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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 16, 2009

In BKW: Next year’s sixth-graders to remain at elementary school in Berne

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — As Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s fifth-graders move on to the sixth grade for the 2009-10 school year, they will remain in the elementary school, to the dismay of some parents. These students would normally move to the middle-high school building next door.

At it’s April 6 meeting, the school board voted to place the sixth grade in the elementary school because of a shortage of space caused by the ongoing, $12-million building project. The board also agreed to re-assess the situation next year.

Plans for the building project include a new cafeteria, a new technology room, and new bathrooms and locker rooms in the middle-high school — all accessible to those with handicaps. In a recent projection, Superintendent Steve Schrade said the district hopes to seek bids for construction in late August or early September. Construction would start in the fall of 2009, continue for the next 12 to 14 months, and be nearly completed by the fall of 2010, he said.

“In the last couple of months, as we have developed our construction timeline, it has become apparent that, because of the safety regulations associated with construction, there are two spaces that cannot be used in the middle-high school during the construction time,” said Superintendent Steve Schrade. “One of them is the boys’ locker room, and the other is a classroom at the west end of the school, part of which is going to have to be converted into an emergency exit, because the construction will block the normal exit. So, the basic issue is that students are not permitted to have emergency exits through a construction site.”

With its plan to bring 10 special education students back into the district from out-of-district classrooms, and the addition of two new programs in the middle-high school to accommodate these 10 students, the district is even shorter on space.

On why the new special education classes are being placed in the middle-high school instead of next year’s sixth graders, Schrade said, “The necessity of the special ed. programs being housed in the middle-high school played a role in bumping the sixth grade out of that building. The special education students are in grades seven and eight, and in high school, so, it would be inappropriate for those students to be housed in the elementary school.”

One advantage Schrade sees in keeping the sixth-graders in the elementary school is that it will make for a calmer cafeteria in the middle-high school, as it will be less crowded, resulting in fewer behavioral problems, he said.

The program for the sixth-graders is to remain the same; teachers that formerly taught sixth-grade classes in the middle-high school building will teach in the elementary building, as the students change classes according to the sixth-grade bells.


Some parents at the meeting last week discouraged the board from placing the sixth grade in the middle school, telling stories of how the transition between the elementary school and the middle-high school benefited their children. The middle school had served students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.

The district has a transition program in place, specifically designed to aid students leaving fifth grade in the elementary building and entering sixth grade in the middle-high school. It involves a two-week summer program, “for a selected group of students who have been identified as potentially having a more difficult time of moving to a different academic setting,” Schrade said.

The sixth-grade teachers hold a parents’ night in late August, prior to the opening of school, where students entering sixth grade and their parents learn “what sixth grade is all about,” Schrade said, and take a tour of the middle-high school building.

“Then, upon commencement of school, the sixth-grade teachers watch the progress — or lack there of — of students in the first five to 10 weeks, and hold numerous parent conferences if students seem to be faltering,” Schrade said. “That’s a little more than most grade levels. Generally, parent conferences are held around the 10-week mark, but they make more of an effort to communicate with [sixth graders’] parents because of the transition,” he said.

Some parents emphasized the importance of the added responsibility that came with being in the middle-high school building.

“I think what they’re getting at is that the middle-high school students have a little more freedom in walking between classes and going to and from school,” Schrade said.

For example, “There’s a more careful accounting of students in the elementary school as far as which bus they’re going to ride, either at regular dismissal, or the late bus,” he said. “Which system the sixth grade will fall under in the elementary building, I’m not sure.”

On why the parents feel the transition needs to take place specifically at sixth grade rather than seventh, Schrade said, “I think that many of their fears and concerns are justified, but the teachers will continue to help them with whatever transitions need to be made.”

One parent at the meeting last week cited a survey, in which 62 students responded to the question, “Do you think having the sixth grade in the middle-school wing was a good thing, or would you have preferred to have been in the elementary school for your sixth grade year?”

To this question, 59 of the students — 78.7 percent — said that sixth grade should stay in the middle-high school. Of those 59 students, 21 said that moving to the middle-school wing at sixth grade helped them “get used to the building,” and that they like the social atmosphere. Other students said it made them feel more mature, while some noted that there is more room in the building, and that there are “too many little kids” in the elementary building.

During the discussion at last week’s meeting, middle school Principal Fred Marcil asked that the sixth-graders only be kept in the elementary school until the building project is completed.

On keeping the sixth-graders in the elementary school after the building project is completed, Schrade said, “There’s always a chance. I suppose if all the reports were positive, and people thought, ‘Oh, this turned out to be better than I thought, and everything’s going splendidly,’ we may keep them there. But, if these same concerns are present next year at this time, I think the board will have a difficult decision to make.”

Other business

In other business at its April 6 meeting, the school board:

— Heard from fourth-grade teacher Carol Willsey that, in light of the economic climate, she would offer the school $2,000 of her salary for next year, to be used in whatever way the administration saw fit; and

— Reminded the audience that anyone interested in running for the BKW School Board must submit his or her petition, with signatures from 25 supporters, to the district office by 5 p.m. on April 20. Those who wish to run must be district residents, over the age of 18, and United States citizens.

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