As it works to cut costs, the Anchorage School District has proposed moving sixth graders, who mostly attend school at district elementary schools, to middle school, alongside seventh and eighth graders.
The proposal is among many ideas presented by officials to help balance the school district’s budget, which has a $68 million hole that needs plugging before the budget is passed early next year.
At a work session Tuesday afternoon, Kersten Johnson, the district’s senior director of secondary education, outlined the plan, which includes phasing in the change over two years.
The shift would eliminate a class period of teacher collaboration time, which would save costs, Johnson said.
[Related: Anchorage School District says language immersion is now ‘off the table’ for budget cuts, while recommending other cuts and changes]
Three Anchorage middle schools — Begich, Clark and Mirror Lake — already have sixth graders, and having some students in the same grade levels at middle and elementary schools poses some logistical issues, Johnson told the school board on Tuesday.
Moving sixth grade to middle school would also provide added benefits to students like more electives, languages and dedicated social studies and science instruction in a deeper manner than elementary school, Johnson said.
The shift would also include an elimination of elementary band and orchestra for sixth graders, saving additional costs for the district, Johnson said.
Moving sixth graders into those buildings would also be a more efficient way to use district facilities, she said.
The district recommended the change happen over two years, starting next school year. The northern part of the district, including Central, Greunig, Romig and Wendler middle schools, would switch next school year. The following year, Hanshew, Mears and Goldenview middle schools would make the change.
School boundary changes would likely happen to balance out different populations between middle schools, Johnson said, but they haven’t figured out what the boundary changes would look like yet.
While he’s supportive of moving sixth grade to middle school, Anchorage Education Association president Corey Aist said he’s concerned about teachers losing the daily collaborative time.
Several years ago, district leadership, teachers and principals worked together and decided to implement what they called the “middle school model,” which means teachers are responsible for teaching five classes out of a seven-period day, Aist said.
The two non-teaching periods are split between a planning period and that collaboration period, where teachers work together.
“It’s a really valuable time,” Aist said.
Losing that time is concerning given the added workload to students and teachers, he said. It might mean staff would teach six of seven courses, or the day would be six periods instead of seven, and teachers would instruct for five, like district high schools, he said.
Aist said he does think having sixth graders in middle schools is a good idea.
At a recent finance committee meeting, school board members took a straw poll, which is an unofficial vote, which indicated some support for the move.