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Moving sixth-graders one solution

The Medford School District has outgrown its elementary schools, especially with the addition of full-day kindergarten, and now district officials are trying to decide whether relocating sixth-graders to middle schools is the answer.

In October, Chief Academic Officer Michelle Zundel assembled a task force made up of about 35 teachers, parents and administrators to determine whether sixth-graders are better off in elementary schools or middle schools.

“We’re interested in improving the academic achievement of these students and taking care of their social and emotional needs,” Zundel said. “We’ve looked at the highest performing sixth-graders in the state, and they’re primarily in sixth- through eighth-grade configurations.”

The task force began meeting weekly in October, has been gathering input from staff at each of the elementary and middle schools in the district for the last month and will make a recommendation to the Medford School Board at its Dec. 14 meeting.

Parents and community members are invited to comment on the issue at public input sessions scheduled for 6:30 tonight in the Hedrick Middle School cafeteria and 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, in the Large Group Instruction room at McLoughlin Middle School.

The task force, Zundel said, has looked at the issue from a lot of angles and studied successful, sixth- through eighth-grade middle schools statewide to see how they structure their programs for younger students.

“There is no magic configuration that results in academic achievement, but it’s about how we care for the students as they transition,” she said.

Although moving to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school configuration is one of the options listed in the district’s long-range facilities plan, district officials want academics and not space constraints to drive that decision, said district spokeswoman Natalie Hurd.

Either way, the district’s long-range facilities plan calls for at least one school to be built in the next five to 10 years.

Currently, both Hedrick and McLoughlin middle schools have the capacity to accommodate about 300 more students, but not the roughly 1,000 sixth-graders in the district.

If the district chose to move to a K-5 elementary configuration and a 6-8 middle school configuration, it would need to either build a new middle school, which would cost about $78.86 million, or renovate the Medford School District Education Center, which currently houses both the district offices and Central Medford High School, to accommodate a middle school at a cost of $55.5 million.

Zundel said Tuesday she was not sure whether or when the new configuration would be implemented.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Melanie Gaut's kindergarten class at Jefferson Elementary School sings a song about months of the year in this file photo from May. The Medford School District is considering moving sixth-graders to middle schools to alleviate crowding at the elementary level. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell