This year's Pasco fifth-graders won't need to learn the layout of a middle school next year and that's fine by most parents, district officials say.
The district plans to move sixth-graders from the middle schools to the elementary schools beginning next year, as it opens a new elementary school and an early learning center.
"As a mom, I'm thrilled," school board member Amy Phillips said during a Tuesday board study session. "Every other mom I talk to says the same."
The change will require teachers to change schools and possibly alter how classes are structured. Administrators will be charged with monitoring how what were once middle-school students interact with children as young as first-grade.
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District officials are already having discussions with school principals and teacher representatives about the process and are optimistic of a smooth, if perhaps bittersweet, transition.
"Losing sixth grade (at the middle schools), there will be a grieving process," said Michelle Whitney, executive director of teaching and learning.
Marie Curie and Barbara McClintock STEM elementary schools will open in the fall of 2015. They are paid for by a $46.8 million bond approved by voters in February 2013.
Moving sixth-graders to the elementary level will further reduce crowding at the middle schools as part of the bond plan, district officials said.
Preparations toward that transition have gone on for about a year already, Whitney said. That includes figuring out how special education is provided to helping sixth-grade teachers potentially adjust to a different grading schedule.
More meetings are planned through the coming weeks, Whitney said, with Marie Curie Principal Valerie Aragon leading the transition team.
"Teachers will tell us things we didn't even think of," Whitney said.
While Phillips and Whitney noted that all the parents they've spoken to are supportive of sixth-graders remaining at the elementary schools, Phillips and board member Steve Christensen said they are concerned about how school boundaries could be affected.
Opening new schools in and of itself would alter boundaries, but changing the distribution of students in schools will further drive adjustments, they said.
"To me, I just see that being huge," Christensen said.
It's too soon to say how boundaries will change, district officials said, though they anticipate only elementary schools -- not middle schools -- will be affected. However, because sixth-graders will be returning to every elementary school, boundary shifts might be needed all across the district.
And moving sixth-graders to the elementary level won't alleviate all the district's crowding issues, Whitney said. Moving sixth-graders out of McLoughlin Middle School will remove 600 students from the cramped school, but that still will leave it with 1,200 seventh- and eighth-graders.
"It's not an answer to all the questions or to all the space issues," she said.
The middle schools also will have to adjust, as losing sixth-graders will change the culture of those schools, Whitney said. Middle administrators have said they are sorry to lose students they say bring a lot of energy to their schools.
The transition team is expected to have recommendations to Superintendent Saundra Hill in December.
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