Hundreds of students in Monroe County could end up going to class in a different building next school year if the school board approves a proposed middle school consolidation plan.
According to a plan presented to the Monroe County school board Dec. 13, all of the county’s seventh- and eighth-graders would go to school together at Banks Stephens Middle School, while sixth-graders would attend school in the building where ninth-graders at Mary Persons High School now take classes.
The plan would save the system money by cutting down on personnel, facilities and program costs, Superintendent Anthony Pack said. Right now, the plan would cut six to eight positions, and Pack expects they would come through attrition.
Parents and community members have the chance to have their say at a public forum at Banks Stephens Middle School gym Thursday at 6 p.m. The school board is expected to take a vote on the matter Jan. 10. If approved, the proposal could go into effect as soon as this fall.
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Keeping the system’s sixth-graders together mirrors the idea of the Mary Persons Freshman Campus, which separates ninth-graders from older students to ease their transition into high school, Pack said.
There, 90 percent of ninth-graders move on to the 10th grade with the credits they need to be on track to graduate. Monroe’s superintendent hopes the same will happen with the system’s sixth-graders.
Mary Persons Freshman Campus is about a third of a mile from Mary Persons High School’s main campus. The plan, as proposed, would move the freshman campus about two miles away from the main campus. Ninth-graders who are taking electives on the main campus will be shuttled back and forth between the schools, just as they are now.
Ninth-graders would be moved to the William Hubbard Middle School campus because the hallways are wider and can better meet the needs of those students, Pack said.
The plan has been proposed as cost-saving measure, as student enrollment in Monroe County hasn’t kept up with projections from a 2006 University of Georgia study. School leaders attribute that trend to the economic downturn. For more than a year, school leaders have been looking at ways to cut costs.
Right now, Monroe County has about 900 students at its two middle schools, though the schools have a combined capacity for almost 1,500 students.
Monroe County school leaders have to take a look at how their schools are running, whether the plan goes into effect in the coming months or several years down the road, Pack said.
While system officials are looking to save costs, they also hope to use some of those savings toward other areas, such as offering foreign language courses to middle school students.
Some parents, such as Lisa Marshall, are against the idea of consolidating the middle schools.
She said students in Monroe County tend go to school with the same group of children in elementary and middle school now, but making sixth-graders mingle with students from the system’s two other elementary schools would make the shift even more challenging than it already is. She thinks the students are better prepared to get together with new students in high school.
“That’s going to be a harder transition,” Marshall said. “It’s a totally new campus. Two-thirds of the kids you don’t know. It’s a new area.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the system had received 95 online responses to the plan. Some of those have been posted to a “frequently asked questions” document on Monroe County’s website.
While Pack said the input they’ve received so far has been helpful, he looks forward to getting face-to-face feedback from the public Thursday.
“Some people are very vocal. Some would prefer not to see the change. Some think it’s a great idea for community. Others still have questions -- how it will work, what are benefits of this,” Pack said. “People are in that change mode of thought -- if we make the change, what is the impact of it?”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.