Northeast Joco

Academics, not crowding, will decide whether to put sixth-graders in SMSD middle schools

Shawnee Mission school officials will decide whether to move sixth-graders into middle schools, but that decision will be based primarily on what’s best for their education, Superintendent Jim Hinson said last week.

Grouping sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders together is a major reconfiguration that probably couldn’t happen until at least 2017-18 school year if the district decides to go ahead with it, he said. But he assured patrons during a recent talk with reporters that academics would take the front seat in the decision, saying, “The educational component has to drive the conversation.”

One possible point in favor of the realignment is the fact that sixth-graders who take pre-algebra have to go to those classes early in the morning, before their regular day begins. That set-up is dependent on parents who are able to get their kids there. “If you had sixth, seventh and eighth (in the same building), that wouldn’t be an issue,” Hinson said.

Such a change would also have to be evaluated for the effect it would have on the district’s buildings. Moving sixth-graders would create a complex ripple over the district, perhaps crowding middle schools but freeing up space in elementary schools.

That space may be needed to cope with a sudden increase in enrollment. The district recently announced an enrollment spike that is the largest in a single year since 1992. New development and the re-greening of older neighborhoods also are expected to bring in more students.

Hinson has been saying in meetings with parent groups that the district may also have to change some school boundaries for the 2016-17 school year.

“There is a very strong possibility of at least some level of boundary changes,” he told reporters. Those changes would likely be in select areas rather than across the district, although he did not specify what or how many schools may be affected. He said he would prefer to keep the changes contained to elementary schools.

Along with that, the district will also consider changes to its transfer policy allowing parents to request their students attend a different school, Hinson said.

Some elementary schools are running out of classroom space to expand, he said.

The district is working to reduce class sizes, but some are still high. Figures from the district show an average classroom size of around 20 students in kindergarten through second grade, where the recommended class size is 16-24. In grades third-sixth, the average size is 22 to 23 students, where the top recommended size is 27 students. However a few individual schools hit or exceeded the maximum. Overland Park Elementary, for example, reported one section of third grade with 30 students.

District staff will begin to analyze the boundaries and policies next month and discussion should reach the public level in January, he said.

“I would far rather have to make a decision about boundary changes because of increasing enrollment than declining enrollment,” he said.

To reach Roxie Hammill, send email to roxie.hammill.news@gmail.com.

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