CHATHAM – School Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo convened a meeting last week to provide information the proposal to move the 5th grade from the middle school building on Woodbridge Avenue to the Mary E. Dardess Elementary School (MED) on the main campus.
“This is not a facilities decision, this is a programmatic decision,” she said at the Thursday, December 1, meeting attended by about 20 parents and a handful of school board members.
The district is a conducting a facilities study to look at the use of the district’s three buildings at a time when enrollment is declining. But Ms. Nuciforo stressed that the facilities study is separate from the proposal to move about 100 students — the entire 5th grade — to the elementary school. “We want to do what is best for our children,” she said, noting that there is enough room on the main floor of the MED school to house the 5th grade.
The superintendent said that research shows the most middle schools are configured for 6th through 8th grade. “Would we rather they be the big fish in the elementary school pond or the little fish in the middle school pond?” she asked parents of 5th graders.
The biggest issue facing the school right now is state test scores. Ms. Nuciforo said that middle school students in the district are not performing where they should be on state tests. She said that the student did much better in high school on the state tests, which means the district must focus on the middle school years.
“The 5th grade program will not stay the way it is now,” she said of next year, whether or not the students move to a new school. Ms. Nuciforo said that switching classrooms, as students do in the middle school, did not give 5th teachers enough instructional time. She also said that bringing 3rd through 5th grade teachers together in the same school would give them time for common planning.
When one parent questioned the wisdom of changing the program for the state test preparation, board President John Wapner said that the students need more in-depth knowledge of subjects for the state tests.
Parents also raised concerns over whether students ready to move on to middle school would be held back by staying in elementary school. Ms. Nuciforo responded that not only are students with special needs not achieving where they should be on the state tests, but the same is true of the brightest students in the district.
There was also concern over middle school programs like strings and Nature’s Classroom. Ms. Nuciforo said school officials would work on the logistics and the finances to offer those classes at MED.
She said she was collecting data to present to the board on January 10. She hopes to make the decision to move the class to the MED by then so the district can work on the transition with students and teachers.
She has already met with the 5th grade team of teachers at the school and plans to meet with the group again. A letter was sent home to parents last week and a survey went out this week.
The next school board meeting will be Tuesday. December 13 at 6:30 p.m. in the MED library.