SD2 bumps some 6th-grade classes to Lewis and Clark, Will James

2012-04-26T18:05:00Z 2014-04-02T17:27:22Z SD2 bumps some 6th-grade classes to Lewis and Clark, Will JamesBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

They're excited about the lockers. Really excited.

"Lockers," exclaimed fifth-grader Cameron Sweet.

"Nobody will step on my stuff," said classmate Abbi Robson.  

Next fall's sixth-graders from McKinley, Arrowhead and Washington elementary schools will be attending class at Lewis & Clark and Will James middle schools. It's an effort by School District 2 to ease crowding at a handful of elementary schools. 

The sixth-graders will have their own corner of the schools where they'll be relatively autonomous from the other middle school students in an effort to preserve some of the elementary school experience. They will, however, have lockers.

Many of the fifth graders see this is as a way to more comfortably transition into the middle school experience.

"We're going to have a lot of experiences and see what to expect," Cameron said.

District enrollment has steadily increased, particularly in the elementary grades, over the last few years and it has forced SD2 officials to find short-term solutions to what appears to be a growing problem.

"How do you address this?" interim Superintendent Jack Copps asked. "We eventually have to take care of what's staring us in the face."

District officials a dozen years ago moved Arrowhead's kindergarten classes to Boulder Elementary School in an effort to free up space at that school.

Copps said the district has chosen to move classes rather than redraw school boundaries as a way to deal with space concerns at individual schools because ultimately it impacts fewer students.

But moving classes can only be a temporary fix. SD2 currently has its biggest concentration of students in second, third and fourth grades. Once those students reach middle school, there will be no room for sixth graders there.

For example, Arrowhead has five second-grade classes and four third- and fourth-grade classes. Typically, an elementary school will have between two and three classes per grade.

If enrollment continues to grow, neither school boundary changes nor moving classes from school to school will solve the problem, Copps said.

"If the majority (of schools) are overcrowded, boundary changes don't necessarily address these changes."

So Copps and other district officials will be watching how the sixth graders do at the middle schools and how the rest of the school responds to them.

A move to completely change to a sixth- to eighth-grade middle school model would free up space at the district's overtaxed elementary schools. Currently, the district's middle schools house just seventh and eighth graders.

But changing to a 6-8 model would require the district to build a new middle school somewhere in city, possibly in the Heights, Copps said. For him, that makes more sense than building another elementary school or two.

"That's a lot easier," he said. "That's less expensive."

Robin Bedford, principal at Arrowhead, is just glad the school will have a little more space next year. With sixth grade moving out, the school will have a dedicated art room and space for other activities.

"We'll have a little breathing space," Bedford said. "But it's not gonna be much."

Her fifth-grade students, meanwhile, are getting excited about moving over to Will James.

"I'd rather be there," said Allison Johnson. "There'll be more room."

Still, they have some concerns. Will James has no playground, just a field behind the school. And by leaving Arrowhead, they give up becoming the school's ruling sixth-grade class.

"That, I'm gonna miss," said Abbi.

But overall, the students are optimistic and seem ready for the new experience.

"I think it'll be a good experience," said fifth-grader Jon Krivec.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow The Billings Gazette

Popular Stories

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Deals & Offers

Featured Businesses