Parents resist move to middle school


Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

In the fall, fifth-graders from crowded Newberry Elementary School might become middle schoolers a year early, but a group of about 50 parents who attended a public session about the possible change Monday was mostly opposed to the shift.

The Alachua County School Board is considering moving the fifth grade from Newberry Elementary School down the road to Oak View Middle School to alleviate the overcrowding at the elementary school.

School officials estimate it could be four to five years before funding becomes available to build another elementary school, so the plan to move the fifth grade would be a temporary solution.

"We want you to help us be part of making an informed decision," said Deputy Superintendent Sandy Hollinger to the crowd Monday. Hollinger stressed the fact that the plan to move the fifth grade is still in very early stages, and no formal proposals have been drafted for the School Board to consider.

Almost all of the parents in attendance Monday balked at the idea of their young, upcoming fifth-graders being placed in a school surrounded by older students. They also worried that the "elementary atmosphere" would be lost for the students, who should be upperclassmen next year but instead could be back at the bottom of the ladder.

"You have to make all of us feel that (the students) are going to be safe and that they're going to be comfortable with this," said parent Cindy Kramer, whose child is now a fourth-grade student at Newberry Elementary School.

Issues including such things as transportation, after-school care and participation in sports were raised at the meeting Monday, and school officials acknowledged they did not yet have all the answers.

When it comes to busing, for example, Hollinger said their options include having the fifth-graders ride with the middle and high schoolers or having them ride with the elementary schoolers and simply getting to school early since Oak View starts classes later than the elementary school.

Hollinger also said even if the fifth-graders are moved to Oak View, they will still get to become safety patrols, but perhaps with different duties.

"They will be working with teachers, helping in the office, and they would go on the Washington, D.C., trip," Hollinger said, referring to a yearly trip offered to all safety patrols in the county in conjunction with the Alachua County Sheriff's Office.

Parent Shawn Chatfield was the only parent who made positive comments about the proposal. He said he has a seventh-grader at Oak View who had a smooth and easy transition into middle school, and he said he imagines the staff at Oak View would be sensitive to the needs of the fifth-graders.

"It's going to be a challenge either way, but it's not all bad," he said.

School Board member Eileen Roy said she felt encouraged by Monday's meeting.

"Hopefully, (the meeting) was reassuring to parents," she said. "They clapped at the end, which makes it seem like people didn't leave mad."

Alice Wallace can be reached at 352-338-3109 or alice.wallace@gvillesun.com.

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