February 18

Mt. Blue’s middle school shuffle to help students meet Common Core standards

The transition, which moves sixth-graders from Mt. Blue to Farmington schools, is expected to give them more subject options, including the chance to study foreign languages.

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Moving sixth-graders into Mt. Blue Middle School not only will ease crowding at elementary schools in the district, but also increase subject options for the students and help with reaching Common Core standards.

The move, which will be completed by the 2014-15 school year, is a transition that the school has discussed for years and was approved last week by the school board as a way to relieve crowding at the lower level, Superintendent Tom Ward said.

There are around 330 students at the middle school this year, and after the transition there will be around 500 students.

Along with relieving crowding, the middle school setting may lead to increased access to classes such as world language and extracurriculars for sixth-graders by having them in the middle school setting, said Gary Oswald, principal of Mt. Blue Middle School.

“The district used to have world language at the elementary level, but through budget cuts over the years, it was removed from the curriculum. The school board has always said we should get that back when able, and this would be a way to bring it to that grade level,” he said

When it comes to adopting Common Core standards, Oswald said, it makes more sense to house the sixth grade with the seventh or eighth grade because the new federal standards group the grades together. The standards must be implemented fully for grade school students by 2018.

He said it’s difficult to collaborate when the sixth-grade teachers are spread through the school district on different time schedules.

“When we have workshops on early release days, those sixth-grade teachers can’t meet to discuss the curriculum,” he said.

Over the past few years, the school district has started to make incremental changes to the curriculum so the infrastructure will be ready to adopt the standards fully.

This school year, three of the elementary schools are over capacity and have had to find classroom space for the students. Mallett Elementary in Farmington and Cushing Elementary in Wilton each have about 50 more students than they should. Cape Cod Hill School in New Sharon is about 30 students over capacity.

Mt. Blue Middle School, on the other hand, has the space to accommodate another grade level.

In order to turn Mt. Blue Middle School into a sixth-through-eighth-grade school, some shuffling will need to be done at the buildings housing the district’s lower grade levels, Ward said.

In Farmington, the third grade would be moved from W.G. Mallett Elementary to Cascade Brook School.

Mallett Elementary would house pre-kindergarten through second grade and Cascade Brook School would house third through fifth grades.

In Wilton, second-graders at Gerald D. Cushing Elementary would be moved to Academy Hill School. Cushing would become a pre-kindergarten-through-first-grade school.

Sixth-graders at Cascade Brook School, Academy Hill School and New Sharon’s Cape Cod Hill School would be moved to the middle school.

There would be no significant changes to transportation costs because of the move, said David Leavitt, director of support staff for the school.

Ward said meetings will be held with parents to prepare them for the transition, and teachers will create plans to help the students adjust to the changes.

The transition’s cost would be an estimated $10,000 for technology upgrades and $5,500 for maintenance and renovations. The district’s budget committee also will be considering hiring additional part-time teachers for the middle school for art and physical education and a half-time guidance counselor.

Ward said those costs are not so much related to the move as they are to fill needs that have existed in the district for years.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 kschroeder@centralmaine.com
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