District considers middle school shift

Sixth-graders could be moved under new proposal.

“POULSBO – When the facilities task force for the North Kitsap School District met, it came up with several recommendations. Perhaps the one that has brought up the most concerns so far is a recommendation to change the alignment of the grades. Instead of the grade division system they use now, which is K-6 (elementary), 7-9 (junior high) ,10-12 (high school), the district would shift to a K-5 (elementary), 6-8 (middle school), and 9-12 (high school) configuratation. There are several reasons for this proposed shift, some of which pertain to all schools, some of which pertain specifically to the North Kitsap School District. The main reason, the reason which the task force decided to emphasize, is that getting the sixth graders out of the elementary school would create-much needed space in the elementary schools, where portables which house extra classrooms are now a common solution. The ninth graders would be moved into a secondary school with tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders. But, under the plan recommended by the task force, the high school students won’t all attend North Kitsap High School. Instead, many would go into the new high school proposed for Kingston, another feature called for in the plan. Superintendent Gene Medina, who is helping the North Kitsap School board gather information from parents and community members about which recommendations they feel most (and least) strongly about, said the emphasis from the task force was relieving the pressure of a crowded elementary-school level. But, there are advantages to the different grade configuration system besides that, he added. More than academics, the question is social development, Medina said. One of the people Medina turned to for ideas on a potential middle-school alignment was Jim McConnell. McConnell, once a high school teacher and a high school principal, is now the principal at a 6-8 middle school in Chattaroy, Washington, just north of Spokane. He has been at the school of about 600 students for eight years, and has been principal the whole time. He is also the past president of the Association of Washington Middle Level Principals. When he was asked to go to a middle school from his high school, McConnell said, he didn’t want to go. Now he doesn’t want to leave. I was reluctant to come over, he said. After a couple of years of getting used to the age group, I really like it. I wouldn’t go back. It’s such a critical time in the kids’ lives. McConnell said every year, he is met with parents’ anxieties. They are often more nervous about their sixth-grade children going from the elementary school to the middle school than the children are, McConnell said. There’s always a lot of anxiety when anyone’s leaving from elementary to middle school. Or junior high. Or whatever … a lot of anxiety. McConnell said. He added, There are always some myths about middle school. And parents know it’s a touchy time for kids.’ McConnell said he and his staff do what they can to help curb that anxiety. They hold open houses for parents so the parents can get used to the school and the system. They also help the students. They host a week where the fifth-graders spend a week at the school. The sixth-graders, unlike seventh and eighth-graders, have a homeroom teacher who they spend half their day with. The other half of the day they go to elective classes, like P.E. or art. The school holds other transition activities, McConnell said, for all sixth-graders moving into seventh grade. The transitions are important, McConnell said. That’s the key, he said. He added, The biggest thing is the fifth-grade parents. They’re always panicked. All the work, McConnell said, is worth it for the 6-8 system. It’s much more age-appropriate than 7-8-9, McConnell said. Sixth, seventh and eighth graders belong together. I taught where there were ninth-graders at the middle school, and I thought they belonged at the high school. Those familiar with the district may recall that North Kitsap once had a middle school. When it opened in 1976, Poulsbo Junior High had a middle-school alignment, holding grades 6-8. But when Kingston Junior High was built in 1990, it was a junior high, and PJH followed suit, serving grades 7-9. Should the district decide change to a middle school configuration, it would be phased in by the district over a number of years. “