MES may get sixth grade next year

Friday, January 29, 2010

If the school board agrees with its technology and curriculum committee, there will be 6th grade at Marshall Elementary School next year.

After a lengthy discussion, committee member Mike Keny moved to, "Stay on the path we're on and have 6th grade at MES next year."

Keny and Ann Tears voted for the motion, while committee chairman Craig Michael voted against it, and Randy Perryman abstained.

The topic of how to distribute Lewisburg's children into the available schools was extensively discussed last spring, and the decision was made then to keep on with the plan to gradually make all three schools K through six by adding a grade each year.

Michael put this on the agenda again for the committee meeting last Thursday.

"I truly feel like we've made a mistake," Michael said.

MES principal Deborah Wade admitted that all the rooms at MES were full now, but spoke out strongly for keeping this year's 5th graders on for 6th grade.

"In my heart I would love for them to stay there," said Wade. "We'll do what we have to do to keep them together."

Michael highlighted the fact that MES was built to accommodate smaller children (it was planned for Pre-K through 1st grade), and it was "a square peg in a round hole" to fit the bigger children in there.

Already class sizes have been cut because the MES rooms are too small for 25 4th or 5th graders, and thus money is being spent on additional teachers' salaries.

"Team sports don't fit in that gym," Michael said. "The playground equipment is for small children - it's not fair."

"They're happy there, Mr. Michael." said Wade.

"I think parents want to see them go all the way through from K to six," said Keny. "We're so close; I don't see why you'd give up right now," he continued.

"Test scores show 6th grade does better at elementary school," said Nancy Aldridge, an experienced educator, now a grant writer at Central Office.

Committee member Randy Perryman complained that in Chapel Hill they were not given the choice whether 6th graders could stay at the elementary school - they had to go to middle school at Forrest due to space constraints.

"I taught at Lewisburg Middle School for 15 years when it was six through eight and our scores were good," said technology supervisor Suzanne Ingram, stating the opposing view.

"It would be wonderful to keep all three schools K through six," Michael said. "But it's not a reality without spending money we don't have. Next year scares me as far as the budget goes."

"We're very serious about keeping our children," Wade said. "That's their home: there will be room for them. Please work with us - please help us."

The technology and curriculum committee also heard from Ingram and several of her staff that the technology department's long installation project was nearly finished. They begged for patience for just a few more weeks, promising that once it was done they would all be able to get out and give teachers the support they needed on a daily basis.

Interim director Roy Dukes supported them, saying, "We need to let the technology people finish; then start anew and see if it works, and go from there. I believe we can make it work."

Special education supervisor Lisa Ventura pointed out that 29 special education teachers do not have the same computers that their counterparts have. She said County commissioners and board members had been surprised when she told them that.

"That is one of the great purposes of meetings like this," said Michael. "To close the gap between fiction and reality."

Committee member Kristen Gold said there was room in the capital outlay section of the budget to address special education's need for teacher laptops.

Michael urged Dukes, the principals and Ingram to get together and see what they wanted to do differently on the technology side, so that the school board could try to budget for whatever changes were needed.

Technology will be helpful in the coming years when the school system comes to grips with the requirements of the Tennessee Diploma Project, but it cannot replace the need for real flesh-and-blood math teachers and guidance counselors. New textbooks, and an ACT prep class in every high school, are also needs that will have to be addressed, according to the report by Beverly Miller, supervisor of 7-12 instruction.

When the principals were asked for feedback on the changes in elementary curriculum, Cornersville principal Bonnie Reese reported a "fabulous year," but said scheduling would be simpler if she had full-time art, music, and physical education teachers, instead of having to share them with Cornersville High School.

Sherry Park, the Westhills principal, said her students were learning and making progress, and said, "Things are at peace in the system - Mr. Dukes deserves a lot of credit," and this was given a round of applause.

"We are having a great 2009-2010 school year," said Wade. "You can feel the change; feel the calmness."

Reports were also optimistic from the alternative school, where they have 11 pupils.

"It has made a huge difference," Ventura said. "The students are truly appreciative of the opportunity."

"The most important thing is that we're not losing them," added Miller. "We've even caught many of them up on credits, and the A+ software is a big help."