Grade 6 shift in Manoa opposed
By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer
By Beverly Creamer
Almost a dozen angry Manoa Elementary School parents appealed to the Board of Education last night to reverse a decision to move their sixth-graders to middle school beginning with the 2007-08 school year, saying their children aren't ready for the move and would be joining a school that consistently scores far lower academically.
"It sounds to me like it's a mess," responded board chairwoman Karen Knudsen. She directed Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto to look into the issue that may have involved possible miscommunication from Department of Education officials, and suggested the Manoa School Community Council file an official appeal with the board.
Parent Leslie Inouye said parents had essentially been left out of the decision-making by the school, the SCC and the complex-area superintendent.
Despite a parent poll that gave overwhelming support to keeping sixth grade at the elementary level, Inouye said the school's SCC voted to have the school's sixth-graders move to Stevenson Middle School with most of the rest of the sixth-graders in the Roosevelt complex.
"Parents have been completely removed from the decision-making process," said Inouye. "The image of the department's bureaucracy, already struggling to maintain and project at least a semblance of efficiency, has been further tarnished by the ongoing debacle."
In addition to parental concerns for their children's well-being in the more rough-and-tumble middle-school environment, the change has broad funding implications for Manoa Elementary, which will lose students — and dollars — if sixth grade moves to Stevenson. Under the Weighted Student Formula schools receive funding on a per-pupil basis, meaning every child means extras dollars for that campus.
Loss of sixth grade could mean a reduction of about $600,000 for the school, according to some estimates.
But Gregg Lee, Stevenson Middle School principal, said that without those students coming on to Stevenson as he has projected in both his academic and financial plan for the 2007-08 year, his school would also suffer.
With an enrollment boom of about 100 students expected next year, Lee was hoping to hire another three reading instructors, just for starters. The school has just one now, he said.
Beyond student well-being and funding, the issue touches on the bigger picture of the state's overall commitment to the middle-school philosophy, which began 2001 when the board adopted a new education philosophy of enhanced middle schools to provide nurturing and enriched learning environments.
Since then elementary schools have begun the transition by sending their sixth-grade classes up to the middle-school level with its science labs, chance for more independent learning, and expectation of better preparation for the rigors of high school.
But in their emotional testimonials, parents urged the board to reconsider its decision to continue supporting "middle school" education, noting that Mainland jurisdictions are returning to K-8 systems that may provide more insulation for students during critical early adolescence.
Parent Jo Ann Sakai said Milwaukee researchers, for example, found that "after the eighth grade, students from K-8 schools showed higher self-esteem, less victimization by other students, greater participation in extra curricular activities and healthier adolescent development."
Knudsen agreed that it may be time for the board to revisit the issue, with new board member Donna Ikeda also saying "maybe it's time to reassess." Knudsen said she was especially interested in Mainland studies cited by the parents that show some Mainland jurisdictions abandoning the middle school experiment because of poor student performance.
"If people nationally are pulling back from middle schools, we need to look at that," said Knudsen.
In swinging its support to the middle-school philosophy back in 2001, the board gave no time line to the transition, but DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen said so far 72 elementary schools have converted to a K-5 system. Another 95 schools are still serving kindergarten through sixth grade, he said.
"It has been optional and individual schools can make the move if they want," he said.
Schools as well as school complexes have been able generally to move forward on implementing middle schools as they feel ready, Greg Knudsen said.
"We encourage doing it as a complex," he said, "but it's not spelled out.
"The Hawai'i Kai complex evidently was ready for it," he said of that area's decision to move into implementation this year.
"The Roosevelt complex has more concerns."
Board member Maggie Cox said the board policy involved support of the middle school concept rather than any kind of timetable for implementation.
"The policy doesn't talk about which grade goes where," said Cox. "The policy has to do with a middle-school philosophy."
Reach Beverly Creamer at email@example.com.
Correction: The number of elementary schools offering K-5 grades statewide is 72, while the number of elementary schools offering K-6 education is 95. The numbers were not complete in a previous version of this story.