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Committee meets public: Moving sixth graders to MadisonTell North Platte what you think
Photo by George Lauby
Panelists, from left: Judy Pederson, Dan McMurtry, Jo Ann Lundgreen, Rita Hernandez, Clarine Eickhoff and Supt. Marty Bassett. Moderator Marge Beatty is in the distance.
Courtesy Photo­Image
Addressing the panel.
Photo by George Lauby
Crystal Lee asks about the Madison Special Education program.

Comments were pointed but the crowd was sparse Tuesday at a public forum about combining all public school sixth graders into Madison Middle School.

About a dozen people stepped to the microphone in the mostly empty theater at the high school.

The majority of the speakers opposed the proposal outright or questioned it, but three speakers -- an elementary school principal, a middle school counselor, and a former teacher – spoke in support.

Under a proposed reconfiguration, all seventh and eighth graders would attend Adams. Children would be bused across town to their respective schools.

Academic test scores are too low at Madison and the high school according to state standards. School officials think putting the sixth graders together will help.

About 50 people attended the forum. Nearly half were school employees or members of a citizen’s committee that favor the plan.

Critics said it would cost too much for transportation, require too much time on the bus for children, upset children who need to be in a familiar surrounding, and destroy successful special education programs, especially one at Madison.

They said it could also increase opportunities for bullying because students will spend more time on buses.

Jodi Ewing, who lives near Lake school and has a semi-autistic child also said research is lacking.

“I don’t know what is wrong (with the configuration) now,” said “If there are problems at Madison, those problems should be confronted. Some of this seems to be about equality and experimentation.”

“Change is not difficult for me,” she said. “Bring on change. But it is difficult for children, especially children with special needs. To them, it is a big deal.”

Ewing said the change will be abrupt for her child, who will go from 19-20 classmates at the Lake to Madison with 300.

The needs of a few students shouldn’t require everyone to make major changes, she said.

“It seems like rolling the dice,” she said. “We shouldn’t be rolling the dice with our children’s education.”

Superintendent Marty Bassett said no other school districts in Nebraska have a school building dedicated just to sixth graders. There is a school in New Mexico and one outside of Kansas City, he said.

Bassett said if school systems could be totally rebuilt, there would be more sixth-grade-only schools, but existing buildings rarely lend themselves to the possibility. He said North Platte is fortunate to have the opportunity.

Go from start

From the start of the forum, a citizen’s committee named “Shaping the Future” made it clear that they want the reconfiguration, passing out pamphlets at the front door listing advantages.

Supporters say the advantages include: Equalizing curriculum and class sizes, allowing more collaboration between teachers and allowing students to get better acquainted with classmates.

Those changes could make the entire system better, supporters said.

“Ultimately, this is about student learning. We feel strongly that we can improve learning,” Madison principal Danny McMurtry said during the forum.

McMurtry and the other panelists said bringing 300 sixth graders together from 10 elementary schools will give them the opportunity to get acquainted, and the class will be together all the way through high school, so it will provide a common identity for the class. They attend Adams Middle School for 7th and 8th grades, then go to high school as a group.

With be no other students at Madison, teachers, counselors, administrators and students can focus on the situation.

Class sizes would also be equalized. Currently classrooms have 15-20 students at Madison and 25-30 at Adams. The change would put 20-25 students per class at each school.

That will allow teachers to collaborate to make instruction as effective as possible, move quick learners on to something more challenging, while teachers can give more attention to the students who are not learning as quickly.

It would allow counselors to focus on one grade level.

Adams guidance counselor Steve Speihs said counselors can get more in tune with the needs of each class, helping special education, autism and social and emotional issues they face.

And, students should remain comfortable with their peer group for the six years, once they get used to the larger class.

Committee member Judy Pederson, a former city councilwoman, said the reconfiguration would break down stereotypes of north and south side students, and equalize their opportunities.

Pederson said students from Madison and Adams middle school currently tend to remain separated through high school. She said they sit together and hang out together.

And, since more students are from Adams, Madison students tend to lose competitions for prime spots in academic and extra-curricular programs.

One parent, Lindsey Daniel, testified that she was against the reconfiguration at first, but changed her mind. She agreed with Pederson.

Daniel encouraged the school board to wait a year, until the 2015-16 school year, to make the change, so the details could be fine-tuned.

A second forum will be held at the same time, 6:30-8:30 p.m., on Monday, Nov. 4, also in the theater at the high school. More information is available in the Bulletin's Oct. 30 print edition and from the school district's website -- www.nppsd.org

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 10/30/2013
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