Ever since the introduction of the subject early in the school year, the merger of middle schools and high schools has been a hot topic throughout the Columbus City Schools (CCS) district.
Leaders from the Clintonville Area Commission’s Education Committee came to voice parents concerns at the June 3 Columbus City Schools board meeting. The representatives submitted a proposal to the board stating the commission’s education committee does not support a merger of middle school students with high school students from grades seven through grade 12.
“I think where clarification needs to be is with after-school sports, not only sharing the field but sharing the locker room. You’re mixing students in the field, you’re mixing them on the bus,” said Susan Gaunce, Education Committee chairperson.
Gaunce said parents’ apprehensions are grounded in possible schoolyard bullying and inappropriate age relationships.
“I think people are uncomfortable with the idea of middle school with high school. You have a 13-year-old girl with a 17-year-old boy, or a 13-year-old boy in a locker room with a 17-year-old boy. They’re dropped off together, there’s going to be times that they are together,” said Gaunce.
Another committee member, Mary Pajor, asked the board to consider reducing the amount of testing CCS administers to students.
“We understand testing is very valuable and necessary, but we’d like the district to evaluate any test that’s not mandatory to determine if it’s really beneficial for our district. We feel if we can reduce the number of tests, we can improve the overall climate of our schools,” said Pajor.
Pajor asked the board to consider duplicating successful alternative and lottery schools, rather than expanding the programs at the schools that succeed. This recommendation agrees with the findings by the Innovative Task Force, since their committee finds expanding flourishing programs is not enough.
“We need to replicate the program in different settings, perhaps in a different side of town, to make it more acceptable because these programs are very valuable. We feel that doing that would actually help stem the flow of students from the district,” said Pajor.
The commission’s proposal reinforced all of Gaunce and Pajor’s suggestions and also suggested if budget issues are involved, CCS should combine the K-8 language immersion schools or at least offer a campus-like setting separating middle and high school, such as Fort Hayes, for example.
Dr. Gene T. Harris, superintendent of Columbus City Schools, said she does have a meeting planned in August to discuss these concerns and at that time she wants to discuss “2012 And Beyond – Creating a System of Excellent Schools Plan.”
Harris also said there is a joint committee currently underway evaluating the amount of testing being done to reduce unnecessary tests and this committee should have recommendations to this end in the fall of this year.
Harris maintains the K-6, 7-12 grade consolidation will work.
“I’d like to further address our thinking along the K-6, 7-12 line. It may not be what you think it is, so this would be a great opportunity to have that discussion.”
Jeff Warner, district spokesperson, said these issues regarding the Linden Pilot Program will get worked out. Bussing is not an issue because the middle school and high school programming is different.
“If you look at our middle school and high school now, they have different schedules, but we’ll be working on this over the course of this next year. Keep in mind it’s a pilot for just one school,” said Warner.
Warner said seventh grade students would not be in the locker rooms at the same time the high school students are there since the grades have separate athletic programs. Warner pointed out this idea could benefit the younger students academically by opening up access to high school courses.
“We want to do everything we can to keep students safe and to ensure they have access to high quality academic work,” said Warner.
Later, Gaunce commented, “I’m sure they’ll take what the neighborhood says into consideration but I think the districts going to make the final decision.”
In other board news, CCS commemorated the second year of operation for Academic Acceleration Academy, CCS’s own chartered school with an open house celebration. This school specializes in turning around students at-risk of falling behind or not completing high school.
Harris said the key aspect of this program is AAA provides a smaller learning environment to facilitate different opportunities for students to absorb materials.
“It’s a good program and we hope to replicate it; we might run into some legislative issues we’re working on, due to a moratorium on charter schools, but we hoping we’ll be able to move past that and replicate this in different parts of the city” said Harris.
Harris said this type of program is skills-based, so students are still working towards a high-school diploma, not a General Education Development (GED) test. There are 200 students at this school year-round, but those 200 students have different schedules and times they are at the school.
“Their schedule meets their needs; we have some young people with family obligations. This allows them to meet their family obligations as well as go to school, as well as go to work. We have students doing all three of those things,” said Harris.