After years of discussion and study, the OUSD Board of Education unanimously voted last night to move the OUSD 6th graders from our elementary schools to Matilija in Fall of 2019, creating a true middle school from our current junior high school.
At a special meeting held at Matilija Auditorium (link to the meeting video here – be patient, the meeting doesn’t start until about 26 minutes into the video), the Board listened to parents and teachers sharing their concerns, fears, and hopes for this change. This change was considered in 2014 but rejected due to potential costs. It was discussed as far back as 2009 in recent memory.
I heard from many parents over the last few weeks as word of this possible change spread. Most were nervous about their 6th graders leaving the supportive elementary school environment.
As I explained last night, my first reaction to this question was to ask “why?” Change of any kind is difficult and can be disruptive, and for kids its even tougher. So I felt that there needed to be a good reason to make a change.
Thankfully, we have great teachers in the OUSD who took the time and effort to thoroughly research the field and present us with very good information about a possible change.
There are essentially three reasons why I support this change now:
- Today’s curriculum is designed for a grade 6 through 8 progression. That means that 6th grade teachers at the elementary schools are using totally different curriculum than the other teachers, curriculum that is designed to mesh with grades 7 and 8. As one 6th grade teacher said last night, “I’m on my own at my school. I have no one to collaborate with.” Combining 6th grade into a middle school actually enhances teachers’ ability to teach.
- Enrollment losses threaten the vitality of programs at Matilija. We only have one junior high school, and lower enrollment could mean cancelling programs and offerings. A thinner school would impact all our students eventually, and could hinder their preparation for college later.
- Creating a middle school model gives us a chance to reinvent Matilija using all the latest research and best practices. A middle school is not a high school. They are different models, approaching education from different angles. I really like the descriptions of a true contemporary middle school model. Student-centered, experiential, I think these are virtues that will help 6th graders make the transition, and benefit 7 and 8 as well. And its not a new model. Most districts in the county and the state are predominantly middle school (grades 6-8) districts.
It’s not a slam dunk change.
There are aspects that need special attention. I’m gratified that our teachers and administrators listened to the concerns expressed and came up with preliminary ideas to address these very real and important concerns. Its important to say that there are no solid answers to all the questions yet. Those answers must be developed in collaboration with parents, students, administrators, and teachers. The board made it clear that they expect widespread participation in the transition planning, and that we will be watching to make sure.
- Junior high school is too unstructured for 6th graders compared to the elementary school. We discussed how block scheduling and a daily advisory period, among other things, can assist 6th graders to transition from very structured to less structured school days.Another concern was the change from a single teacher all day to multiple teachers, and the accompanying loss of connection and stability. With block scheduling, the number of teachers a 6th grader experiences are minimized. The advisory period teacher can form a daily bond with the students and function as a connection point between the student and other teachers. No one suggested just throwing the kids into the middle school pool. There is solid recognition that we will need to design and implement an effective transition strategy for 6th graders.
- 6th graders are too young to expose to the more mature 7th and 8th graders. Many parents shared their concerns that 7th and 8th graders are too mature and advanced to have next to 6th graders. Our teachers have considered this as well. Suggestions and ideas included clustering 6th grade classes and possibly staggering lunch periods.
- 6th graders are simply too immature for the independence of a middle school. True that, but they will inevitably have to learn. The modern middle school model recognizes that our teaching mission is both academic and developmental for 6th graders (“Emphasis is on both cognitive and affective development.”) A true modern middle school works on both thinking and feeling maturity and skills. In fact, as we discussed the benefits of the new model for 6th graders, many in the audience expressed the hope that school administrators will expand this approach to the entire middle school…an idea that our teachers and administrators endorsed.
- 6th graders will miss out on key experiences like the CIMI trip. It is true that various programs for 6th graders will need to be evaluated. Special handling will be required for the first group of 6th graders making the change, and all our administrators know this. They are committed to assuring that no student loses access to experiences as a result of this change. To that end, they will be meeting early and often with school parent organizations to map out the future.
I know this change will unnerve many parents. As one of five board members, I can confidently say that my colleagues on the board join me in assuring our parents and community that this transition will :
- be carefully planned (we have more than a year before implementation);
- involve parents at every stage at every school;
- prioritize students and educational benefits over all else.
It’s an exciting change, and I hope that you will join us for one of the most important academic opportunities this district has seen in years. Let’s work together to build a school district of the 21st century, rooted in old-fashioned values.
|Middle School||Junior High School|
|Middle schools are more about students||Junior high schools are more about the subjects that are being taught|
|Middle school teachers focus on combined development and educational needs of students, combining two lessons for better understanding||Teachers at junior high teach specific subjects all day and the students have to attend those specific classes|
|Middle school helps students in their social, organizational as well as personality development skills||Junior high helps students with cognitive, memory development and information processing skills|
|Middle school has younger students that include grades 6 and 7 or even 8||Junior high school has older students as it includes grades 7, 8 and even 9 and prepares for transition to high school|