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Kansas City’s plan to bring back middle schools gets board’s blessing

Updated: 2013-04-25T03:42:48Z

By JOE ROBERTSON

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City Public Schools’ plan to reopen middle schools won the consensus of the school board Wednesday night.

Six years after the district began phasing them out — moving middle grades into elementary schools and then into high schools — most of the board agreed with the plan to bring middle schools back.

The proposal to reopen Central and Northeast middle schools for seventh and eighth grades will cost more than $3 million a year, require hard budget decisions and challenge the district to make middle schools work where past administrations failed.

The administration and board put those issues and more into the discussion, but board member Curtis Rogers at the end brought applause from the audience when he said: “It makes sense to have kids where they are supposed to be.”

Consultants who helped guide a district and community advisory process noted that Central Middle School in the 1990s was once recognized by a national association as a model of the middle school concept.

But the district’s middle schools were problematic into the mid-2000s, marked by poor performance and high discipline rates and facing severe sanctions under the No Child Left Behind Act.

In 2007, then-superintendent Anthony Amato was given approval to close most of the middle schools over three years as elementary schools expanded to become K-8 schools. In 2010, as part of a massive districtwide school consolidation, then-superintendent John Covington pushed the seventh and eighth grades into high school buildings.

Most parents were never happy with either.

“Parents want middle schools,” board member Joseph Jackson said.

The board’s consensus was to give the administration the go-ahead to make plans that could open the new schools in 2014, most likely with seventh graders the first year, adding eighth grade the second year.

The district will need to create room in its budget, chief financial officer Al Tunis said, through measures such as reductions in contracts, administrative budgets and insurance premiums.

And the district will have to create a true middle school environment, Superintendent Steve Green said. That means true team teaching with staff members who are specifically trained for adolescent students and who want to be there.

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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