Spokane Public Schools approves plan to move sixth-graders from elementary to middle school

Unanimous decision will help district meet growing student enrollment numbers

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Spokane Public Schools will now start planning to move 6th grade from elementary school into middle school, a decision that will help the district meet growing student enrollment.

The school board voted 4-0 in favor of the idea 
Spokane public-school 6th graders will now attend middle school, instead of elementary.
  • Spokane public-school 6th graders will now attend middle school, instead of elementary.
Wednesday night, after a year-long study by a Spokane Public Schools grade configuration committee concluded that it was the best way to solve overcrowding in elementary schools. Board member Paul Schneider was absent.

"I feel confident that because there was so much community input, that the outcome was also good," said Sue Chapin, school board vice president, during the meeting.

Currently, elementary schools in Spokane Public Schools are kindergarten through sixth grade, middle schools are seventh and eighth grade, and high schools are ninth through 12th grade. The grade configuration committee, with the help of public input, examined multiple ways to reconfigure the grades so that the district wouldn't have to build five or more elementary schools to alleviate overcrowding in the next bond. The district considered keeping the current configuration, or switching to a K-8, 9-12 model.

Few people supported a K-8, 9-12 configuration, according to a survey conducted by the district through Thoughtexchange. More than 95 percent of participants had negative thoughts about a K-8, 9-12 grade configuration, and only 1 percent had positive thoughts about it. Similarly, 91 percent of people negatively viewed the current grade configuration. But the K-5, 6-8, 9-12 configuration chosen by the board last night enjoyed overwhelming support at 91 percent. More than 3,720 people participated in the survey.

Most districts in Washington already place sixth graders in middle school instead of elementary school. Mark Anderson, SPS associate superintendent, has said there is little research showing that one model produces better outcomes for students than another. The benefits of moving sixth grade to middle school, according to the district, is that middle schools can offer sixth graders more academic opportunities, it better aligns with learning standards, and it extends the time between transitions for students — though the K-8 model would have eliminated an extra transition entirely.

This decision will also mean that the district will have to build fewer new facilities with its next bond in 2021, compared to other configuration options.

"This won't happen overnight," Anderson told the board Wednesday. New schools will have to be built between 2021 and 2027 to fully implement the plan. He noted that the district will have K-8 option schools as well.

The next steps, he said, will be to develop a middle school program model and philosophy, and to figure out a transition plan for students. Next school year, the district will study how the school attendance boundaries may have to change.

Chapin praised the amount of community input into the process.

"I don't think there was a stone left unturned, as far as offering the opportunity to participate," Chapin said.

School board member Michael Wiser agreed.

"I think we are all on the same page," he said.