Fifth-Graders Moving on Up? District 220 Wants to Build Two Middle Schools, Renovate the Current 2, and Shuffle Students Around

By Brooks, Chad | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), March 19, 2006 | Go to article overview

Fifth-Graders Moving on Up? District 220 Wants to Build Two Middle Schools, Renovate the Current 2, and Shuffle Students Around


Brooks, Chad, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Chad Brooks Daily Herald Staff Writer

The average fifth-grader is 10 years old, 4 feet 6 inches tall and weighs less than 85 pounds.

While that might seem small, Barrington Area Unit District 220 officials believe students that age and size belong in schools with older children. That, they say, is the main force behind a plan to reconfigure middle schools to include fifth-graders.

Those skeptical of the proposal argue mixing the smaller 10- and 11-year-olds with the much larger eighth-graders will push the younger children too quickly, and slow down their older counterparts. And other parents don't like the boundary plan that would determine middle school attendance.

But district officials, who initially hatched the plan as a way to increase space in their buildings, say the proposed middle school expansion and reconfiguration plan has turned into what administrators believe is a chance to offer not only fifth-graders, but all middle school students, better educational opportunities.

Making the plan a reality hinges on passage of two referendum questions Tuesday - one asking for approval to spend $107 million to build two middle schools and renovate the current ones, and a second asking for a tax-rate increase to pay for more teachers.

The district's two middle schools, Prairie Campus and Station Campus, house about 1,100 students each - more than 300 above the desired population.

With enrollment on the rise for the foreseeable future, officials have been studying ways to cut class sizes in the middle schools and high school.

Data from the 2005 school report cards shows the district's average sixth-grade class has 24.9 students, compared to a state average of 23.4. The average eighth-grade class in District 220 has 24.5 students, with the state average at 22.9.

At the high school, the average class is 22.9 students - above of the 19.7 state average.

"Our enrollment is going to continue to maintain some consistent growth," said Mary Herrmann, District 220's superintendent.

For more than a year, the school board examined several ways to add space, including building both new elementary and middle schools and a plan that considered adding magnet schools for kindergartners through eighth-graders.

In the end, however, the district settled on building two new middle schools - one in Lake Barrington and one in South Barrington - and to reconfigure grades.

Under the plan, the district would have eight elementary schools for kindergarten through fourth-graders and four middle schools for fifth- through eighth-graders. The changes would not happen until at least 2008.

Officials said by adding two schools and reconfiguring grades, classroom space would be opened up at all levels and bring middle school class sizes down. The added space, officials say, would accommodate the district's growth through at least 2014 - longer than other options.

"This truly is the best way to address the needs of our students," said Alena Laube, assistant superintendent for research and development.

Better learning

While the need for added classrooms was the original reason for looking into the changes, officials said as the process went on they realized grade reconfiguration would allow for a host of additional learning opportunities.

"This increases the opportunity for fifth-graders both academically and co-curricularly," said Art Fessler, principal at Barrington Middle School Prairie Campus and a member of the district panel that studied the reconfiguration options.

Academically, fifth-graders would continue with their current elementary core curriculum, but also would be given added exposure to world languages, technology, physical education, and fine and performing arts.

Additional exploratory courses, like world languages and the arts, would be available to fifth-graders at the middle school level, and that could be very beneficial them, said Al Summers, director of professional development for the National Middle School Association, based in Westerville, Ohio. …

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