Monday, January 30, 2006

Grade Configuration

Another of the recent 8 recommendations approved by the Board was the study of moving 9th grade from our Junior High Schools to our High Schools. I strongly supported this recommendation, along with Director Johnson's amendment which requested additional consideration of all grade configurations.

There were two primary reasons for my support. First, 9th grade, of course, is already "high school" when it comes to academic credit and athletics. However, 9th graders located physically at a junior high school do not have easy access to many of the resources that they would if located at a high school. These resources include: high school counselors, advanced placement courses, four continuous years of vocal and instrumental music, daily interaction with coaches, and so on. Although some of these can be obtained by having the student travel during the day, only a limited number of parents have the means to achieve this, which restricts the availability of these resources to a privileged few.

Second is research suggesting that the 7th grade transition is a particularly bad one for student achievement. Anecdotally, I watched both of my daughters, and their friends, struggle through the 7th grade transition. They were attempting to manage integration into a much larger, seemingly less friendly environment at the same time they were trying to get accustomed to adolescence. The research is not yet definitive, but a summary at the National Middle School Association suggests that a transition earlier than 7th grade is better. This transition might be at 6th grade (the classic "middle school" configuration), or even at 5th grade. I do know that parents and students are also generally pleased with a K-8 configuration, such as can be found at two of our charter schools.

I do know that moving the 9th grade to the high schools is not without its costs and risks (we heard particularly poignant testimony from two junior high choral directors about the impact this will have on their programs), as well as unanswered questions (what about open campuses? Will there be two new grades in high school the first year of the transition? Do all of the high schools transition at the same time? How painful will the boundary adjustments be?) I hope that the study group considers these issues wisely as it looks toward changes in how we educate our children.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Thoughts on Traut vs. Zach

An unfortunate situation has been brewing in the Southeast part of Poudre School District. Zach Elementary School, a neighborhood core knowledge school, is full to capacity (and, in fact, a cap on enrollment, as needed, and transfer of the 6th grade to Kinard Junior High was approved by the Board Monday January 23, 2005). Traut Core Knowledge Elementary, a core knowledge "option" school (a school without boundaries), was placed in its current location in the late 1990s, before there was substantial development in that part of Fort Collins. It has been asserted by various parties that one or the other of the schools has recieved "favoritism" from the Board, or the District. Here are some of my personal thoughts on one proposal, which was to add a "neighborhood preference" to Traut (effectively converting it to a neighborhood school):

The problems that would be caused by attempting to convert Traut to a neighborhood school far outweigh, in my mind, the short-term relief it might offer. These problems include, potentially, disruption of yet another neighborhood school, or the formation of yet another charter school over which the voters as a whole have little or no influence. Additionally, the existence and support of Traut, Harris, and the Lab school offer important "existence proofs" of option schools within the district; these proofs can and do help us as we discuss charter contracts, as well as the possibility of bringing some charter schools back into the District as option schools.

Historically, also, please note that our option schools have been very supportive of PSD policies and procedures. They are an important component of our school choice portfolio, and deserve respectful consideration alongside the neighborhood schools. Finally, note that Traut also has an enrollment cap, so Zach would not stand alone in this regard.

Comments, responses, and questions are welcome.

Welcome to my PSD District B Weblog

This is a blog with two main purposes:

1. To offer my individual perspectives as a PSD Board of Education member
2. To give my constituents a place to raise concerns and ask questions

Please feel free to comment here; this is an open thread. Please note that all opinions I post here are my own, and not those of the Board as a whole.

I expect, with the recent 8 recommendations on District enrollment, and the ongoing discussion about District Late Start that there are lots of questions and concerns out there.

I will follow up later with some responses I have given to community members about specific conerns they have.


Ross Cunniff
Poudre School District Board of Education
District B