New Middle School Models Moving Closer to Reality

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Going from two middle schools to five in two buildings and turning one elementary school into a kindergarten to eighth-grade school is no small change.

As the Alexandria City Public Schools senior staff sharpens that proposal, one that it made to the School Board more than a month ago, they received public support at last weeks School Board meeting from one of the biggest stakeholders involved Jefferson-Houston Principal Kimberley Graves.

For Jefferson-Houston, a school that had struggled to gain accreditation until this year and is still dealing with problems related to the schools perception in the community, Graves said that the implementation of the International Baccalaureates Primary Years Program and the K-8 proposal provide a way to help her school stand out and excel.

Currently, all ACPS elementary schools run from kindergarten to fifth grade.

Having talked with her fifth-grade students about the K-8 proposal and what it would mean for them, Graves said that many students expressed a sigh of relief for getting to stay at their school, and more than two-thirds committed to stay in the school as sixth-graders.

This is something that is really going to make Jefferson-Houston stand apart from the other elementary schools in Alexandria, Graves said.

I do believe that the program would find merit in any of our elementary schools, she said of the K-8 model. For my purposes, I find this as a unique opportunity to make certain that Im in a position, along with my staff, to put the children in a position where they need to be to be successful.

ACPS Superintendent Morton Sherman and senior staff members also spent part of the board meeting explaining the mechanics and purpose of the proposed middle school model to the School Board and the school community, a process that has been ongoing since its original presentation.

Leadership in the proposed middle school model would change slightly in name and function, but not affect the bottom line of the budget, according to Sherman.

We have five administrators at each of our middle schools, one principal and four assistant principals, he said. Those 10 positions would be cost neutral, translated to one principal and one associate principal in each of the five middle schools.

Within these smaller middle schools, ACPS staff hopes to provide better one-on-one attention and build stronger relationships with students.

The question of discipline that runs in both of our middle schools, we believe, is going to be mitigated a great deal by the kinds of personal attention well be giving our students, Sherman said.

According to a memo from the work session that occurred prior to last weeks meeting, These proposals are about creating schools that our children deserve …

Among the curricular changes proposed for the new middle school model is the implementation of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme, developing extended school day opportunities and a new PACE period that is meant to provide an array of possible enrichment opportunities, according to the memo.

Board members expressed concerns about what might happen to the existing curriculum with the changes that are proposed to take place. According to staff, existing programs would not be eliminated for these new opportunities.

The purpose of using the phrase the curriculum will not change was to put assurances out to the community that those things that you want your children involved in world language, music, performance will still be available, said Margaret Walsh, executive director of secondary education. Its not that in taking advantage of something newyou would have to give up something else.

The board is scheduled to vote on the middle school proposal at their next meeting on June 4, according to ACPS.

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