SUTHERLIN — School demographics in Sutherlin may be in for a change soon.
The Sutherlin School District is considering a grade reconfiguration at its schools in response to growing enrollment, limited space and changing student needs.
The reconfiguration would more evenly distribute the number of students at schools, according to a statement from the district. After a recent bond measure to build more infrastructure failed, the effort aims to alleviate problems with the capacity of its buildings.
The district held a parents meeting at Sutherlin Middle School on Wednesday night to discuss the plan. District Superintendent Terry Prestianni, School Board Chairman JR Guthrie, several school principals and more than 20 parents attended the meeting.
“We’re investigating whether this would be the best thing educationally for our students,” Prestianni said.
The plan would move the third grade class at Sutherlin East Primary School to Sutherlin West Intermediate School. The sixth-grade class at West Intermediate would move to Sutherlin Middle School. The middle school would experience the biggest change, absorbing about 100 sixth graders, Prestianni said.
East Primary currently has the largest population in the district with 450 students from preschool to third grade. West Intermediate has 327 students grades fourth through sixth grade and the middle school has 201 students grades seventh through eighth.
The moves would benefit the district by putting grades together that are more developmentally appropriate, making more resources available to serve students with high needs and alleviating parking issues at East Primary, according to a press release from the district.
At the parents meeting, Prestianni emphasized that the district hasn’t yet made any decisions. The district wanted to notify school faculty and staff first, and then include parents in a discussion before making decisions, he said.
The changes would require substantial classroom reconfiguration, Prestianni said. The district may need to convert noneducational rooms into classrooms, divide classrooms in two or purchase modular classrooms for the middle school.
Prestianni recently met with a company in Glide that sells modular classrooms to assess if it would be a viable option.
Special education, library and food services would also be rearranged to accommodate the changes, Prestianni told parents. But he said the exact nature of those rearrangements has not yet been determined by the district because officials wanted to field questions and concerns with the idea first.
Prestianni said he hopes to have an estimate of how the changes would affect the district financially by the next school board meeting on Jan. 7. He added that the district would ideally want to keep existing teachers with the classes that are moving. The district is discussing the matter with the teachers union.
Parents at the meeting asked questions about how the changes would affect their kids, some of whom have special needs. Prestianni responded by saying the district would work to ensure that the changes were smooth, but said he doesn’t have answers to how that would happen at this time.
Nikki York, a social worker with two kids in the district, questioned whether the grade groupings in the plan would be developmentally appropriate.
“I know that research shows that academic achievement for sixth graders who are moved to middle school is actually lower than sixth graders who remain in elementary school, and they are also more susceptible to get disciplinary action if they are in middle school due to maturity levels,” York said. “I want to know if you guys have thought about that and what your plan is to overcome those disparities.”
Prestianni said he has seen studies showing that as well, but has also seen studies that show otherwise.
“How we would mitigate that if that was the case has to do with how we handle students, how we handle curriculum, how we handle discipline, and we haven’t drilled that down,” Prestianni said.
West Intermediate School Principal Trish McCracken said she was working in Roseburg when the district moved sixth graders to middle school.
“They built the sixth grade schedule so it was different than the seventh and eighth grade,” McCracken said. “So sixth graders transitioned at a different time than seventh and eight graders and they didn’t mix in the hallways. The sixth grade kind of became its own little school within the school.”
Prestianni added that the district has been in contact with other districts in the area to absorb ideas.
He said the district could choose to implement the plan for next year, but it would take a lot of work. The district would need an interim plan if it chose to reconfigure grades in 2020 because the enrollment is growing quickly, according to Prestianni.
The district is also considering another bond measure in 2020.
Since he’s been superintendent, Prestianni said the district has substantially expanded academic and support programs such as adding a home liaison and a graduation coach.
“Now we really gotta start thinking facilities,” he said.