Oregon City Schools Superintendent Michael Zalar speaks to a forum at Coy Elementary.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Oregon school officials are taking a close look at the benefits to be achieved by moving fifth and six graders into a building of their own.
This “reconfiguration” would then have kindergarten through fifth grades in elementary schools and grades seven and eight in their own junior high building.
“What’s driving this is student achievement,” Superintendent Michael Zalar explained last week, at the first of six community forums the district is holding this month to solicit public input.
He noted that a community survey indicated residents wanted Oregon to be a high-achieving district, a claim the district cannot currently make with its state rating of Effective, even though it has individual schools rated Excellent.
The reconfiguration would be intended to address what the superintendent called “some significant challenges in grades five through eight,” with lagging math and science scores in state assessment tests.
Moreover, he noted, performance indicators in the middle grades can be expected to fall even more as the state implements more complex and rigorous standards that educators considered “a game changer . . . they’re raising the bar higher and higher.”
Currently, three elementary schools house students in kindergarten though fifth grades, and two middle schools contain students in grades six, seven, and eight.
No decision has been made about the switch, and the earliest it could be adopted would be in the 2013-14 year, Mr. Zalar said. Under the plan, if it were adopted, the fifth and sixth grades would be in the Fassett or Eisenhower building.
The problems with student achievement begin at the fifth grade. Lumping the fifth and six graders together would be more developmentally age appropriate and make balancing class sizes easier, the superintendent told 30 people in Jerusalem Elementary School.
This new model also would allow students to stay with the same teachers for two years. A further advantage would be having the district’s best middle school teachers in the same building.
School board president P.F. Kapfhammer said that the Maumee district, which is high-achieving, houses fifth and sixth graders together and has significantly better math scores at the sixth grade level than Oregon.
He noted also that this class configuration would relieve stress on entering freshmen at Clay High School because “when the fifth graders get to their freshman year, they’ve been together for four years and know each other.”
Both he and the superintendent emphasized that this change would not be a cost-cutting move, and stressed that no services would be eliminated or reduced. Mr. Kapfhammer said the change could increase district overhead by $200,000 per year.
“It’s going to cost money. I believe it’s worth the investment for your kids,” he said.
Pam Auger, a parent with three children in the Oregon schools, including a fourth and fifth grader, said she supported the idea of a giving the fifth and sixth grades a separate building.
“I like the idea of them staying together,” she explained. “I like having all the kids together where they’re exposed to the best teachers.”
Nobody at the Jerusalem Elementary forum expressed opposition to the proposal, but some parents expressed concerns about eventual reductions in services such as transportation despite reassurances by Mr. Zalar and Mr. Kapfhammer.
The remaining forums, all at 7 p.m., will be Thursday at Fassett Middle, Monday at Starr Elementary, and Oct. 24 at Clay High School.