By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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The proposed shift was triggered by low reading scores among third-grade students and an impending state mandate for longer preschool days for low-income students, as well as concerns about older middle school students’ behavior and interactions with sixth-graders, Assistant Superintendent Kyle Weakley told the Quillayute Valley School Board recently.
“Everyone sees a benefit,” Weakley said at Tuesday’s meeting.
A restructuring committee will discuss the grade reorganization, designed by school administration and the School Board, at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Olympic Natural Resources Center, 1455 S. Forks Ave.
The School Board is expected to make a decision on reorganization at its regular board meeting at 6 p.m. April 22, which will be preceded by a public hearing at 5 p.m. Both meetings will be at Forks High School, 261 Spartan Ave.
If the board approves the change, the school district could shift classes as early as September for the 2014-15 school year, said Superintendent Diana Reaume.
The district has not yet estimated the cost of shifting classroom spaces.
Forks is fortunate that there are already facilities available to fit every child into a building classroom, Reaume said.
“We are blessed with facilities,” she said.
Currently, the preschool is housed in two portable classrooms behind the main elementary school campus.
Kindergarten through fifth-grade students are currently in Forks Elementary classrooms, while sixth through eighth grades attend Forks Middle School.
Under the proposed realignment:
■ The preschool would move into four classrooms adjacent to the kindergarten wing at the Forks Elementary building, which would become Forks Primary School for students in preschool though third grade.
■ Fourth- and fifth-graders would move to the Forks Middle School building, which would become Forks Intermediate School for students in the fourth through sixth grade.
■ The seventh and eighth grades would move to “The Annex,” which would become Forks Middle School.
Several programs currently without adequate space — such as the occupational therapy program — would move into empty classrooms at the newly renamed Forks Primary School.
Sixth-graders are currently in their own wing of the middle school, isolated from the seventh- and eighth-grade students because they are generally at different developmental levels than their older middle-school schoolmates and not ready for the social pressures created by the older students, Weakley said.
New middle school
“Seventh and eighth grade is that developmental time when things get tough,” he said.
“The Annex” has six classrooms and is located between the middle- and high-school buildings.
The building is currently used mostly as storage but is a high-quality classroom building with only one room currently in use, Weakley said.
Currently, there are exactly the right number of students to fit in the six-classroom space, he said.
Seventh- and eighth-grade students would continue to access the current middle school music and science laboratory wing and would eat at the Forks High School cafeteria during their own lunch period.
Weakley said there will be no mixing of middle- and high-school students during the day, except for music classes already shared by eighth- and ninth-grade students.
High-school students would not be affected by the new alignment, he said.
The district’s preschool, called the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, now serves 56 low-income students who statistically have a smaller vocabulary at age 3 than children of working-class or professional-class parents, Weakley said.
Despite intense intervention for struggling readers, five years of state test scores show those students are not catching up by the third grade.
Forks test scores have held at about 62 percent of third grade students reading at or above grade level for at least the last five years.
“We need to change the way we teach,” Weakley said.
The focus for students from preschool to the third grade is to teach reading, while the focus for fourth-grade and older students is to use their reading skills to learn other material, he said.
If children don’t know how to read by the end of the third grade, they are at a major disadvantage for the rest of their school career, he said.
“Early intervention is the key to get them to the third-grade reading level,” Weakley said.
The preschool program helps bridge the gap so that low-income three- and four-year-old children can enter kindergarten at a level similar to their higher-income peers.
The existing program includes 2.5 hours of preschool classes divided into morning and afternoon sessions.
Much of that short day is taken up by arrival and departure, leaving little time for the kind of early education needed to help those students catch up, Weakley said.
The expanded preschool program would offer six hours of preschool per day for an estimated 54 students.
There is an ongoing shift in state and federal attitudes toward preparing students for school, and rules requiring longer preschool days for low-income students are working their way though the state system, said Brian Pederson, School Board president.
“It will soon be state mandated,” Pederson said.
By expanding the program now, the district will be ahead of the game when the mandates arrive, he said.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.