Archive for Thursday, February 22, 2007

Return to K-8 schools not needed here, administrators say

February 22, 2007

As administrators in the Kansas City, Mo., school district and elsewhere consider a return to the once traditional kindergarten through eighth-grade arrangement, administrators in De Soto USD 232 say the district's current model is performing fine.

"I think the middle school works fine," Lexington Trails Middle School Principal Mark Schmidt said. "The nice thing about the middle school is it's not high school -- kids are more self-guided than in an elementary school and we give them more individual attention than they get in high school."

In Schmidt's view, districts considering reverting to K-through-eighth-grade models are trying to find the success USD 232 middle schools have already achieved.

District curriculum director Bret Church agreed that was probably the motivation for districts considering reverting to the K-through-eighth-grade model. The two administrators agreed the demands of No Child Left Behind have administrators, especially those in non-performing districts or schools, considering innovative options to improve achievement.

Although neither administrator was familiar with the Kansas City, Mo., situation or what the district hoped adopting the new model would achieve, they said it could address common concerns.

One advantage, they said, would be the elimination of a transition to a new school.

"Evidence suggests some students take time to get comfortable with a new environment," Church said.

Another advantage is the role models the K-through-eighth-grade configuration provides for younger students.

Church said USD 232 works to smooth over both those concerns. The district is helped by its campus arrangements that puts elementary schools near middle schools and high schools in De Soto and Shawnee and will do so in the middle of the district where Mill Creek Middle School will open in August, close to Mize Elementary.

Not only do different age groups come into contact because of the proximity of the schools, but mentoring programs put older role models in classrooms with younger students, Church said.

Moreover, the district prepares fifth-graders for the transition to middle school by introducing them to different instructors for specific subjects that they will see in middle school, Church said.

The district also has the means to track students from school to school with personal contact and electronic record keeping, Church said.

While transition might be a concern, Schmidt said there is no reason to consider changing the De Soto schools.

Ten standard of excellence banners on display in Lexington Trails earned on state assessment tests in recent months offer testimony to the school's success. Schmidt said the key to that success was keeping the focus on individual students.

The schools do this by dividing the school's enrollment into smaller units, Schmidt said. Lexington Trails' 480 students are divided into seven units, he said. That allows even more focus on individual students, he said.

Even if there was a desire to switch to an expanded elementary model the foremost, and perhaps insurmountable, problem was facilities.

De Soto schools are built for the current grade configurations, he said. To move away from that would be very expensive.

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