schuetz
Eighth graders may be relocated full-time to the high school building next year.
High school principal Dennis Duquette explained potential advantages of the proposed strategy during a cursory presentation to the CSD Board on March 13. With the endorsement of Union 76 Superintendent Chris Elkington, Duquette and elementary school principal Tara McKechnie have been looking into ways the scenario could work with respect to staffing and use of facilities.
“[It’s] a positive thing for the students. We’re looking at how to fill the halls…and utilize the staff we have,” Duquette said.
He explained the administration’s reasoning behind the idea. Eighth graders are more developmentally aligned with students in the higher grades, and being in the same building full-time would better prepare them for high school, further developing study skills and habits, he said.
Currently, eighth graders spend half the day at the high school, eating lunch there and taking a few classes, Duquette told the board, and McKechnie said the arrangement has yielded positive results.
“I think it has been a pretty remarkable year,” she said.
Elkington noted that while eighth graders would still technically be middle-schoolers in the new scenario, they would be able to take some high school-level electives.
The arrangement would also benefit pupils in grades 9 through 12, according to Duquette.
“It would push them to engage more with the [8th graders] as role models,” he said.
Some logistics still need to be ironed out, however; with current staffing, the high school would be short one 8th grade math teacher for one class period every day, Duquette said, and the elementary school would still need staffing for seventh grade physical education and health classes.
The question of whether eighth graders could receive high school credit for any advanced courses they take still remains, Elkington and Duquette acknowledged. And the issue of how to handle the tradition of eighth grade promotion also needs to be resolved, although Duquette suggested potentially “promoting” both the 7th and 8th grades together this year.
Duquette predicted budget implications would be minimal because staffing would be shared differently and not necessarily increased.
The class period schedule at the high school will also be changed next year from four class times—or “blocks”—to five, Duquette said, which will expand class offerings and afford more time for individual student-focused and response-to-intervention work by staff. Class period lengths will be shortened in order for an additional period to be squeezed into the schedule, he said.
The administration plans to hold an open house and forum for parents to discuss the potential changes and will be sending letters home to families, too, Duquette said.
Elkington suggested the possibility of eventually housing pre-kindergarten through grade 6 at the elementary school and moving grade 7 to the high school building at some point in the future. A pre-K program would extend learning to 4-year-olds in the school district, he said.
Superintendent Elkington will present a draft of the 2019-20 school budget at the Reach auditorium on Thursday, March 28, at 5:30 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend.
The next regular school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 2, at 5:30 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.